"It could not be foretold that we would be here talking about him as we are," Herb Armstrong said yesterday of Bucky Harris - and then he explained why we were, why the man was so special to Washington. It began with an overwhelming desire to be a ballplayer - and a small lie.
"In 1977, I was with Reading of the old Penn State League and we needed a second baseman," Armstrong said. "We sent for a player named Merle Harris, who had been with the Canadian League the year before.
"Well, Bucky asked us when he arrived not to tell anyone he wasn't Merle, and it was a few days later that the manager and everyone else knew he was the younger brother. He was Stanley then, and from the very, very beginning, he symbolized the word 'determination.'"
It was as "Bucky", not Stanley Raymond Harris, that he honored yesterday at the Touchdown Club, 10 days after his death, 21 years after his last game as a major-league manager, more than five decades after leading the Senators to their only World Series success.
The gathering was intimate, rather like a lodge meeting at which one generation explains itself and its times to another through its memories of one man. Listen as an all-star lineup looks back to some happy times. Mickey Vernon, 59, leads off:
"He was so good at appraising players. He'd sit there and point out on the field with that crooked finger of his, and once he said: 'Tell that young fellow to take a shower while the water's still hot.'"
"I guess I'm the oldest of his ex-players here," said George Case, 62, "and I remember my first year I made a lot of mistakes, throwing to the wrong base two straight weeks. I knew which base to throw to, but just couldn't pull it off.
"The third time cost us a game - and I was sitting on the opposite end of the bench, next to the water cooler, as far as possible from Bucky. He came casually over, made like he was getting a drink and said out of the side of his mouth: 'We got an outfield job in Chattanooga.'
"That's all that was needed to straighten me out."
"We used to have two workouts a day in spring training," said Fred Baxter, the former equipment man, "and between them he'd have a horseshoe-pitching contest. And Bucky and Sid Hudson always seemed to win. He loved to play cards - hearts and pinochle."
"There was a kid pitcher named Sid Hudson who got off to a 2-9 start and wasn't doing well at all," said Burt Hawkins, former reporter now with the Texas Rangers. "But Bucky felt he would make it - and he ended the season 17-16." And won 104 major-league games in all.
"He was class," said Walt Masterson, 57.
"Patient," said Eddie Yost, 51.
"Courageous enough to walk Pete Reiser to get to Cookie Lavagetto with Bevans on the mound in the '47 World Series," said Lee McPhail, president of the American League, "because he knew it was the right move, even though Lavegetto broke up the no-hitter and the game with that hit off the wall.
And Bucky's Yanks did win the Series."
"He's a guy who won two pennants and a World Series for Washington and a pennant for the Yankees," said former Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich, "but he's a guy who also set a record for most times hit by pitch in the American League.
"I remember him coming back to town once when it was all of a sudden fashionable for every team to have something called a pitching coach. 'Who's your pitching coach?' I asked him.
"He said: 'I know more about pitching than anyone who ever lived'"
George McQuinn, first baseman for Harris on that '47 Yankee team, said he "never saw Bucky make a bad move in baseball." Povich saw Harris much longer and once stretched the truth a bit to save his pal's job.
It was in Cleveland, Povich recalled, and the Senators had lost seven games in a row partly because of some curious strategy by manager Harris. The Senators were down a run to the Indians in the ninth, runners were on first and second with none out, Cecil Travis was at bat and - most important - Clark Griffith was back in Washington listening to a recreation by Arch McDonald.
Griffith and every other Senator fan figured the right decision was to have Travis bunt, but he swung hard at the first pitch and missed. As the operator was about to tap that information over the wire to McDonald - and to a possibly fuming Griffith - Povich told the operator to wait.
"I said: 'I'll dictate what you send. Make it, strike one, Travis misses attempt to bunt.' It was just a little lie. The next pitch Travis takes a big cut and misses again. So I say to the operator: 'Make it, strike two, Travis fouls off attempt to bunt.'
"At least I was covering all possibilities for Griff back home. And then Travis saved everything with a triple."
For the most part, the mood was light, and the sport now missing from Washington almost exactly six years flickered brightly again. Men recalled their youth, although as one slipped from athlete to athlete he would hear a Masterson say to a Yost:
"Nope, Mine are 13 and 14 and I've got to worry now about college and . . ."