I suppose I bugged him a little the way I said it. Or maybe he was jealous of the good sports career I had had. Whatever it was, he suddenly reared back and popped me on the nose. He broke it—not much—and I hit him back a pretty good belt, if I say so myself, because it knocked him cold. That satisfied my ego, even if I am a little ashamed of counting his damage to me.
My nose is directly responsible for my name. Indirectly, it's responsible for just about everything else about me—my clothes, my hair, my shoes, my car, my apartments in Boston and Cleveland, my refusal to follow the crowd, my independence, my complete departure from convention. Because of my nose I wear my hair as long as I can get away with. During the baseball season I have to shorten it a little so it will fit under a cap. During the off season it comes down over my ears. I have the job done by pros and pay maybe twenty, twenty-five bucks for it. They give me the full treatment—razor cut, styling, shaping, shampooing, hairnetting, drying under the same kind of dryer you'll find in a women's beauty parlor—the works. And if I don't like it when they're through, they do it all over again.
Long hair only partially draws the eye away from my fantastic nose. My clothes do the rest. I am, I admit, an absolute nut on clothes. I call mine mind benders. Very occasionally I can get a mind bender off the rack but most of the time I design my own. The hair and the clothes pay off, believe me. You know what they say now? "Look at the Hawk. What splendor! What class! What perfection!"
Just to give you an idea, I showed up at a Boston Bruins hockey game one night last winter in an outfit of my own design with a touch of Nehru, a touch of Edwardian and a nice big splash of pure Hawk. It was a gold and white silk brocade suit. The jacket had a Nehru collar and Edwardian lapels, and the pants had 12-inch pleats up the sides. But best were the shoes. They were made of gold and white silk brocade, too. People in the Boston Garden murmured and pointed as I casually strode to my seat. To a ham like me those are supreme accolades. So you see, that outfit was cheap at $350. It provided me with one of my finest hours.
You can't save money if you want a really spectacular wardrobe. That's why I never had one until I went to the Red Sox in 1967. They gave me a huge bonus to sign after Charlie Finley, the Athletics' owner, fired me, allowing me to sell my services to the highest bidder. Sensible people blanch at the thought of the dough I spent for clothes after arriving in Boston. I figure I blew about $10,000. But, man, I grew up loving clothes. Even before we left Woodruff for Savannah, my favorite occupation, other than sports and getting into fights, was buying clothes. I wasn't beyond the fourth grade when I used to go into a store where I could charge things to my mother's account and pick up a couple of shirts or a jacket or something, even though we were poor. I don't think she minded, because she seldom got mad about it.
I never worried about what I could or couldn't afford. If I wanted anything badly enough I got it and found ways to pay for it later. I always managed. I earned money or I won money at something like nine-ball pool, or if things were a little easy at home my mama helped. She knew how much I loved clothes and how important it was to me to look right.
When I wasn't thinking about clothes as a kid. I was always playing sports. Football, basketball and swimming were my favorites, and I don't mind telling you I was good at all three. School didn't mean anything but sports to me. I was forever playing hooky, either to play pool or golf. I got promoted from grade to grade because any teacher who had me once had had it. I know it's the most immodest thing to say, but I was the best all-round schoolboy athlete in Savannah. I could play anything. All it ever took was a little practice. I was a stick-out in all the conventional sports, including golf, and such unconventional ones as pool, arm wrestling, auto racing, fighting and blackjack.
My mama always seemed to understand. Even after a fight or a bad report card or a visit from the truant officer or when I came home late after playing pool three-quarters of the night, she'd say through her tears, "Kenny, I know you're a good boy. But I wish you wouldn't do things like this."
And I'd put my arm around her and say, "Mama, don't you worry. Someday I'm going to make a lot of money and I'll buy you a Cadillac."
I could play football, basketball and baseball so well that all the junior high schools in Savannah wanted me. I must have been the only grammar school kid in the country to be recruited to junior high and maybe the only junior high school kid to be recruited to high school.