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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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DEFINITION: Swole

February 26, 2019 1 comment



swOl/  To be visibly muscular.  This is to be distinguished from “swollen” which would be in the past tense and usually refers to some sort of malady or affliction.

Swole is the 21st. century description that has now succeeded:

-‘Pumped’ as popularized by the 1977 movie Pumping Iron and referenced in 1997’s Boogie Nights, was the calling card for pneumatic muscular development in the late 70s and early 80s.  The tire reference was telling as that era of bodybuilding and weight training, which are NOT the same at all, was characterized by the intake of massive amounts of whole diary products lending their users a somewhat bloated appearance.

-‘Jacked’ took over at about the time I started tending bar.  ‘Jacked’ had multiple meanings in conversation when referring to appearance.  ‘Jacked’ as in acquired illegitimately, “Dude, that guy must be jacked, he’s so big.”

(This meaning of illegitimate acquisition is still used in hip-hop in reference to illegal and unacknowledged samples).

‘Jacked’ also referred to self-abuse as bodybuilders were often thought to be absorbed in onanistic self-enchantment.  In this context ‘jacked’ was something of a double entendre.

-‘Decked’ came into fruition in the 90s as weightlifting and bodybuilding became chic among Generation X.

‘Decked’ is a nickname for DecaDrol, a trade name for Dexamethasone, a popular anabolic steroid easily obtained through scrip doctors who charged cash for prescriptions that rarely if ever required an examination or bonafide therapeutic issue.

(It is worth mentioning that Decadrol was used by AIDS patients to combat the wasting precipitated by a variety of AOOIs).

‘Decked’ also came to refer to the use of DecaDrol as a party drug, in spite of the very real danger of alcohol interactions.

Women seeking a tad more fiber to enhance their sleeveless tops began to emulate Linda Hamilton in Terminator II with her display of ‘femceps/sheceps’.

Eventually, enough bad interactions prompted authorities to crack down on the number of prescriptions and DecaDrol became just another drug by the time President George W. Bush was elected.

‘Swole’ entered the lingua franca around the time of President Obama’s second term.  By this time an almost obese silhouette had become acceptable and indeed de rigueur for hip hop fashion.

Smartphones enabled the instant constant communication of physiques to all interested…and even those who were uninterested.  Massiveness that filled a  screen superseded aesthetic elevation.

This new standard inspired a new definition of fitness which emphasized an inflated midsection that sat in stark contrast to the cut, defined look of 90s fitness practitioners.  Whole milk, refined sugar and sugared sodas returned to the menus of many.  Bulging bellies and bulging biceps formed a kind of symmetrical symphony which came to be called ‘swole.’

It is telling, at least to this aspiring journalist, that ‘swole’ is always in the present tense.  Although the ‘pumped,’ ‘jacked’ and ‘decked’ eras all had contradictions there was at least the pretense of looking to be healthy.

And while the morality of chemically enhanced strength is a matter of continual debate in gyms and professional sports the ‘swole’ era is primarily about appearance.

‘Swole’ is the current nomenclature but a new generation will press another term.  Stay tuned…

 

 

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.

 

 

 

DEFINITION: Spring in Boston

Spring in Boston is wearing shorts while watching the Bruins.

“Yo, check out my Jams!”

“What’s the score in the Bruins game?”

 

40 years ago: First night in Boston, September 19, 1978

February 14, 2017 1 comment

First night in Boston

September 19, 1978

First night in Boston was something that had been foremost in my mind for better than a year.  I had spent the previous 2 days pacing a hole in the living room carpet while debating my leave taking for Boston.

I was enrolled in Northeastern University but the apartment I had secured had been rented out from under me leaving me to hitchhike, again, to Boston to find housing for the upcoming semester.

Boston Common Realty rented me a spacious, albeit dilapidated, studio on Huntington Ave. for $160 a month directly across the street from the N.U. quad.

I hitchhiked back home to Port Washington, N.Y. and packed the trusty foot locker which had seen me through a 12 year-old’s rustic New Hampshire summer camp, 2 summers of sports camp and 4 summers of Massachusetts religious camp, with underwear and the clock radio my parents had bought me for Christmas 1970.  I was undecided as to what else to bring.

As the departure day loomed my feet got cold as I contemplated moving to a city where I had no employment lined up, formidable academic challenges and less than $100 in liquid cash after having a summer camp counselor-in-training position defunded.

I did have a ride from a friend however…if only to the Throgs Neck Bridge.

My friend called.

“Hey Steve, you pussy.  Have you pulled the panties out of your crack?” offered my friend.

“Thanks for the reminder,” I wittily replied.

“Steve, you’ve hitched 200 miles at midnight with $10 in your pocket and you’re afraid of college?  You even said you wanted out of Port; like y’know, yesterday.”

I replied, “Yeah, I know what I said but it just seems that I’ll be moving into a new place without having a job or money.”

My friend was a good guy.

He answered, “You moved into that place on Main St. with only a little more..”

I interrupted and said, “But that was only a few hundred yards away and I moved back at the end of the summer.  This is a much bigger move in more ways than one.”

My friend answered, “I can give you a ride tomorrow but after that I have to get back to work.”

“I will call you tomorrow,” I answered and hung up.

I knew that it was now or never.

I bounced my foot locker down the 13 stairs to the dining room.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

I stuffed my foot locker with shirts and more underwear.

I grabbed my green Army surplus duffle bag from the drying line in the basement and stuffed it with the books and records that I deemed worthy of sustaining me through whatever might transpire in my soon-to-be home.

And then anxiety, as evidenced by my sweating soles, overcame me.

I turned on our 12″ black and white TV to see the reassuring ineptitude of my N.Y. Mets.

Lindsay Nelson’s calm baritone spoke through the speakers, “And the Yankees will be fending off the Brewers tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium as Dick Tidrow and Mike Caldwell face off.”

Being a Mets fan I loathed the Yankees and relished the chance to root against them.

I stepped to our side porch where my brother Peter and his friends were puzzled by my mixed emotions.

“Hey Steve, we can’t miss you if you don’t leave,” offered a friend of my brother Peter.

I now knew I had to leave.

I called my friend.

“What time can you drive me to the Throgs Neck?”

“I work until 6, so around 7.  So you finally made up your mind?” my friend asked in a question that was the answer.

The next day I was packed early and spent the afternoon bemoaning the defunding of my counselor-in-training earnings while taking in the sights of Port Washington’s Main St. and gazing at the apartment I had occupied for 90 days earlier in the summer.

I went to my bedroom and attempted to sleep.

I laid on my back.

I laid on my left side.

I laid on my right side.

I touched myself.

I turned on my clock radio, which I had retrieved from my foot locker and listened to WBLS…

“…Frankie Crocker with the world’s best looking sound…”

…eventually falling into a fitful sleep and awakening on a very warm afternoon.  I putzed around the house before bouncing my foot locker down the 13 stairs of 42 North Bayles Avenue, Port Washington, New York.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

At the bottom of the stairs I opened my foot locker to make sure that my clock radio was wrapped in clothing so as not to be damaged on my trip.

I was too nervous to eat.  7 P.M. loomed and I wrestled in my mind whether to call my friend.  I wanted to push without being pushy.  My brother Peter’s friends came by and toasted me with a bong.

“Aw, you’re not going to go,” said one.

“Wanna bet?” I replied.

It was 7:30, dark, yet still very warm.  I tucked my Sweet-Orr work shirt into my Uncle Sam fatigues.

The phone rang.  It was my friend.

“Sorry I’m late.  Ready to go?”

“Yup,” I stammered as my heart hammered.

In 15 minutes my friend’s red VW squareback pulled up.  I had met my friend while hitchhiking 2 years ago and now that very same vehicle was to be my way out.

My Mom came out of the house and gave me a loaf of banana bread and told me that I could call collect when I made my arrival in Boston.  Mom’s eyes were wet.

My friend dragged my foot locker to the rear of the red VW squareback.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

My friend shifted gears and we were off to the access road leading from the L.I.E. to the Grand Central Parkway.

“…this is Tony Pigg rocking ’til 10 PM tonight…”

“Hey, could change the station?” I asked.

“Please don’t tell me you want to listen to disco again.  Didn’t you get your fill at work?” my friend wondered.

“The Yanks are playing the Brewers and as a Mets fan the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

My friend smiled and dialed in WINS AM as the throaty tones of Frank Messer intoned. “Going for the Brewers tonight is Mike Caldwell who has been a great surprise for the Brewers thus far this year having won 20 games already with the Yankees sending Dick Tidrow to the hill.”

All the windows were open.  Traffic was light as Tuesday night wasn’t a going out night and rush hour was over.

My friend pulled over on the shoulder of the access road.  E.J. Korvettes’ discount department store’s parking lot lights shone across the L.I.E.

I took the foot locker out of the VW squareback.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

Ker plunk.

“Well, I guess you are really going.  What time do you think your arrival in Boston will be?” my friend asked.

“I dunno…about 3 A.M. I guess.”

“For Christsakes be careful,” my friend offered.

And then, abruptly, “How much money do you have?”

“$37,” I answered.

My friend rolled his eyes and pressed a $20 bill into my hand, gave me a hug, and honked the horn while he drove to the next exit to return to Port Washington.

I put my thumb out being careful to stand under the Grand Central Parkway sign’s lights while glancing towards the Eastbound lane of the L.I.E. in the hope I could see the red VW squareback returning to Port Washington.

No such luck.

I wondered if the Brewers were beating the Yankees.

Up the road was my first night in Boston.

SUPER BOWL XLIX: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24…passing the test

February 11, 2015 1 comment

Q:  Why did the student wear his Seattle Seahawks N.F.L. gear to his test?

A:  Because he wanted to pass.

Thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience!

 

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