The coach was so upset he came over to the house to see if he could talk my mama into getting me to come back.
"Mrs. Harrelson," he said, "you've got to talk to him. He's the greatest quarterback I've ever seen—absolutely the finest quarterback in the state of Georgia. You've got to talk him into playing. He can get a college education from football and then be a pro star."
But I didn't want any part of it, and my mama agreed. She hadn't wanted me to play football in the first place. Of course, if I could have foreseen those half-million-dollar contracts good quarterbacks get today maybe I'd have felt differently, but I was a few years ahead of my time. I never played football again.
It took maybe six months for me to make it in golf. By then I was consistently in the low 70s and sometimes in the 60s. When I was concentrating I could beat anyone on a given day, including guys who have made it big on the pro circuits. A couple of years before he won the U.S. Open, I beat Lee Trevino. I don't know how many times I've broken 70 on championship courses. I once had a one-inch putt for a 64 and I've had at least half a dozen 65s. This was when I really worked at golf, both in and out of the baseball season. I play only in the off season now, and that comparatively little. Naturally, my game has suffered.
But I can come back quickly. I played only a couple of rounds in Savannah before barely losing the 1969 Baseball Players' Golf Tournament in Miami, and that in a sudden-death playoff. I won the championship three other times. I figure that if I had concentrated on the game I could have made $100,000 a year on the pro circuit. In fact, until 1967 I wavered between baseball and golf before deciding my real future was with baseball.
Although my senior year in high school was the only one in which I played an entire season, I always played baseball with one team or another. I went right up the line—Little League, Babe Ruth League and American Legion Junior ball. Even so, baseball probably was my worst sport. I really didn't know what I was because I played everywhere—outfield, first base, all over the infield. I even pitched and caught. I had the build and the power of a good right-handed hitter, I was fast and I had a strong arm. Those were the ingredients that the dozen or so scouts who followed our state Legion championship team were looking for. I guess they figured they could teach me to field.
Cleveland wanted to sign me as a pitcher, but all I had was a good fastball and a dinky curve, which I hardly used. The Cubs thought of me as a catcher. Their scout, Ray Hayworth, thought I had a real future at the position, but I didn't like the job—it was too much work. I couldn't see myself spending long hot summers behind the plate.
Of all the scouts I met, the one I liked best was Clyde Kluttz. He pointed out the advantages of going to Kansas City. They needed so much help that a kid really did have a better opportunity with them than with anyone else. After I graduated, they offered me a bonus of $27,500, spread out over a three-year period. The only club that offered more was the Dodgers, but I couldn't see signing with them. This was 1959, when they were loaded. It would have taken a kid like me six years to get out from under their ponderous minor league setup.
I signed with the Athletics on June 6, right after my high school graduation, and in the next three years played with Olean, N.Y. in the Class D New York-Penn. League, Sanford of the Class D Florida State League, Visalia in the Class C California League and Binghamton in the Class A Eastern League. I really came of age at Binghamton—played in every game, set records in homers and runs batted in that I don't think have been broken yet and led the league's first basemen in fielding. Yes, fielding.
No one in the world could call me a modest man, and I'll prove it right now by telling you I'm one good first baseman. That year at Binghamton removed all the doubts I might ever have had, and I still have no doubts about it. With the exception of Boston's George Scott, who shifted from first base to third this year, I'm the best-fielding first baseman in the American League right now.