SI Vault
Jacquin Sanders
October 27, 1969
How Mantle mocked me, Hogan ignored me and a lady racehorse owner gave me the cold shoulder
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October 27, 1969

The Kelso Bit, Or A Career Nipped

How Mantle mocked me, Hogan ignored me and a lady racehorse owner gave me the cold shoulder

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"The [obscenity] knee," he replied thoughtfully. "If the [same obscenity] doctors can get off their [different obscenity] duffs and fix me up so I can swing a [original obscenity] bat good enough to hit the [again that obscenity] ball out of the [and again] infield, I'll be in the [and still again] ball game. And put that in yer magazine. Haw, haw, haw!"

I crept away and tried to recoup with some pearls from other Yankees. A trainer revealed the name of the best adhesive tape on the market. A custodian said the Yankees didn't pay his kind of employee anything like they paid ballplayers, but wouldn't give me permission to quote him. Richardson expounded at length on his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I thought of the tired editor back at the office. I didn't seem to be getting the kind of stuff he would want.

After a while, I noticed a tall young player who looked even less comfortable than I did. He was a pitcher up for a tryout who had had a bad session in batting practice that day, and he was pathetically grateful to be interviewed. He went so far as to ask my advice about his delivery. I was pathetically grateful to be asked, and I returned the favor: he looked very, very sharp, I told him. He was beaming when I left the dressing room and, for all I know, was still beaming two days later when they sent him back to the minors, whence he never returned.

I repaired to the press box to wait for the game to start and look around for more stars—the kind who write about sports. Nobody spoke to me, but nobody seemed to mind if I listened in—which wasn't all that easy. The native language of sportswriters is difficult to interpret. While it appears to have roots in English, the jargon and the technical data are beyond lay understanding. These men didn't—like ordinary fans—simply say that Maris had stopped hitting home runs and let it go at that. They analyzed the angle of his stance, the trajectory of his swing, the trauma of his wrist action. They mentioned, with worried shakes of their gray heads, the inside pitch, thigh high.

By now I felt the need of a friend. A dignified, fatherly man was standing nearby, and I introduced myself. He responded with suitable reserve, apparently not thinking the occasion called for him to give his own name. So I asked in passable journalese, "Who you covering for?" He became even more dignified, but a great deal less fatherly. " The New York Times ," said Arthur Daley, and he was gone.

I didn't make any more friends. During the game I sat between an empty chair and a man who never stopped typing. At one point the press box attendant asked to see my credentials. Later a reporter sat down briefly beside me and asked if I was really from the magazine I'd said I was from. Wearily I pulled out the credentials. He studied them, felt their thickness, held them up to the light. Finally he said, "One of the boys thinks you're from the Hearst organization, checking up on reporters' expense accounts." He left then, still dubious, and I concentrated on the game. I can't remember whether the Yankees won or lost, but I do recall that Mantle did nothing outstanding that day, unless you counted raising his obscenity average a few points in the dressing room. I didn't have the strength of character to be pleased.

My next assignment, the editor informed me after killing my baseball story, was Kelso. The name rang a bell. I recalled a sports column in which a veteran third baseman of the same name, benched by a younger rival, had lashed out at a writer who suggested the veteran was getting old. "Who isn't?" he had asked caustically. I'd liked that. This would be a nice story. I smiled confidently at the editor. "Ken Kelso, third sacker for the Cleveland Indians," I said. "Slowing down a little, but still a threat in the clutch."

The editor closed his eyes. " Ken Keltner," he said. "Not Kelso." He kept his eyes closed so long that I began to worry about him. Finally he began pawing through the pages on his desk until he found his assignment sheet. No help there. If anything, the crisis was worse. The sports editor had shared his flu with two writers. The man with the tantrum had calmed down, only to go out on a protracted drunk. Emily was interviewing a harpsichordist.

Finally the editor spoke, calmly, deliberately. "Kelso is a racehorse. He is a very good racehorse. He is going to run a race. I want you to watch Kelso run the race. I want you to write a story telling our readers what happens when Kelso runs the race."

Early the next morning I went to the track to interview the horse. First I had to get past the disdainful little man stationed at the entrance to the barn. I studied that wise and wizened countenance—in its three score years it had seen so much of the world and liked so little—and I knew that this mean old man was no one to bluff. I would ask a few intelligent questions and, if challenged, would admit frankly that this was my first horse race. The challenge came quickly, following his use of the word furlong. "That's a measurement of some kind, isn't it?" I queried sharply.

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