What happens to fastball pitchers when their arms give out? Some, like Sandy Koufax, take up announcing. Others, like Jim Bouton, write bestsellers and take up announcing. And then there is writer Pat Jordan, the erstwhile McCook ( Neb.) Flash, who seemed assured of a major league pitching career before his hummer started to make sputtering noises. What he did was enter a poolroom—a side of his checkered career he describes starting on page 56.
Jordan's fondness for those pool-hustling days is obvious, as is his writing talent, but anyone who thinks Pat's heart is anywhere but up on the mound, leaning in for his sign with the count 3 and 2, is deceiving himself. Just as the aging actor longs for one more crack at Hamlet, Jordan still dreams of waking up one morning and finding he can smoke three in a row over the outside corner with the bases loaded and nobody out. When he retired from baseball in 1962, he took his old uniform ("No. 16, same as Whitey Ford") with him and has kept it packed away ever since. Frequently, in those early years, he used to pull it out and try it on in front of the mirror, in the seclusion of his basement. One imagines a couple of pantomime pitches, perhaps even a make-believe inning or two against the murderers' row of the 1960 Clinton ( Iowa) White Sox, Jordan's former minor league nemesis.
Sometimes illusion becomes too strong to contain and begins crowding out reality. Earlier this year, while doing his touching story about life in the minor leagues (SI, June 14), Jordan was struck by the thought that just maybe he had the old stuff again. During a practice session with the Waterbury ( Conn.) Pirates, he borrowed a glove, took the mound and cranked up. "I threw some of my best stuff to Woody Huyke, the Waterbury catcher. I really felt good." Giddiness almost overcame him. His arm seemed smooth as warm oil; it was all there. Finally he decided to let go with his fastball. The pitch was wide, forcing Huyke to reach out and spear it—bare-handed. He didn't blink an eye. "I was astounded," said Jordan, who decided on the spot to retire permanently.
Despite his decision and his abandonment of his old pool haunts, he still enjoys the company of baseball players and the challenge of a game of pool. A few weeks ago he got into a friendly match out in California with another fastballer who lost his stuff, Bo Belinsky. The scene was Hugh Hefner's new West Coast pad, and at one point Belinsky bounced the cue ball off the table and under a Hefner divan. There were several moments of confused scrambling around on all fours by the two ex-hurlers before one of them finally managed to latch onto the ball.
The scene is reassuring to those of us who have tried pool and found ourselves wanting. A game that can bring a couple of hustlers like Jordan and Belinsky to their knees can't be all bad.