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Excerpt from The Entitled
So, for Howie, it was, at last: neither resignation on the one hand, nor anger on the other. No, it was sim¬ply awful, horrible disappointment that tore at him. That it all must end this way. No, not this way. Any¬way it ended would be a calamity, because despair would follow, and Howie understood himself well enough to know that he didn't possess the creative resources to really ever overcome that despair.
This is the way he put it, over the phone, to Lindsay: "I'm a dead man, sweetie. I know I won't get outta Baltimore alive."
Howie was, after all, a practical man. Whenever one of his regulars would go onto the disabled list, all the writers would flutter around him, asking how the team could possibly manage until the wounded star returned.
"I don't deal with the dead," Howie would reply. That concluded the discussion. Ask me about the ones who could suit up. You play with what you had. And now it was he who was the dead man, because he was positive that he was going to be fired in Baltimore, and that would mean the end of his life in baseball, which was the only existence he had ever known.
There was a singular blessing. Because his demise was so clear-cut, he had, for the short term, found a certain calm within, so by the time he got to Baltimore he was concerned mostly with how, when the inevitable happened, he must display dignity upon his leave-taking. There would be no grousing. He would, in fact, thank the Indians for giving him the opportu¬nity to manage in the major leagues. He would wish the team and the organization well.
There would be no backbiting. Of course, yes, he would, in passing (only in passing, you understand), recall how well the team had done under his aegis his first year on the job. He would not embellish that fact, but he would mention it (in passing) so as to remind everyone that just because Howie Traveler was a busher, he had shown that he could damn well man¬age a team in the big leagues. He had proved that. It was important to leave the media bastards with that. Especially the talk radio bastards, those who spewed venom for a living, and those amateur venom-spewing bastards who just called in.
When he got to Baltimore and found the time, Howie was going to write down what he wanted to say, and then commit it to memory so that he would display extemporaneous eloquence in his last public appearance.
In the meantime, he tried to pretend that he was not dwelling on what everyone knew. The pallbearers were assembling. Not only the columnists from the Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal, but, as well, the lead columnist of the Columbus Dispatch had signed onto the press manifest this trip, ready to dress up his obituary on the spot for the enlightenment of central Ohio fans. After all, a road trip offered the kind of time¬table general managers preferred for these proceedings. Fire the manager away from home. Let an interim manager-in this case, the team's trusty old reliable, Spencer "Frosty" Westerfield, the bench coach-handle the next series, in Chicago, and then have the new man on hand, prepared to assume command- "take the helm," as the papers would have it-when the team returned to Cleveland, ready to start fresh, turn a new leaf, salvage the season, restore the damage that he, Howie Traveler, had indisputably done.
Never was anything so pat. So Howie just waited for Moncrief to fly in from Cleveland and fire him. Of course, everybody knows that baseball managers are, as it is written in stone, hired to be fired, but this was cold comfort when you were the manager in question and this was your time to be eighty-sixed.
O'Reilly, one of the newspaper beat men who liked Howie and drank with him sometimes, told him that Diaz was already in Cleveland, working out his deal. Nobody could locate Diaz, but O'Reilly said they knew he was there. This figured. Even when the Indians had hired Howie, the season before last, there had been a lot of speculation that Diaz would get the job instead. Diaz was surely Jay Alcazar's man, and if Juan Francisco Alcazar, El Jefe-The Chief-could not put out his best for Howie (which this season he evidently chose not to) then it would be just a matter of time before Diaz was brought in. So this is where it stood, Diaz working out the details of his contract, whereupon, that buttoned up, Moncrief would pop over to Baltimore, via Southwest Air, and, with the saddest, most sympathetic expression he could man¬age to put on, basset-faced, he would tell Howie that he was toast.
Once there was a basketball coach named Cholly Eckman, and when he got a call from the owner, who told him he was "going to make a change in your department," Cholly said "fine." Then, as Cholly recalled, it ruefully occurred to him that he was the only one in his department.
Nowadays, though, what general managers tell man¬agers when they fire them is that: "We have decided to go in another direction." Unsaid: that direction will be up, whereas you, you dumb sonuvabitch, have been taking us in a direction that is most assuredly down.
So now, Howie put on the best smile he could man¬age, of the sort he assayed when he had to take a staged photograph at a charity auction or some such thing. "I wish I could think to say something really clever wise-ass when Moncrief tells me that," he said.
He had arrived in Baltimore and was eating dinner (as best he could) with his daughter.
"Don't, Daddy," Lindsay said. "Just be classy, like always. Everybody with any sense knows it's not your fault. Go out with style, and that'll help you get another chance."
Howie took his hand off his Old Grandad, reached over and laid it on hers. Lindsay was his only daughter, only family now, really. How adorable it was of her, how thoughtful, that she had come up from Washington, where she worked as a lawyer for some arcane House subcommittee, to see him. She had just showed up, knowing what an incredibly difficult time he was going through. She had been standing there when Howie came out of the clubhouse after the game tonight. The Indians had beaten the Orioles, 6-4. Alcazar had gone three-for-five, with a monstrous home run and then a two-run double in the ninth that won the game. He'd been dogging it all season, it seemed, but now that he knew Howie was shit-canned, he was suddenly a hitting fool again.
And then there was Lindsay, standing outside the clubhouse. Howie almost cried. Funny, too. He didn't instantly recognize her, for she was there, amidst a covey of other women, who were there to consort with his ballplayers. Howie could forget sometimes that Lindsay was a grown woman now, and more than that: as pretty (well, almost so) as the sort of women ball¬players would take out on the road. Lindsay Traveler had more style, though, than those sort of women. Howie didn't himself necessarily possess style-for one thing, to his eternal despair, his legs were too short, and he had a lumpy face-but he recognized style when he was within its penumbra.
Somehow, Lindsay-she, a lousy minor league ballplayer's daughter-had learned to dress in that way chic ladies of fashion do, with the ability to choose clothes that manage to work so perfectly that they count twice-once for how they look and then again because they proclaim to the world: this lady knows what's best, what's right, what's stylish, so don't even try to put one over on her.