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THE KELSO BIT, OR A CAREER NIPPED
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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For three desperate weeks in 1963 I was the acting, extremely temporary sports editor of Newsweek magazine. I was not one of those friendly, inside sports editors who fished with Ted Williams, wenched with Jim Brown and dieted with Billy Casper. Nor was I the narrow-eyed, no-nonsense type who told it like it was. Like it was? I didn't even know what it was. You name the sport, and I was unqualified to write about it.

What I really happened to be was a novelist, the author of a series of worst-sellers whose wide public unacceptance finally sent me looking for a steady job. Somehow the magazine gave me a try-out; somehow I survived the first month on general-interest stories. Then I was called into the office of an editor of middle rank and major responsibility, an overworked young man, old beyond his years and tireder than any human being ought ever to be. Flu had felled his sports editor, he told me, and two writers who would normally fill in were on vacation. Two more were on other stories and a fifth was having a tantrum. "I don't feel so good myself," he said.

Then he pulled his tired face together. "Somebody's got to fill in. It's either you or Emily," he said, referring to the gentle, middle-aged lady music critic. "That's all there is, all there is," he added, like a 7-year-old withdrawing his hand empty from a cookie jar.

Up to this point I could have gotten out of it very simply by admitting that I had misled him during my hiring interview, that my claims of wide-ranging expertise were vastly exaggerated. And, for a few moments, honesty slugged it out with pride—only to get its pious face bashed in. I had read enough novels about Madison Avenue to know that the hero never admits he can't do a job.

Later, all alone by the telephone, waiting for the New York Yankee public-relations man to return my call, I tried to think positively. After all, I liked sports, even if I'd lost touch in the past few years. I still skimmed the sports pages occasionally. Hardly a year went by that I didn't watch part of the World Series on television. I knew a tennis player. I knew a bookie. What's more, I'd played most of the games at school—and been as mediocre at them as any sportswriter. I also looked the part—balding on top, paunching out at the middle, flattening at the feet. And I smoked too much. Maybe, just maybe, I might get away with it.

That afternoon, like a petty thief casing Fort Knox, I walked through the press gate at Yankee Stadium. The cop outside the door to the players' dressing room asked to see my credentials. So did the cop inside the door. Bobby Richardson looked up from a religious pamphlet and gave me a suspicious glance.

The room was everything I had expected, spacious, bright, carpeted. The Yankees were themselves in those days, impressive even in their underwear; their muscles looked expensive. The first major face I recognized was Yogi Berra's. He was talking about the stock market. The others, too, were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Houk chewed a cigar, Pepitone combed his hair, Maris sat in front of his locker, glaring at a shoe. And there—swathed in white bandages and golden legend—was Mantle.

Only a few days before, while I was still doing features, I had been granted a private interview with Dwight Eisenhower. The former president and commander of the greatest land invasion in history had not awed me. I had, after all. been in the Army, and every American knows that anybody can become President. But nobody except Mickey Mantle can ever become Mickey Mantle. I gazed at him—and turned to jelly.

Still, Mantle was the assignment. He was returning to the lineup today after being out with his recurring knee trouble. I had to get him to say something to me. I approached—and the undersized blue eyes that had terrorized a thousand pitchers now terrorized me. I dropped my gaze and saw a neck that seemed somehow wider than the head above. I looked up again, and he was grinning. Not what I would call a friendly grin—more like a lumber baron surveying a stand of virgin timber.

I gave him my name, the name of my magazine, asked how the knees were, conquering an inclination—one that would have humiliatingly revealed my amateur standing—to address him as Mr. Mantle.

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