To this day, Toby Harrah refers to his first major league manager as "Mr. Williams."
Harrah is the leading hitter in the majors at the moment, a veteran of 11 seasons, but he speaks of Ted Williams with the same reverence and awe he did as a rookie shortstop with the Washington Senators.
"Mr. Williams was a great man and a great coach. The things he knew about baseball and the way he loved the game was just incredible," said Harrah, now in his fourth year with the Indians.
Maybe, Harrah says, he would have hit .380 sooner if he had listened to Williams a little more closely. "It took 12 years for a lot of the things Mr. Williams was saying to soak in. I wasn't his best student, and I'm just now beginning to realize and appreciate some of the things he taught me about hitting," Harrah said.
Harrah had played in Washington only one full season when the team was moved to Arlington, Tex. He says now he didn't understand the situation enough to be as upset as he should have been. But in so many ways, the rookie shortstop-turned veteran third baseman is the legacy of the long-lost Senators.
Ted Williams taught him how to hit. Nellie Fox taught him how to bunt and run and think. Frank Howard taught him how to do all those things with dignity.
Team physician George Resta operated on his right leg so that he runs better now than ever before.
And he still wears No. 11, the number he inherited from Ed Brinkman. When Colbert Dale Harrah arrived in Washington in 1971, he was supposed to make people forget the slick-fielding Brinkman. He never got the chance. Bob Short made everyone forget the Senators first.
"I'm proud that I was a Senator," Harrah says evenly. "Being a Washington Senator was like a dream come true for me. Washington is still my favorite city.
"I have so many memories, you know. Like getting two hits on opening day, and Frank Howard hitting a home run in the last game and getting a standing ovation. It was amazing." The excitement rises in his voice. "Wow, it was something." He pauses. "Yeah, I'm proud. You bet I'm proud."
Harrah may be 33, but he plays with the same golly-gee enthusiasm he showed as a rookie in Washington. He says the only reason he has ever played baseball is to have fun. So why change now?
He flung himself over a railing into the stands to catch a foul ball that helped Len Barker record a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays last year, and two weeks ago he got a bloody lip when he banged into a railing while chasing another foul.
His zeal has extended to the plate, where a new-found aggressiveness has allowed him to lead the majors in average.
In 62 games, Harrah is hitting .380. He has boosted his career home run total to 164 with 14 so far this year. And he has missed getting on base in only four games this season.
"I feel I'm a better ballplayer now than ever before, but I have a long way to go. I can get a lot better and more consistent, especially defensively."
While he's pleased that he has finally found his form, all the attention has made him a bit uneasy.
"I've been playing the game for 12 years," he said. "It's just unfortunate that I have to hit .380 for the first couple of months to get that recognition."
But he doesn't like suggestions that he's only thinking about himself. "It's no fun just doing things for yourself, unless you're going for a $10 million contract. And I'm not. This season isn't over yet, so I can't say if it's a successful season. As good as I'm doing, if we're not winning, then maybe I'm not doing enough."
And that sums up the biggest frustration of Harrah's major-league career--he's never played for a champion.
"I've never had more fun playing baseball," Harrah said. "But it doesn't matter how you play if you're not winning. If you're not winning, it's all watered down. I'd rather hit .200 on a first-place team than .400 on a sixth-place team."
Which is why, in spite of all the wonderful memories he has of Washington, Harrah has to admit that playing for the Senators wasn't a perfect experience.
"I always wanted to win, no matter where I played, and we didn't do a whole lot of that there (in Washington)," Harrah said.
But playing there was the thrill of a lifetime, "something I'll always remember." Again he pauses. "You know, I wonder how Mr. Williams is doing."