Even from nearly two miles away, in the players' parking lot at RFK, they could hear the froggy croak of Monday's 7 a.m. Metroliner departing Union Station. Slumped across the front seat of his candy-apple-red Lincoln Town Car and drunk as a rat, Bad Dude Harding opened his bleary eyes and focused numbly on the hulk that had been snoring like a chain saw in the back seat.
"Windy, you awake?"
Windy Jackson nodded. "Barely," he mumbled, trying unsuccessfully to sit up. "Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."
"Windy, how'd we get here? Did you drive? And weren't there women with us? What happened to our women?"
"Dude, what do I look like, the Shell Answer Man? I don't know how we got here; I'm assuming you drove, since it's your car, and you've got the keys in your hand." Windy scratched at the stubble on his chin and exhaled; his breath smelled like the inside of Ernest and Julio Gallo's shoes. "I'm not worried that I don't remember how we got here. But what worries me is that I don't remember any women."
"What do you remember?"
"The usual color and pageantry. I remember we lost again -- need I remind you that's 12 in a row -- and we went over to Champions in Georgetown, which is the only bar in town that still lets us run a tab. We ordered a few cocktails and proceeded to dazzle the locals with our spectacularly witty repartee. I'd imagine we continued in that vein until we were both rather bulletproof."
"To be honest with you, after you punched out that marshmallow salesman, the rest is a blank."
"What marshmallow salesman?"
Windy clambered out of the car and stretched himself awake. The sun was up, the air was clean, the morning redolent with promise. "Beautiful day for a ball game, Dude -- even if we are 12 hours early."
"What marshmallow salesman?"
"Forget it. Let's go inside and get some coffee."
They'd no sooner gotten two steps inside the Senators' locker room than they were breathlessly hailed by the clubhouse boy, Juke-Joint Jonny Stang.
"Thank God you guys are here," Stang said, panic coating his voice. "You gotta stop him."
"Stop who?" Bad Dude asked.
"Major Banks," Stang hurriedly said. "He's been here all night."
Windy smirked: "What's he trying to do, bore himself to death?"
"Worse. He's quitting."
Windy and Bad Dude went directly to the manager's office and found the door open as usual. Inside, dressed in a warrior's ceremonial kimono, Banks was deliberately packing his belongings into a regulation Marine duffel bag. All that remained on the walls were his prized Vietnamese takeout menus and a photograph of a spring roll.
"Going somewhere, Skip?" Bad Dude asked.
Banks turned around to look at them. His gaze was as blank as a sheaf of new paper. "What is a man's muscle and bone against the irresistible force of the wind? I am but dust to be borne by the powerful current of a greater will. The elephant can cause the ground to quake under his stride, but he cannot stop the rain from falling."
Windy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Skip, it's a long, long way to Tipperary."
Banks continued as if he hadn't heard: "A rich man and a poor man go into a restaurant and order breakfast. But neither man will eat if the cook has no eggs. So what good does the rich man's money do him? In all things there is a balance which must be struck. The owl is wise because he learns when and where to sleep."
Bad Dude and Windy looked at each other like penguins and shrugged.
"Don't quit, Skip," Windy said. "We're in a mess, but it's not your fault. Tang's the problem. He's the one orchestrating the whole show. He's cheap, he's mean, and he's done everything he could to ruin all of us -- jerking people around like puppets, waiting for us to fail so he could jump up and bellow: 'I told you so.' But through it all, you're the one who stood tallest. You're the best thing about this team. If you quit, Tang's won. Don't give him the satisfaction."
"Please don't," Bad Dude said tenderly. "We're lost without you."
Banks thanked them for their sentiments, bowed courteously in their direction, then turned away to sit cross-legged on the bare floor, gripping a baseball in his left hand, a lit candle in his right.
There he sat for hours. Slowly drifting in over the course of the afternoon, the rest of the Senators gathered in the clubhouse, and Bad Dude and Windy recapitulated the story of finding Banks ready to leave and urging him to reconsider. One by one, the other players and coaches respectfully leaned into Banks' office to encourage him to stay (except Danny Broccoli, who barged in to demand the return of his confiscated handgun and a trade to a pennant contender).
An hour before Monday night's nationally televised game against the Yankees -- as Banks still sat entranced in his office -- Bobbi Fleckman came in to post a copy of a press release Tang had dictated. She was crying as she taped it to the clubhouse wall. It read: "Washington Senators owner Tang Ye-lin, known far and wide as a fair and honorable man, today accepted the resignation of manager Milton (Major) Banks. Tang said, 'Major Banks thanked me for the fabulous opportunity I gave him to manage the Senators and apologized for his inability to do the job correctly. I wished him well in his future endeavors.' "
"Is this true?" Fleckman asked, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Did he really resign?"
Nobody knew for sure.
"What was Tang doing when you last saw him?" Bad Dude asked Fleckman.
"Looking for Billy Martin's home phone number."
"God, no!" shouted Orlando Jones.
Unable to take any more, Windy angrily ripped the release down and struck a match to it, saying, "Here's what I think of this crap and the man who wrote it." The Senators cheered lustily as it burned.
Watching unseen from his office was Banks. He waited for the whooping to stop, then walked into the clubhouse holding the baseball and the burning candle. Somewhat nervously, the players backed away to give him room. Blowing out the candle, Banks raised the baseball high like a chalice, and in a voice as mighty as iron, he said: "On the other hand, I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. Now let's go out there and pound some Budweiser!"
The Senators beat the Yankees that night, as utility infielder Dwayne Ford, pitching for the first time in his 15-year career, held New York to four hits. A bitter George Steinbrenner insisted that Ford used sandpaper to scuff the ball, but when umpires checked Ford's glove the only paper they found was a note that read, "This is a stickup. Put your money on the mound and your hands up."
Rejuvenated by the return of Stun Gun Ginzburg and Gabeen Mfoom from the disabled list, Moe-Don Dorcas (with fancy new shoes) from his religious retreat run by the Sisters of Imelda, and Jonathan Van Dorn, released on bail after his protest against Japanese whale fishing, the Senators then took another from the Yanks and four straight from the Mariners. Their winning streak is six, and they've lopped three games off the Yankees' big lead. As long as they keep winning, it would seem to be impossible for Tang to jettison Banks. In fact, a chagrined Tang was overheard over lunch at the Palm telling his friend Robert Novak, "Poor little Major Banks. All the players are sticking up for him. But in the end I'll win. I always do." :: SENATORS STUFF: Jonathan Van Dorn's bail agreement allows him to continue desperately seeking sushi, but prohibits him from walking within 400 feet of Toyota, Honda, Nissan or Isuzu dealerships . . . Group of Senators saw "The Untouchables" other night and asked Major Banks to hire Al Capone as batting coach . . . Scoopsmith Geraldo Rivera bringing crew to RFK to do live two-hour special on John Doe. Rivera plans to call show "What Really Happened to Jimmy Hoffa" . . . Windy Jackson read Joe Theismann's book and laughed at Theismann's confessing about being so drunk his teeth hurt: "A total amateur. Why do you think I went for the full dentures, upper and lower, at 18?" . . . Elliott Suskind sufficiently impressed with career of National Archives poster boy Charles Merrill Mount that he wrote his alma mater, Gonif University, with contribution offer, saying that if Mount is convicted, he wants to endow new chair and name Mount "Writer and Letters Burglar in Residence" . . . Thursday was "Pan Am Games Revival Night" at RFK. Entertainment provided by Miami Sound Machine and Chilean pistol team. All Cuban defectors in for half price. ::