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PASSING: Jim Bouton 1939-2019

July 16, 2019 1 comment

Jim Bouton the author of BALL FOUR, among other books, passed away on July 10, 2019 from complications of vascular dementia.

Mr. Bouton pitched for the N.Y. Yankees, Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros during an MLB career that lasted from 1962 until 1970.  Mr. Bouton also made a brief comeback in 1978 with the Atlanta Braves.

https://www.baseball-reference.com

BALL FOUR was a seminal event in my evolution as a fan.  By 1970 I was 12 years old and in my 3rd. summer of playing baseball of all types; self-hitting with a rubber-covered hardball, pitching to a brick wall with a Franklin practice ball, stickball, tennis racket baseball and “real” baseball at Camp Pinnacle in Lyme, New Hampshire.

I was old enough and just good enough to get picked to play and my fascination with the AM radio music of 77 WABC had not yet mutated into adolescent rebellion.

BALL FOUR ignited a storm of controversy from the get go what with its descriptions of MLB players being peeping toms, “beaver shooting,” taking Dexedrine, “greenies”, and dalliances with ‘Baseball Annies.”  MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Bouton on the carpet to discuss the inappropriateness of Bouton breaking the clubhouse code of, “What you see hear, what you say here, let it stay here when you leave here.”

N.Y. Post writer Dick Young called Bouton, and co-author Leonard Schecter “social lepers.”

Perhaps best of all there was a lot of “f…” and “s…” when those words were rarely heard and never printed.  At the age of 12 the thrill of “dirty words” held a significant allure.

I was intrigued and convinced Mom to buy me the book at Raimos’s 5 & 10 on Main St. of Port Washington, N.Y.

I wound up reading the book in 2 days flat, a feat made possible by smuggling a flashlight into my bedroom and reading under the covers.

BALL FOUR was justly known for the shenanigans of players but had real substance.  During the 1969 MLB season memorialized Bouton pitched for the Seattle Pilots, was sent down to the AAA Vancouver Mounties for a spell and then traded to the Houston Astros. MLB had had a diarist before in Jim Brosnan who wrote THE LONG SEASON about the 1960 Cubs in 1961 and PENNANT RACE about the 1961 Reds in 1962. Brosnan’s career as an author precipitated the end of his career as a pitcher as Brosnan refused to sign a contract stipulating that he would write no more. Green Bay Packer guard Jerry Kramer’s INSTANT REPLAY had been a best seller, but the degree of intimacy with the day to day travels and travails of a team were unique to BALL FOUR.

A fringe player, Bouton had won 20 games in 1963 with the Yankees and 18 in 1964 with 2 World Series wins in 1964 before tearing the brachialis tendon in his right forearm which ended his career as a fastball pitcher and prompted his conversion to a knuckleballer.

Bouton pitched for 3 teams in the summer of 1969, which along with being a long distance Dad to an adopted son, made for an episodic summer to say the least.

Bouton’s account of trying to get the Seattle Pilots to compensate him for his moving expenses, as required by MLB, would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

Bouton was pitching for minimum wage and Bouton’s recounting of the early days of the MLBPA, dating back to his time as player representative while with the Yankees, hold real historic interest as a look at MLB during the pre free agent era.

The Seattle Pilots drew a mere 677,944

https://www.baseball-reference.com

fans in their only season in Seattle before decamping and becoming the A.L. Milwaukee Brewers and Bouton’s commentary on being employed by a failing business still resonates with me from my experiences working for failing enterprises.

Baseball as it is really played is one of the educational benefits of BALL FOUR.  The strategic maneuvers of manger Joe Schultz, whose favorite phrases, “f…s…” and “s…f…” dot the commentary, and pitching coach Sal Maglie’s stratagems are endlessly debated with Bouton alternately biting his tongue and attempting to argue his point.

I learned about MLB as it really played and those lessons continue to scroll though my mind as a 61 year old fan.

Most of all the personalities of the players, fringe players hastily thrown together 90 days prior to Opening Day, shine through.  The foibles of Jim Pagliaroni, Steve Hovely, Mike Marshall, and the front office are spotlighted as folks trying to make the best of a marginal situation which most fans had only a trifling awareness of 50 years ago.

Indeed, the frequent references to Dexedrine use among the players is a comment on players trying desperately to hang on to “big league” status.

Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Joe Pepitone of the N.Y. Yankees get quite a bit of attention from Bouton’s time as a Yankee.  Indeed Bouton’s description of Mickey Mantle leading a “beaver shooting” expedition on the roof of the Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C. captured my imagination to the point of loud laughter even though I was only vaguely aware of what exactly the players were looking for.

Although it is certainly valid to criticize Bouton for breaking the “code of silence” Bouton’s affection for his teammates shines through.

Pointed, yes.  Mean, never.

BALL FOUR was a seminal event in my intellectual evolution,  At the tail end of 1970 SPORT magazine, the most intellectual of the sports media of that era printed an article called “You Can’t Go Home Again,” detailing the effect that BALL FOUR had on Bouton’s career.  Quoting Thomas Wolfe’s novel of the same name inspired me to find out who exactly Thomas Wolfe was.

Dirty words lead me to begin reading the VILLAGE VOICE only to discover a guide that would shape my cultural and political consciousness well into adulthood.

Likewise for the journalism of a Hunter S. Thompson, the fiction of William Burroughs, the religious education of the North Shore Unitarian Universal congregation and the music of the Ramones, who never cursed but whose gleeful abrasiveness was Boutonesque to be sure.

Who would have thought that the 1969 Pilots could inspire so much?

In 1970 Bouton put out I’M GLAD YOU DIDN’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY, which recapped the aftereffects of BALL FOUR and Bouton’s persona non grata in MLB.

At about that time Bouton resurfaced doing the sports segment, remember those?, for ABC’S Eyewitness News 7.  Bouton had a real knack for witticisms such as “The Nets didn’t play tonight.  Rick Barry scored 30 points.”

After his sojourn at Eyewitness News Bouton moved to a similar role at Channel 2 and then fell off my radar except for a 4 game comeback with Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves.

I still had my copy of BALL FOUR and it provided laughs and a bit of continuity for my life here in Boston.

BALL FOUR was named one of the ‘Books of the Century by the New York Public Library in 1999.

Indeed, BALL FOUR’s comments on black and white players rooming together, a ‘thing’ in 1969, Vietnam, emerging feminism and urban decay, not just from Bouton but from a bunch of guys chucking the bull together in a very marginal enterprise.

BALL FOUR is every bit as telling of its time as Hunter Thompson’s FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL is.

1992 was a year in which I was never employed on a full-time basis.  Fortunately, I had enough know how to keep my spirit strong by visiting the Copley branch of the Boston Public Library and reading the sports books of my youth.

BALL FOUR: FINAL PITCH claimed my eye.  I gave it a thumb through and happened upon the chapter dealing with the death of his daughter which was ‘the only thing in life that was worse than I thought it could be.’  (My redaction).

I borrowed the book and could not put it down.  Bouton reconciles with former Yankee teammate Mel Stottlemyre as Mr. Stottlemyre had lost his 11 year old son Jason to leukemia in 1981.

The joy of Bouton’s 2nd. marriage is recounted in a form that evidences Bouton’s very real literary skill.

Clete Boyer apologizes to Bouton regarding Bouton’s departure from the Yankees and Bouton admits to being very wrong regarding Roger Maris not running hard.

Not to put too fine a point on it but the story of BALL FOUR: FINAL PITCH is of a man entering old age and attempting to come to terms with all of his younger selves.

BALL FOUR: FINAL PITCH’s mix of compassion and competition buoyed my spirit through a long job search.

Finally, BALL FOUR has my favorite ending line of any non-fiction book.

“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

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CHANGE: 2019 remix, 10 signs of aging

June 13, 2019 1 comment

1)  You are 427 in dog years.

2)  ‘Great uncle’ is a phase and phrase you are looking forward to.

3)  You see your co-workers glued to their phones and  marvel at the changes in socializing.

4)  You hear your co-workers discussing the sensual appeal of their roommate’s ex-supervisor and marvel at the lack of changes in socializing.

5)  You take pride in walking faster than folks half of one’s own age.

6)  You have worked close to 7400 bar shifts.

7)  You receive a birthday gift about the 1969 Miracle Mets, realizing that the 50 years that have passed make this the equivalent of talking about Babe Ruth…in 1969.

8)  You are not a ‘dog person’ but now wonder if perhaps you have missed out on something.

9)  Japan?  Ireland?  Ghana?  Bucket list destination trips?

10)  You wonder if maybe ‘it’s just me,’ or is it that women over 50 are looking better as of late? 

Hmmm…

HAIKU 5*7*5* Autumn

October 5, 2018 1 comment

The leaves are falling

Greenish leaves with brownish tips

Autumn is calling

CHANGE 2018 remix: 10 signs of age

June 13, 2018 1 comment

1)  You are 420 years of age in dog years.

2)  Hello to Mom and Dad.

3)  First MLB players were younger than oneself,

Then MLB players were younger than oneself,

Now MLB stadiums are younger. (Boston’s own Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field are still older).

4)  You “left home” 40 years ago.

5)  Most of your former employers are out of business.

6)  One’s brain has been re-tooled to digital but the thoughts are still analog and that is a good thing.

7)  One’s threshold of pain has increased significantly in the last few years enabling work and exercise unimaginable 5 years ago.

8)  Deaths of friends who have been friends for 30+ years makes one realize that 30+ years of friendship are highly unlikely among current compatriots.

9)  Lifelong regret regarding M.S. and J.M.  Some things can’t be and shouldn’t be forgiven.

10)  39 years a vegetarian!

 

CHANGE 2016 remix: 10 signs of age

1)  Your age is 406 in dog years.

2)  Once you had bald spots, now you have hair spots.

3) “Lifelong best friend” turned out to mean her “lifelong”.

4)  You’ve lived through disco 4 times.

5)  ‘#’ went from meaning ‘number’ to meaning ‘pound’ to meaning ‘hashtag’ since you have aged out of middle age.

6)  “Lifelong regrets”regarding J.M. and M.S. means your “lifelong” and deservedly so.  Some wrongs do not go away nor should they.

7)  “You look good for your age,” is finally a real compliment.

8)  You have outlived your father.

9)  1958=58!

10)  “Deserves’ got nothing to do with it.”

BLACK FRIDAY: It didn’t always mean a retail holiday.

December 1, 2015 1 comment

BLACK FRIDAY, the day after Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas shopping season in spite of the fact that my nearest CVS has had Christmas thingys since Halloween, and don’t give me any of that ‘Happy Holidays’ stuff,  as surely as the Detroit Lions vs. whoever has been played since 1959.

Target, Macy’s, Olympia Sports, Sephora, Sears, and a virtual plethora of retailers clamor to gain our ears, bandwidths and wallets.  Even “cultural” retailers such as the Guitar Center on Boylston St. here in Boston ply their off priced wares.  Here in the New England of the  21st. century malls such as Boston’s Copley Place and the Natick Mall advertise for all of the stores housed under their roofs.  

Security firms pay $25 an hour for armed guards at the Neiman Marcus at the Natick Mall!  Righteous bucks!

*54″ HDTV for only $19.99!*

and the like are the lingua franca of the marketing maelstrom.

Such was not always the case.

Indeed methinks that the emergence of Black Friday as a retail holiday dates back to…

…the passing of what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation,” who lived through the Great Depression and WWII, which is to say my parents.

My mother, Doris was born in 1925, and my father Shelly was born in 1927. 

On occasion I would want some kind of mild extravagance, such as a 1st. baseman’s mitt.  My father would reply by bending my ear with stories of playing kick-the-can and being grateful that his father, who worked 3 jobs, was not among the legions of the unemployed in the Brooklyn of the 1930’s.

When I became a bartender Dad was all too willing to tell the tale of walking to the local tavern to buy a “bag of ice,” in the days before refrigerators became standard. 

What would Dad think of $1199.00 for a GE 20.3 cubic foot fridge with a bottom freezer?

http://www.Sears.com/Black-Friday-Sale

Mom hailed from New Kensington, PA a manufacturing city 19 miles NW of Pittsburgh.  Her father, Wiley O. Jack was a partner in a local Ford dealership.  During WWII very few cars were manufactured for retail sale as the auto makers of that era, Packard and Studebaker among them, retooled their assembly lines for the war effort.  My maternal grandfather made his living by servicing the cars he had already sold.

On occasion Mom would educate my brother Peter and I about the rationing of sugar, flour and eggs during the Great Depression.

I am on very safe grounds when I forward the thought that neither of my parents would ever think of ‘Black Friday’ as retail therapy.

BLACK FRIDAY prompts memories of my parents both of whom are no longer.  Investopedia tells us that the Black Friday that formed my parents hearts and minds occurred on October 25, 1929 when the stock market lost 11% of its net worth.

This pre-nuclear meltdown turned into a panic as the technology of our simplistic telephone system couldn’t keep up with panicked investors dumping their holdings.  Banks, being substantial institutional investors, lost their worth in the pre-FDIC era and throngs flocked to banks to withdraw their savings while there was still cash to meet their demands.

Black Friday had made a previous appearance in the financial lexicon in the 19th. century on September 24, 1869 when financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk sought to corner the gold supply.  When this scheme collapsed it was dubbed ‘Black Friday.’  It is certainly a viable concept that those with an education in the economic history of our country knew of the 1869 scandal when the stock market crash of 1929 occurred.

www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/…/grant-black-friday

The contemporary usage of black Friday’s earliest mention seems to have been in January of 1966 when the Philadelphia Police Dept(PPD) used the term to describe the crowds in downtown Philadelphia on the day after Thanksgiving.

http://www.sensationalcolor.com

In a more casual way the term Black Friday was bandied about by retailers to refer to the final quarter of the year which would pull the given retailer into the ‘black’ of profitability.  Research did not reveal any specific date or author for this phrase but it certainly has been in usage since the beginning of my business awareness,

The 21st. century brought the coinage of ‘Cyber Monday’ referring to the huge volume of online shopping that begins the week after Thanksgiving as those put off by the stampedes of shoppers at brick and mortar locations and with conflicting obligations click on to innumerable web sites to let their cursors do the shopping.

Cyber Monday was coined in 2005, just after Boston became a DSL city in 2003, by the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org to encourage and promote virtual shopping.

Black Friday didn’t become the catch phrase it is now until the mid-1990s when the World War II generation, which was born in the 1920s as my parents were, began to pass.

Only my aunt Thelma, born 1925, of my older relatives is still with this world of ours.

Contemporary usage of Black Friday no longer carries the baggage it did during my now long-ago youth.

Black Friday is now the brightest of Fridays.

 

 

 

Michio Kushi: July 17,1926-December 28, 2014

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Michio Kushi passed on 12/28/2014 from pancreatic cancer. 

The 1st. Unitarian Universalist Arlington St. Church here in Boston will be hosting a memorial service and reception at 12 noon on January 31, 2015

www.michiokushi.org

Mr. Kushi was a proponent and teacher of macrobiotics, literally “large life,” and the founder of the Erewhon natural food stores in Boston and Cambridge and the 7th. Inn and Sanae restaurants here in Boston.

Folks are sometimes surprised to learn that  I have been a vegetarian for over 35 years.

It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of Mr. Kushi although we had never met.

Mr. Kushi’s Boston store at 342 Newbury St; currently occupied by a Ralph Lauren ‘Rugby’ store  was where much of my early education as a vegetarian was gleaned.

(Erewhon also had a store on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, MA between Harvard and Porter Squares).

My veggieism began covertly as even I wasn’t completely cognizant of  the first stirrings of what has come to be a life-long path.  During my very first time living outside of the confines of my Mom I was unwilling to clean and even less willing to spend to purchase meat.  To be sure I was working in restaurants at that time as a dishwasher and busser so flesh was on the menu if not in the refrigerator.

In 1978 I was a 20 year-old Counselor-in-Training at the Unitarian Universalist Rowe Camp and Conference Center Junior High Camp  where I read Frances Lappe’s DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET, 1974, ISBN-13 978-0345321206  (This ISBN is for the 10th Anniversary revised edition).

DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET changed my life forever.  Ms. Lappe’s concentration on eating lower on the food chain by the virtue of protein combinations not only cleansed diets but pointed the way to a sustainable form of food economics.

A year later I was in the midst of my 1st. spring in Boston when I lost my job under nebulous circumstances.  Vowing to eliminate immoral acts from my day-to-day life meat was purged from my diet.

Erewhon became my market.

“Erewhon” is an anagram for “nowhere” and ‘Erewhon’ is an 1872 utopian novel by Samuel Butler about communal living.

Erewhon was well ahead of the curve regarding the availability of items such as soba noodles, wheat grass, bok choi, arugula and mung sprouts at a time when the ‘produce’ section of the Westland Ave. Stop n’ Shop deemed Romaine(Boston) lettuce to be “exotic.”

Erewhon featured framed calligraphy of Mr. Kushi’s thoughts from the exposed brick walls long before they had become a cliche’.

(The exposed brick was the cliche’, not Mr. Kushi’s thoughts).

Mr. Kushi was a proponent of macrobiotics and eschewed red meat, dairy, refined sugar and virtually all added ingredients artificial or not.

Mr Kushi also stressed seasonal and local cuisine to more perfectly attune one to one’s locale.

I followed macrobiotic for several weeks and although I was delighted that my 17th. bout with post-adolescent acne had been quelled the extreme weight loss engendered was not practical for my way of life.  By the end of the summer of 1979 I had phased into the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that has served me well  to this day.

Erewhon represented a retail culture that is now an endangered species in our smartphone/social media millennium.  I remember very well learning the differences between “wheat” and “whole wheat” and between udon and soba noodles not from the staff but from Erewhon shoppers.  Indeed shopping at Erewhon was nutrition for the intellect as well as the body.

Erewhon had precious little competition for its market of veggies, macrobiotics buffs and what would now be called “foodies”.  Boylston St. offered Nature Food Center which plied enormous 1000 count jars of 500 milligram Vitamin C along with carob coated wheat cookies that tasted like carpet remnants soaked in Nestles’ Quik.

Erewhon offered many tastings of its wares and this budget challenged consumer gleaned small meals from strategic arrivals at 5:30 P.M.  Folks wandered around stuffing themselves with organic figs from Bulk Foods containers long before Whole Foods Market realized that “theft” increased sales and the Whole Foods market demographic could afford the markup that endorsed “theft”.

Sad to say but Erewhon was plagued not just with customers seeking freebies but with rampant shoplifting as the staff was disinclined to interrupt those seeking 5 finger discounts.

“Communalism” is a lofty aspiration but an impractical one at the urban, retail level. 

Many a time I wandered through Erewhon with a bag of autumnal Bartlett pears and whole wheat linguini seeking to pay for my goods at the all-too-often unattended registers.

Erewhon practiced a “non-hierarchical” form of management which manifestly failed to collect the prices charged.

Mr. Kushi’s management acumen was minimal at best.  Mr. Kushi’s restaurants, the 7th. Inn at 288 Boylston St; and Sanae at 324 Newbury St; were interesting attempts to bring macrobiotic cuisine to dining.

The 7th. Inn on Boylston St. in the space now occupied by the Four Seasons Hotel was the loftier of the two as the 7th. Inn featured table service from servers in brownish aprons and white shirts without ties.  Even the modest prices of their brown rice and sea vegetables were above my ken at the time so I never sampled the fare.

A press release heralding the opening of the original Sanae notes  that “the SANAE faculty graduated from the heavy hippy drug scene”.

Bon appetit!

Sanae on Newbury St. fared better as it offered counter service only and a hand-lettered selection whiteboard enabling guests to mix and match proteins, veggies and starches.  Sanae was open for several years and closed abruptly in 1982 before re-opening in 1983 as…the 7th. Inn!… before shuttering for good later in 1983.

Erewhon’s food distribution business likewise closed in 1983 although cereal with the “Erewhon” monicker is till sold here in the 21st. Century at my local Whole Foods Market. Erewhon’s website: www.erewhonmarket.com

is unclear as to whether the current business sprouted from Mr. Kushi’s.  Tony and Joesephine Antoci bought Erewhon in 2011.  The website notes that “since the late 60s” Erewhon has been in the natural foods business.  It is not clear whether this Los Angeles based company bought the name or the business in its entirety.  Any further information on this matter would be welcomed by this author.

Mr. Kushi crossed my mind from time to time as I shopped at such  grocers  as Jamaica Plain’s original Arborway Natural which put a familiar face on wholesome food.  Bread & Circus, especially in its Westland Ave; Fenway store organized the shelves, brought in bar codes and was eventually bought out by corporate behemoth Whole Foods Market in 2003.

Today Whole Foods Market operates a 59,000 square foot supermarket in Manhattan’s Time-Warner building.

While Mr. Kushi was far from the ideal CEO he brought to Boston a dietary awareness that had been flying underneath the radar for some time.

“Food faddists” and “health nuts” were the tags attached to pioneers such as Adelle Davis whose LETS EAT RIGHT TO KEEP FIT in 1954, ISBN 4-87187-961-5 and Euell Gibbons’ STALKING THE WILD ASPARAGUS of 1962, ISBN-10 0911469036.  Both Ms. Davis and Mr. Gibbons earned the attention and couch of Johnny Carson.

Mr. Kushi was in the right place at the right time culturally as baby boomers aged into the thoughtful eating that would become the “foodie” market of our 21st. Century.

Having said that, Mr. Kushi’s holistic happenstance approach to business has been emulated by no one.  Indeed, his message might have had significantly more effect had his stores had been profitable.

It is a testament to the worth of his ideals that his influence is noted by many including this scribe.

Mr. Kushi was years ahead of the curve in making available tamari, sea vegetables and an array of Asian wheat and rice noodles.

Locavores and vegans are the unwitting progeny of Mr. Kushi.

Mr. Kushi seems to have been a more than decent man in his personal life, opening his Brookline home to many and living in accordance to his ideals.

Mr. Kushi’s philosophy and diet are not exactly mine.  But like Stephen Gaskin of the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee and the author of “Hey, Beatnik” his ideas contributed much to my collage as much as for what they aren’t as for what the ideas are.

Mr. Kushi, thank you.

Peace, Steve

 

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