Jim Bouton Is a former major league baseball player who won twenty-one games for the New York Yankees in the early sixties and pitched in World Series games for them.
He is also the author of "Ball Four," a book about life in the big leagues as seen by an insider. The book was published in the early seventies and became an immediate best seller when the then commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, attempted to ban the book because he felt it was detrimental to the best interests of baseball. Naturally, as a result of the publicity generated, the book went on to sell more than four million hard cover and paperback copies.
I had breakfast with Bouton in New York recently and he is the same funny, irreverent observer of baseball - and life - as he was when as a kid he lost a 1-0 game to Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second game of the 1964 World Series. Today he thrives as an entrepreneur and business consultant. He likes to reminisce about his experiences as a major league baseball player, especially his palship with such immortal Yankee stars as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris.
"I'll never forget the time we were playing in Minnesota and Mickey Mantle was out celebrating the night before. It was around 3 a.m. and Mickey was feeling no pain. I wouldn't want to say Mickey was drunk, but we knew he'd have a problem getting himself together for the game against the Minnesota Twins the next day when he tried to make a telephone call from a grandfather clock."
"Sure enough, the next day we managed to get Mickey to the ballpark, but he fell asleep in the trainer's room with the biggest hangover in the world. Yankee manager Ralph Houk scratched Mickey's name from the starting lineup and announced to the media that Mickey was suffering from a bruised rib cage."
"As luck would have it, it was a tight game and it was all tied up in the thirteenth inning. Houk had no choice. He phoned down to the trainer's room and ordered them to wake the Mick up to pinch hit in the fourteenth inning. They tried everything. They shook him, shouted at him, prodded his 'bruised ribs' - nothing worked."
"Finally, they poured ice water in his face and Mantle began to stir. They half carried him into the dugout, put a bat in his hand, and pointed him in the direction of home plate. When Mantle came out of the dugout the crowd roared. We Yankee players prayed that Mickey wouldn't fall asleep on the way to the batter's box."
"Well, there's Yankee star Mickey Mantle up at home plate, squinting away, probably wondering what city he's in and who we're playing. The pitcher winds up, throws, Mickey swings and hits a ball 450 feet away into the center field bleachers. The Minnesota fans go crazy because they're thinking Mantle had hit a heroic home run despite bruised ribs. The players are thinking that Mickey is going to forget to round the bases and simply walk back to the dugout."
"Well, he managed to round the bases and his home run won the game for us. After the game, I asked him. 'Mickey, how in the world did you do it? You had to be seeing triple."
"Mantle just smiled at me and said, 'I just hit the middle ball.'"
Bouton talked about Yogi Berra and his unintentional contributions to baseball folklore.
"In my very first game as a Yankee rookie, I was pitching against the powerhouse Detroit Tigers. I was holding my own against them, but the Tigers managed to load the bases on me in the late innings and up comes AI Kaline, a true slugger and a future Hall of Famer."
"I'm just a rookie and I summon Yogi Berra who was catching me that day. I figured that if anyone would know how to pitch to Kaline it would be Yogi. After all, Yogi Berra is one of the greatest catchers in baseball history."
"So we're huddling at the pitcher's mound and I ask Yogi how I should pitch to Kaline. Yogi ponders a few moments, the wheels are grinding in his head, he looks at me, and he says - 'how the hell should I know?'"
"Another time, I'm driving with Yogi to Fenway Park in Boston. It's getting late and Yogi is speeding along the highway. I realize we're hopelessly lost and tell that to Yogi."
"'That's all right' Yogi says. 'We're making good time though.'"
Big time sports needs more people like Jim Bouton who can remind us from time to time that major sports stars are just people like you and me.