More bad news for Alex Rodriguez. This is not a surprise to anyone is it?
I was a sophomore in the spring of 1990 when Uncle L visited SUNY New Paltz. Not to perform but to see a girl. He parked his Porsche 928 outside the front entrance of the all-girls dorm which was appropriately titled, “Bliss.”
Is it time for pitchers and catchers yet? Almost. In the meantime, dig this:
“Jim Bouton, Reliever”
Washington Daily News, 1969
Jim Bouton pitched an inning of relief for the Seattle Pilots Friday night, and two innings Saturday afternoon. That’s the way it is these days for Jim Bouton, 30, who started 37 games for the Yankees in 1964.
They were three pretty good innings for a guy who throws only one pitch. Bouton got almost everybody out and he got Frank Howard, on a one-two pitch, to pop up.
The trouble with Howard is that some of his pop-ups land in places where nobody can catch them. This one landed in the bullpen when it came off the wall That wasn’t bad.
What was bad was that Bouton’s hat never fell off. It hasn’t fallen off for a long time. It probably never will again.
The hat fell off when he labored in the vineyards of Auburn and Kearney and Greensboro and Amarillo. He is not a very big man, so he had to throw very hard to throw very fast. He knew he had to make it as a fastball pitcher or not at all.
Bouton came right over the top with the ball and the maximum effort made the fingertips of his right hand touch the ground as he followed thru. He needed all of it, all the time.
And the hat fell off. lt was still falling off when he won 21 games for the Yankees in 1963, and won half enough games to win the World Series in 1964.
Then he lost the fastball. Nobody believed he had lost it in 1965, when he went 4-15. He was lousy, but so, suddenly, were the Yankees.
By opening day, 1966, at Minneapolis, the truth was evident. He threw three consecutive change ups to Jim Kaat, a pitcher, and the third one beat him.
“I couldn’t throw the curve,” Bouton said yesterday. What he meant was that he could throw it, but unaccompanied by that fastball that hummed and darted, it didn’t fool anybody. He was Jim Bouton, fastball pitcher, and he had lost his fastball.
Two years ago the Yankees tentatively gave up on him and for the rest of the year, Bouton got knocked around in Syracuse. Last year they gave up on him unqualifiedly and shipped him to Seattle, which was still minor league.
Bouton didn’t give up. “I thought about quitting,” he said. “We talked about it a lot, but my wife is great. She just said, ‘Whatever you want to do.’”
Bouton wanted to pitch. He began throwing knuckle halls. “What could I lose? I was 0-7 in a minor league. I had thrown a knuckler as a kid, and I found out I could still throw it. After a while, I was getting it over.”
After a while he was 4-7. Maybe, he feels, he can still make it for a few years as a knuckleballer. And if he can’t, he feels, it’s no great tragedy. “I guess I’d sell real estate, or something,” he said. “I know I won’t work in an office. I’ll have to combine something to make a living, with something I really want to do.”
There are other things to think about. There is Kyong Jo Cho.
“Oh, sure,” Bouton said, “we could have had more children. But with the population situation what it is, I don’t think anybody has the right to have as many children as they can, where there are already so many children in the world that nobody is taking care of.”
Michael Bouton will soon be six and Laurie is almost four. For the past year, suburban New Jersey has been getting used to the fact that they have a middle brother named Kyong. “His mother was Korean,” Bouton explained. “His father was an American soldier. It’s not an advantage to have white blood in Korea.”
The Koreans, after several centuries of being whipping boys for the Japanese—being given in Japan the menial equivalent of Negroes in the American South—have finally found somebody of their own to be prejudiced against.
“We didn’t specify a Korean kid,” Bouton said. “We just told them we wanted a boy, and the age, and one with an aggressive personality.
“We did say we didn’t want a child with a Negro background. You know I don’t have anything against Negroes, but my wife and I had doubts about what kind of America it’s going to be 10 years from now.”
He had doubts about what kind of America it is right now. When Bouton came to the Yankees in 1962, he was brainwashed like all young Yankees about what not to say to newspapermen. He decided to make up his own mind and found that he even liked some of them. He horrified the senior Yankees by socializing with reporters.
He learned from the experience of a reporter his own age that adopting a Negro orphan could lead to unforeseen heartbreak and be a failure.
Kyong Jo Cho was on the way, so Jim Bouton went to Berlitz. “I learned how to ask him if he wanted a cab to his hotel,” Bouton said, “but I didn’t learn how to ask him, ‘Where does it hurt?’ So I took a cram course, and now a lot of kids in the neighborhood know how to say, ‘Where did he go?’ in Korean.”
It was, in a sense, a waste of time. Kyong has steadfastly refused to speak a word of Korean. He came to Bouton a few weeks ago and complained that all the kids were calling him Kyong.
“He said he wanted an American name,” Bouton said. “I asked what he thought about David. My wife and I had thought about that and we were hoping he would ask. He said that would be fine.”
David Bouton is a lucky kid.
Over at SB Nation’s Longform, here’s a good one by Jorge Arangure Jr:
No kid who grew up near the border in either San Diego or Tijuana was unaware of what that simple line in the sand meant. It was the great divide: the difference between the land of opportunity and the land of ambiguity.
Tijuanenses, as we called ourselves, loved our city, but we were fully aware that the town served more as a passageway than a destination. Many of those who stayed in Tijuana had no choice. They couldn’t cross the border, either legally or illegally. Tijuana became the city of the stranded.
The border shaped everything around us, and although we may not have realized the extent of it until some of us moved elsewhere, being a border kid was an experience unlike any other in the United States or Mexico. There is a duality of life, a duality of identities, and a duality of geography that permeates everything. Every Mexican kid who grew up on either side had relatives who crossed the barrier every day, who wanted to cross it, or crossed it themselves. The border was as familiar as a sibling, a part of everyday life, never too far away, and sometimes just plain irritating. Rarely did a day pass by without someone mentioning the length of the wait at the border.
Yet despite the hassle – or perhaps because of it – those who live on either side of the border, and the people who live near it, are unique, sharing an identity only with each other.
[Photograph: Aaron Colussi]
Tonight at Walter Reade, one of P. Kael’s favorites: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.
Here’s another sure shot from the great Joe Flaherty (reprinted with permission from Jeanine Flaherty). You can find his story on Toots Shor, here; his wonderful piece on Jake LaMotta, here. Meanwhile, enjoy a…
“Love Song to Willie Mays”
by Joe Flaherty
When Willie Mays returned to New York, many saw it—may God forgive them—as a trade to be debated on the merits of statistics. Could the forty-one-year-old center fielder with ascending temperament and waning batting average help the Mets?
To those of us who spent our boyhood, our teens, and our beer-swilling days debating who was the first person of the Holy Trinity–Mantle, Snider, or Mays?–it was a lover’s reprieve from limbo. No matter how Amazin’ the Mets were, a part of our hearts was in San Francisco.
Mays was special to me as a teenager because I was a Giant fan in that vociferous borough of Brooklyn. This affliction was cast on me by a Galway father who reasoned that any team good enough for John McGraw was good enough for him and his offspring. So as boys, rather than take a twenty minute saunter through Prospect Park to Ebbets Field, the Flahertys took their odyssey to 155th Street, the Polo Grounds.
In that sprawling boardinghouse of a park I had to content myself with the likes of Billy Jurges, Buddy Kerr, and a near retirement Mel Ott whose kicking right leg at the plate was then a memory, no longer an azimuth which his home run followed. The enemy was as star laden as MGM: Reese, Robinson, Furillo, Cox, Hodges, Campanella, et al. So when Willie arrived in 1950, the Davids in Flatbush who had been hoping for a slingshot instead were bequeathed the jawbone of an ass.
Of course, we did have Sal Maglie, that living insult to Gillette, who thought the shortest distance between two points was a curve. But it was Willie who did it. It was he who gave the aliens in that Toonerville Trolleyland respectability. Even the enemy fan was in awe of him. He was no Plimptonesque hero about whom the beer drinkers in the stands fantasized. He was beyond that. His body was forged on another planet, and intelligent grown men know they have no truck with the citizens of Krypton. It has always amazed me to hear someone taking verbal vapors over the physical exploits of a ballet dancer while demeaning the skills of a baseball player. After all, is it not true that such as a Nureyev is practiced and choreographically moribund within a precise orbit I should swoon at such limited geography, when I have seen Mays ad lib across a prairie to haul down Vic Wertz’s 1954 World Series drive? No. Willie, like Scott Fitzgerald’s rich, is very different from you and me.
Yet, looking back on him (call it mysticism, if you like), I have the feeling his comet could have sputtered. This fall from grace, I feel, could have happened if he had come to bat in the final playoff game against the Dodgers in 1951. I was in the stands with a bevy of other hooky players, and I can’t help thinking Mays would have failed dismally if he had to come to the plate. He was just too young, a kid constantly trying to please his surrogate father, Durocher. Something dire surely would have happened: The bat would have fallen from his hands, or he would have lunged at the ball the way a drunk mounts stairs. Of course, this is all conjecture, since Bobby Thomson’s home run was his reprieve.
Still, let the mind’s eye conjure up the jubilant scene at home plate as the Giants formed a horseshoe to greet Thomson. Willie, who was on deck, should have been one of the inner circle, but he was on its outer fringes—at first too paralyzed to move, then a chocolate pogo stick trying to leap over the mob, leaping higher than all, which is an appropriate reaction from a man who has just received the midnight call from the governor.
But that’s rumination in the record book. Now, the day is Sunday, May 14, 1972, the opponent those lamisters from Coogan’s Bluff, Willie’s recent alma mater, the San Francisco Giants. The day was neither airy spring nor balmy summer but overcast and rain-threatening. I liked that—the gods were being accurate. This was no sun-drenched debut of a rookie; the sky bespoke forty-one years.
The park was as displeasing as usual. Shea Stadium is built like a bowl, and when one sits high up, he feels like a fly who can’t get down to the fudge at the bottom. An ideal baseball park is one that forces its fans to bend over in concentration, like a communion of upside down L’s. Ebbets Field was such a park.
The fans at Shea have always been too anemic for me. Even the kids with their heralded signs seem like groupies for the Rotarians or the Junior Chamber of Commerce: ”Hicksville Loves the Mets,” “Huntington Loves the Mets”; alas, Babylon can’t be far behind. And today the crowd was behaving badly, like an affectionate sheepdog that drools all over you. Imagine, they were cheering Willie Mays for warming up on the sidelines with Jim Fregosi! A Little League of the mind.
But there were dots of magic sprinkled throughout the meringue. The long-ago-remembered black men and women from the subway wars also were in attendance: the men in their straw hats, alternating a cigar and a beer under the awnings of their mustaches; the women, grown slightly wide with age, bouquet bottoms (greens, reds, yellows, purples) sashaying full bloom. These couples wouldn’t yell “Charge” when the organ demanded it (a dismal, insulting gift from the Los Angeles Dodgers), nor would they cheer a sideline game of catch. They were sophisticates; they had seen the gods cavort in too many Series to pay tribute to curtain-raising antics.
Mays was in the lead off spot, and one watched him closely for decay. Many aging ballplayers go all at once, and the pundits were playing taps for Willie. This (and a .163 batting average) roused speculation about Mays’ demise. Nothing much was learned from his first at bat. He backed away from “Sudden Sam” McDowell’s inside fast ball, a trait that is much more noticeable in him lately against pitchers who throw inside smoke. But he wasn’t feverishly bailing out, just apprehensively stepping back. Not a deplorable physical indignity but a small one, like an elegant man in a homburg nodding off in a hot subway. He walked, as did Harrelson and Agee after him. Then Staub, as if disturbed by the clutter, cleaned the bases with a grand slam. Mets 4–0.
His second time at bat I noticed he shops more for his pitches these days. There is a slight begging quality, where once there was unbridled aggressiveness. This time patience paid a price, and he was caught looking at a third strike. This was more disturbing. The head of the man in the homburg had just fallen on the shoulder of the woman next to him.
In the top of the fifth the Giants roughed up Met pitcher Ray Sadecki for four runs. Also in the course of their rally they pinch hit for their lefty McDowell, which meant that Mays would have to hit against the Giants’ tall, hard-throwing right hander Don Carrithers in the Mets’ bottom half. Bad omens abounded. If a left hander could brush Willie back, what would a right hander do? And now the game was tied, and he would have to abandon caution. Worse, the crowd was demanding a miracle, the same damn crowd which had cheered even his previous strikeout. The unintelligent love was sickening. He was an old man; let him bring back the skeleton of a fish, a single, this aging fan’s mind reasoned.
But one should not try to transmute the limitations that time has dealt him on the blessed. Even the former residents of Mount Olympus now and then remember their original address. Mays hit a 3-2 pitch toward the power alley in left center–a double, to be sure. I found myself standing, body bent backward like a saxophone player humping a melody, ’til the ball cleared the fence for a home run. The rest was the simple tension of watching Jim McAndrew in relief hold the Giants for four innings, which he did, and the Mets won, 5–4.
The trip home was romance tainted with reality. I knew well that Mays would have his handful of days like this. He still had enough skill to be a “good ballplayer,” though such a fair, adequate adjective was never meant to be applied to him. But life can’t be lived in a trunk, so I closed the lid on the memory of his lightning, and for a day, like an aging roué who has to shore up the present, I boldly claimed: “Love Is Better the Second Time Around.”
August 26, 1972