Once More with a Bunch of Bums

Topeka Capital Journal
August 8, 1989

Harold McGraw called from Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago and said he was inviting a few guys for a weekend at his place on Lake Eufaula, in eastern Oklahoma. He said Joe Trosper and Pat Horan would be there, and I told him to count me in.

The four of us have been friends for what seems like forever. In our last joint venture, in the years right after World War II, we were on the same softball team, and we were as hooked on the game then as we are on golf now.

This was fast pitch, long before slow pitch was invented, and we played with and against some hot shots like the late Clyde “Little Abner” Woods, Greenie Malone, and Hollywood actor-to-be Dale Robertson, who was as good as softballer as he is an actor. Maybe better.

So, last Friday I drove to Oklahoma. When I saw a sign that said “Henryetta” I laughed, remembering the time I covered a football game there when I was a fledgling. The public address announcer had blasted me out of my seat in the tiny press box that night when he screamed, “And here come the HENS, now!”

I stopped there for gasoline and heard one man tell another, “I’m on the old Alexander place, on the county highway about a half mile past that ‘Jesus Saves’ sign.”

It reminded me that one day the late Jules V. Sykes then football coach of Kansas, spoke to a Dallas gathering. A native Texan, Sykes said, “I was born just about 50 miles up the Katy.”

Back to the highway. McGraw had sent each of us a copy of a map he drew, showing us how to get to his house. I got there first and got a private bed. Of the other five guests, only Trosper got lost. I always have said he was a fine athlete, but I never said he was very bright.

By early afternoon everybody was there, and the stories poured like you know what. Some of them were true, like the time I ran smack into a light pole while chasing a fly ball in left field. I actually had misjudged it and was backpedaling when it happened.

I remembered that when I staggered to my feet the umpires and the opponents were trying to help me, while my teammates were doubled up, laughing. I was not what you would call a key player.

McGraw was our catcher, and we have a sort of special relationship because we have had to spend all these years defending our war records. We both spent the ‘duration’ in Oklahoma. He was at Fort Sill and I was at a Navy base in Norman, although I did have to suffer the inconvenience of going to Idaho briefly for boot camp.

He went in first, and, because he could type, he was assigned to a unit at Fort Sill handling new inductees. We planned it that I would follow him into the Army and be sent to Fort Sill, where he would arrange for me to occupy the desk next to his. I could type better than he could.

But a slight hitch developed. They put me in the Navy, and the next time McGraw heard from me I was calling him from a mountaintop in Idaho. He thought it was funny, but I was back in Norman in less than three months.

So now, we have to defend ourselves even from the likes of Trosper and Horan. Trosper spent the war playing basketball in places like Maryland, Florida and Kansas, while Horan was stationed in Iceland. Horan remembers that one time Trosper wrote him complaining about how cold it was in Kansas.

Later Friday afternoon Trosper, Horan and I, and another Okie named R.C. Stewart, played golf at a friendly place called Fountainhead. Trosper proved that if you travel Oklahoma for 30 years with your golf clubs in the trunk and your boss miles and miles away, a lot of good things can happen to your game.

That night, we started working seriously on building up our cholesterol and calorie levels, an effort that would go unabated until we departed. There were cheese dips and a cheese ball, hamburgers, beans and a chocolate cake not to mention a well-stocked bar.

Next morning, we got really serious. There was bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits and a big bowl of gravy. There was also some sliced cantaloupe, so if our wives asked what we ate for breakfast we could truthfully reply, cantaloupe (no salt).

We ate lunch at the racetrack in Sallisaw, light fare that included nachos, hot dogs and cheeseburgers, and we tapered off that night with steak and potatoes. I left Sunday without eating breakfast. For some reason, my stomach didn’t feel very well, but I should be all right in a week or two.

We shared the chores that go with preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals. Or rather, all but Trosper shared. I often have called him gifted, and one of his gifts is that work going on around him doesn’t bother him.

At the track, Horan and I were the only ones who didn’t take it seriously. The others studied the Racing Form, the program and tout sheets and talked a strange racetrack language, while we played hunches, putting a big bet on a horse owned by a guy named Snider.

They went home winners and we didn’t. For us there was too much agony of defeat and not enough thrill of victory.

One of the biggest problems with a weekend like this is going home and remembering to say, “Please pass the salt,” and not, “Give me the #*%&*#! salt.”

My mother used to say, “Tell me what a man laughs at and I’ll tell you what he is.” What we were was a bunch of bums, because a lot of jokes were told and everybody laughed. And here are all the jokes I heard over the weekend that can be repeated in this newspaper:

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