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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* Symphony Park

April 21, 2019 1 comment

It is my habit

To visit Symphony Park

To spy a rabbit

Patriots Parade, February 5, 2019

February 6, 2019 Leave a comment

“So you’re a Pats fan?”

“Actually I’m more baseball and basketball.”

“What are your favorite sports?”

“Bicycling and lifting weights”

“No, I mean to watch…”

Ugh.

Nothing could have dampened the good cheer of Tuesday’s 1.5 million fans lining Boylston St. for what has come to be almost an annual ritual; the Duck Boats carrying another Boston champion team to be cheered by adoring fans.

However, not to put too fine a point on it but I found the inquiry by my fellow reveler a tad disquieting in that he assumed, always a risky proposition, that “favorite sports,” referred to watching rather than taking part.

Once upon a time I was an awkward chubby, pre-pubescent rooting for the Mets, Jets and Rangers, transfixed by the low definition grays of our trusty General Electric 12″ black and white.

Watching a Mets game before bedtime inspired the next day’s self-hitting 3-on-3 baseball game on the dead end of North Bayles Ave. in the Port Washington, N.Y. of my boyhood.

The time I spent watching was greatly exceeded by the time spent I playing.  I wanted to BE a player.

Today’s fan wants to LOOK like a player as in one of the innumerable Patriots’ jerseys that cloaked the masses along Boylston St.

My fandom inspired activity rather than sloth.

It seems to me to me that we have a classic case of ‘wag the dog’ when watching  comes to mind rather than doing when it comes to all manner of activity and sport.  The soft, bloated bodies of young folks seem to be the mainstream of today. 

This comes in spite of, or maybe because of, the wide availability of sugarless, low fat and vegan products and the easy availability of instruction in all manner of sports and fitness.

Life is doing. 

Fandom is fine as an inspiration and motivation.

What is not so fine is that young folks are more sedentary than folks of earlier generations.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas 2018: Santana ABRAXAS

December 23, 2013 4 comments

Steve Gallanter’s Blog: https://stevegallanter.wordpress.com

is a modest enterprise.  I usually sent out about 40 or so Facebook copies and another 20 email copies of my brain candy with the occasional response from a friend being more than welcome as were the pass alongs which on 2 occasions reconnected me with folks from the past.

(On one occasion I was connected with someone who felt it advisable to comment on my real and perceived personal and professional shortcomings).

In April 2014 I began tweeting and my number of views exploded to about 200 altogether.

Oh joy!

However my Christmas 2013 blog was passed along quite a bit; long enough to break into the Top 5 of my Google page.

More gratifying were several comments along the lines of “Thank you for this acknowledgement of a personal Christmas tradition, as I too have one.”

I responded to all of these comments gladly.  I was pleasantly taken aback at the number and intensity of these very private traditions and their importance to their adherents.

One gentleman took the time to send a message about his private tradition of chewing Trident spearmint gum after Christmas dinner as his now gone father had.

The last 4 years have brought thoughts of other Christmases to mind as my memory bank is thankfully  still accepting deposits.  Indeed, this blog has precipitated thoughts of Christmas past to the extent that an addition is appropriate.

In that spirit I am once again sending:

Merry Christmas: Santana ABRAXAS

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is a time when we, even those of us who do not share in the religious meaning of the holiday, each have our own meaning for this day.

Santana’s ABRAXAS LP signifies Christmas for me. 

I bought it for my Mom for Christmas 1970.  Mom, Peter and I had seen WOODSTOCK and Mom was mightily impressed with Mike Shrieve’s epic drum solo on “Soul Sacrifice”.  While Mom always tried a little too hard to like what I liked her enthusiasm was more than sincere.

I saved my .75 a week allowance, pestered my Dad for money and raked some leaves to conjure up the $3.49 to buy the LP at Port Chemists.

(I gave Dad innumerable promotional packs of aftershave and Borkum Riff pipe tobacco.  My brother Peter got Johnny Lightning 500 while I received several slot cars and Joe Paterno’s FOOTBALL MY WAY from Dad, a Penn. State grad.

It was my first “adult” gift-giving.

In 1970 I was 12.  It was to be my last boyhood Christmas.

Turkey, homemade cranberry sauce, (my Mom never served that jellied, canned… stuff), and visits from neighborhood kids fulfilled every expectation.

Mom was surprised and delighted with ABRAXAS even with its “dirty”, actually racist, cover.  It played endlessly on the turntable of the Gallanter household’s Harman-Kardon Turntable, AM-FM Stereo with Recording Cassette Compact Stereo.

(Dad was quick to nudge me as a way of reminding me that he had purchased the stereo and had paid me to rake leaves.  On this Christmas I actually found this habit of his endearing).

Christmas 1970 was to be the last Christmas of our family as a unit although neither Mom, Dad, Peter or myself knew so at the time.

1971’s Christmas crystallized the cataclysmic changes, voluntary AND involuntary, familial AND cultural, well-intended AND malicious that would sweep through the lives of Mom, Dad, Peter and myself.

Christmas 1971 couldn’t have all of us in the same room for any length of time. I brought ABRAXAS to our North Shore Unitarian Universalist Congregation’s Jr. High room where I played ABRAXAS very loudly to the puzzlement of many.

By 1972 headphones were clamped over my head as the congas of  “Oye Como Va” reverberated.  Hostility was assumed to be my motivation, and not one completely inaccurate, but astral projection to 1970 was the guiding star.  It was still my Mom’s LP but she was caught up in her own affairs and didn’t notice it missing.  Dad lived in Forest Hills, Queens as the divorce was now final.

(I remember looking at a snapshot of Christmas 1962 in our home at 86 Henry St, Merrick, Long Island.  There is a tower of blocks in front of me wearing a devilish grin with my Mom kneeling beside me with a bemused expression.  I remember kicking the blocks over.  1962 is my earliest Christmas memory).

For several years I continued to play ABRAXAS at Christmas.  Most memorably in 1975 when my Mom returned home from a hospitalization and I wanted to comfort her.  ABRAXAS proved to be more curative than the turkey I attempted to cook with tomato soup flavored stuffing).

By 1973 I was not speaking to my Dad, an estrangement that lasted more than 3 years.  ABRAXAS’ “Oye Como Va” reminded me of the photo of Mom and Dad celebrating their 1st.anniversary with a grinning Tito Puente, the author of the original “Oye Como Va,” at the Palladium in Manhattan, where my paternal grandfather worked.

ABRAXAS signified Dad as well as Mom and the paternal grandparents who posed with me on their laps but who I have no memories of.

The summers of 1974,1975 and 1976 found me at  Rowe Unitarian Universalist Camp and Conference Center.  ABRAXAS was in the ‘Radio Rowe’ LP pile for the public address system that broadcast on a sporadic basis throughout the camp. Santana was very popular with my brother and sister campers although they would have been taken aback, to say the least, at the talisman it was to me.

Boston gained me as a resident in 1978.  I left ABRAXAS with Mom.  I played it upon my early Christmas sojourns to the ancestral home.

In 1981 a group of we Port Washingtonians had a Christmas celebration at the New York, New York discotheque in Manhattan.  Mom remarked that the percussion of much disco reminded her of ABRAXAS.  The next day I played the now battered LP.  Upon hitching back to Boston I purchased a used copy at Looney Tunes Used Records.

1982 brought the realization that college graduation was beyond my capability.  At home in Port Washington I put on ABRAXAS to please Mom before disappointing her.

By 1984 my Dad had passed.  Yes, “Oye Como Va” reminded me that once upon a time Dad and Mom were deeply in love and Peter and I were fortunate to be the offspring of their union.  I have no recollection of my grandparents on either side but ABRAXAS is a talisman of their lives causing mine.

10 years pass. ABRAXAS PLAYS annually on my Panasonic Plus Cassette-to-Cassette AM/FM boom box.

1995 found my brother Peter and I at odds to the extent that I spent Christmas in Boston brooding ambivalently although I did send presents to Peter, his wife Aida and Mom.

I consoled myself with ABRAXAS “Hope You’re Feeling Better”s theme of ambivalence powered by congas and Carlos Santana’s wah-wah guitar pyrotechnics.

Being well into my 30’s in 1995 I had made my own Christmas tradition of surprising someone that I liked with a gift that spoke to an affection that had not been fully expressed.  Being single, childless and employed in an industry that throws folks together and throws them away with equal speed I had learned that small blessings are sometimes the only blessings one can receive but that can be a good thing.

…I was sitting on the living room floor of 24 Haviland St, Apt. 28 at about 9 P.M. 2 days before Christmas wrapping up 2 gifts while ABRAXAS played through the open door of my bedroom.  My roommate was out of the country for the holidays so I felt little compunction about playing my music a tad louder than I might have otherwise.

I was wrapping 2 gifts for a former co-worker.  Patricia was a beautiful woman who had tended bar at the same venue as I.   Although it had been a brief and occasional job for her the chit-chat of the time when I was an afternoon employee at that venue had crossed over to more chit-chat when we briefly worked the same bar.

Patricia was in the midst of several transitions in her life and I was taken aback, although pleased, when she asked me to call her.

Over the course of more than a year these calls became more frequent and more intimate and I found myself listening as much as I spoke.  Certainly, I was flattered to be trusted but more than that I trusted her with the pure aspects of my heart that had become very distant.

Pure and impure thoughts mingled, as Patricia was a beauty.

I was thinking about how to finesse a meeting with Patricia so as to give her both of her gifts.  One was a sardonic look at the recent past while the other was a light unto what was to come.

The phone rang, landlines had only begun too cede their domain to pagers, and it was Patricia.

“…Steve, I am at the bar. I have a present for you.  Where do you live?”

“I have 2 presents for you. I live 25 yards away I’ll be there in 5 minutes,” I replied.  My heart did a full-gainer and my hands began to shake.  Steeling myself I managed to wind some Scotch tape around my gifts and jetted out the door to the bar.

Patricia was by the pay phone smiling.

I ordered drinks, we took a booth and we spoke briefly of the joy and relief of having finished Christmas shopping.

“What did you get me,” she asked with the slightly turned head that moved my eyes and heart.

I gave her the 1st. package and she ripped off the wrapping with an urgency that was enthralling.  Laughing out loud she proclaimed, “I don’t know what I would ever use this for!”

“I know, that’s why I got it for you!”

I slid the other gift over the booth’s table when the owner of the bar came by to shake my hand and wish me a Merry Christmas.

I thanked him and introduced Patricia who also wished him a Merry Christmas.

“You know him?”

“I’ve been coming here since 1979,” I offered while wondering what Patricia might think of my recreational habits.

Patricia unwrapped the second gift and plugged it into a socket. She smiled a closed mouthed gesture of gratitude while nodding slowly in a way that signaled that all was right in the world if for only this moment.

“C’mon open your present.”

I opened Patricia’s package to find a mustard colored turtleneck that would undoubtedly be a good fit underneath a leather jacket for Boston’s winters.

I blinked involuntarily and held her hands briefly.

“Hey, do you think that the Prudential Mall is still open?”

“If there is any night of the year when it would be open late tonight would be that night.”

“Let’s go, we can leave the stuff in my car.”

My mind was pondering whether this meeting was a gesture of sympathy for being estranged from my family, gratitude for being a shoulder to cry on or just because Patricia was a good kid…or something more.

We walked the 200 or so yards to the Prudential Mall and after determining that indeed the stores had closed at 9, walked back to the car and I removed my gift.

We hugged.

Patricia got into her car.

I returned to my apartment…

1997 found Mom in a nursing home for the final phase of her life.  I bought her a new Walkman with ABRAXAS poised to play.  She was delighted.

1999 found Mom receiving a Discman.  The first CD…?  Yes, she remembered.

2004 brought the end of Mom’s life.  On that Christmas I played ABRAXAS at 2 AM in the living room of 42 North Bayles Ave, Port Washington on my Discman in a private memorial to Mom.

2018 has brought the passage from this world and from my life of several folks. 

To those folks both present and absent I offer,

“Oye Como Va.”

ABAXAS signifies Christmas with its calling to heart folks who have passed, friends who are missed, places that are gone and the phases of the Christmases past, present and future.

ABRAXAS is a talisman as real as a rock, in LP, cassette,  CD and YouTube formats that holds in its notes the presents, love, tears and hopes of Christmas every time I so much as touch it.

I am listening to it right now.

Oye Como Va

Merry Christmas

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