"I can," I said.
I didn't know whether I could or not. The only time I'd ever been on a mule was at my grandma's farm in Woodruff when I was a kid. Well, I put the beak of my cap up like a jockey and I got the mule trotting pretty good toward the plate when I lost control of him. I got scared, the mule sensed it and the next thing I knew he was making a mad dash with me holding on frantically to whatever part of his anatomy I could grab.
I ended up with all four of my limbs around his neck, but riding upside down. The mule finally slowed to a pace where I could slide off without getting killed. I skidded along the ground a ways, then struggled to my feet and ran toward the dugout, and there in the box beside it was Finley, wiping his eyes with one hand and slapping a knee with the other. Practically everyone in our dugout was as broken up as he was, everyone but Alvin Dark, our new manager.
"That was the dumbest thing I ever saw," he said. "You could have been killed. If that man wants a jockey, he ought to go out and hire one. I don't ever want him risking one of my ballplayers on that mule again."
I guess he and Finley had it out later—they were always having something out—but Charlie couldn't care less. He got what he wanted—a great big laugh and plenty of ink in the lush New York market. I rode the mule a couple more times, and it seems to me I even got $50 or $100 from Finley once, but in the meantime my financial situation was getting worse. Even with the raise to $12,000, I couldn't keep up with my debts.
I got off to a terrible start in 1966, but it wasn't all my fault. The Kansas City ball park had a long left field, and I often hit outs that would have been homers anywhere else. It was getting me down, and Dark knew it. He kept saying, "Hawk, don't let this park beat you." But I was letting the park beat me—hitting poorly, not fielding well, down in the dumps—and in June the Athletics traded me to Washington.
Much as I disliked leaving Alvin, at least now I figured I'd get my full salary. But Charlie Finley had left no stone unturned in making sure he would continue to collect from me. He simply arranged for the Senators to take his pound of flesh out of my paycheck and send it along to him. Although I squawked to General Manager George Selkirk, they did it for the rest of that season.
With Gil Hodges and me, it was a case of dislike at first sight. From the first month on, there wasn't a day that I didn't wish I were somewhere else. One of the happiest moments of my life came when the Senators sold me back to Kansas City. That was in June of 1967, after I had played part of two seasons under Hodges' management.
Don't get me wrong—the guy was by no means all bad. Away from the baseball atmosphere he was one swell guy. He once threw a party for the whole ball club at his bowling alley in Brooklyn, and I've never been entertained by a nicer host. And his son Gilly is a real sweetheart—a wonderful kid everybody liked. Hodges transformed me from a second-rate first baseman into a good one, for he knew the position and how to teach it. He worked hard with me, and I appreciated that. But in general he treated his ballplayers like dogs, and I was no exception. I don't know how the Mets, whom he now manages, feel about him, but I can tell you without reservation that every Washington player he ever had hated his guts.
Hodges gets a marvelous press—I don't know of any baseball figure with a better public image—but that's because he plays up to the writers and sports-casters. They'll all tell you—especially in New York—that there's no nicer guy in baseball. If I saw him only under the conditions they do, I'd call him Mr. Lovable, too.' But I'll tell you about the Mr. Hyde side of the Dr. Jekyll I knew in Washington. He was unfair, unreasonable, unfeeling, incapable of handling men, stubborn, holier-than-thou and icecold. I can't say he played favorites because he didn't have any favorites. It would be more accurate to say that he played the guys he disliked the least. He was impossible to play for because he was impossible to understand. There were guys on that team with whom he didn't exchange one word during the whole time I was with the Senators.