Last May, Norris was arrested with a young woman in an Oakland motel and charged with cocaine and marijuana possession. Two days later, the charges were dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence. Despite all the trouble in his life, which began with his father's murder when he was seven years old and living in San Francisco's tough Fillmore District, Norris remains the most ebullient of the Aces, an unfailingly cheerful imp of a man who boasts, "You won't see me without a smile on my face." Says Keough, "He's the nicest guy you'll ever meet."
We meet him in the office of his lawyer, Steven Kay. He's wearing, for no apparent reason, a Yankee warmup jacket and, though it's a warm and sunny day, a rain hat. He has a most engaging way of expressing himself.
"I've had arm trouble all my life, but my mental dexterity supersedes the physical," he says. "I'm using wit and knowledge to endure all this. No one thing caused this injury, just an accumulation of years and innings. Before Billy, I had never before been able to pitch in abundance. I welcomed the chance ecstatically. We were between a rock and a hard place, anyway, with our bullpen. I can remember the look on Billy's face when he'd come out to the mound. He'd want to say something like, 'Hey, guy, I want you to come out,' but the look said, 'Please don't.' He made you feel as if you had feminine tendencies if you wanted to come out. He instilled confidence in you. He'd say, 'You're my ace, big guy,' and I'd feel 10 feet tall. We had a father-son relationship.
"Art's job was to keep you relaxed and loose and laughing. Langford was kind of straitlaced. McCatty and I were the extroverts. I think Art enjoyed us. Billy would send Art out to the mound to tell us what to do. It was always the same thing—keep the ball down. We'd nod; then Art would go back to the dugout, and Billy would ask him, 'Did you tell them what I told you?' Billy and Art hated those bases on balls. Kingman's problem was that he'd get behind two balls and Billy would have him throw nothing but fastballs. The hitters knew what was coming. But Billy was the most intelligent baseball man I ever played for, a totally first-class guy all the way.
"My reputation as a playboy is deserved. Women happen to be one of my better abilities. I'm a single man with pride, after all. But I'd like to settle down and get married one of these days. I'm pretty tired of this nomadic gypsy lifestyle. Not everybody can do what I do and still come out and perform at the ball park, though. That's a challenge for me. Billy didn't care what you did, as long as you performed. One time I got to the park for a day game at 1:05, game time, and I was supposed to pitch. Billy already had Bo McLaughlin warming up in the bullpen, but I told him I wanted to pitch, and he let me. I beat Texas 2-1, shutting them out for eight innings. Billy told me afterward that if I'd lost that game my rear end was his. Irresponsibility is my way of avoiding stress. In the ghetto, you do things on your own, so this skipping to somebody else's beat is still new to me. But I'm totally innocent of drugs. I was just visiting a lady when I was arrested. It was the wrong woman, that's sure. Now I'll have to live this down. I know that when I come back, people will blame it on drugs if I'm not performing. I hate to get booed. It's like an eternity walking from the mound to the dugout when you're being booed. Still, it's ludicrous to say I'm not taking care of myself.
"Pitching is itself an unnatural act, and the screwball is an unnatural pitch. I fell in love with that pitch. I could throw it hard. I could fool the lefthanders and jam the righthanders. If I threw 120 pitches in a game, 75 of them were screwballs. That's hard on the arm, and as my arm got weaker, I lost velocity. The thing with the screwball is, you throw it dead down the middle and let it do its own thing. Without velocity, mine wouldn't sink. It just stayed on the same plane and became hittable. Imagine throwing that to Jim Rice. When I come back, the screwball will only be an out pitch. I'll go back to my fastball more.
"Gee, it seems like 10 years ago, but I was at the peak of being one of the best in this game. Now I've got to prove myself again. But challenges are always good for me. I may be a dreamer, but all of my dreams have come true—even the nightmares."
Balding and mild in appearance, Lang-ford is an intensely proud and fiercely competitive man who, according to McCatty, is "a raging bull on the mound." His almost puritanical urge to work hard has also made him, again according to McCatty, "his own worst enemy." Langford led the American League in complete games in both '80 and '81, going all the way in 46 of 57 starts. In '80, he completed all but five of his 33 starts and had a string of 22 straight complete games. Not since 1904, when Boston's Bill Dinneen completed 37 straight and the Cardinals' John Taylor completed 39, had there been such a demonstration of durability. In 1980, Langford went from May 19 to Sept. 17 without being relieved. He completed a 14-inning victory over Cleveland on July 20, and he pitched with only two days' rest on Oct. 5 in a vain effort to win his 20th game.
His arm began to bother him in '82, but he still pitched 237⅓ innings. In '83 he spent virtually the entire season on the disabled list, pitching only 20 innings for the A's and six in a rehabilitation stint with Modesto of the Class A California League. In August '83 he underwent surgery to repair a muscle tear in his right elbow. He pitched 15 innings for Tacoma in the Triple A Pacific Coast League this season before his shoulder began to trouble him. He rejoined the A's in July, but wasn't activated until last Saturday, when they expanded their roster to 40. He's alone in the clubhouse this day, seated in his cubicle, wearing running shorts.