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The Banter Gold Standard: Jim Bouton, Reliever

Is it time for pitchers and catchers yet? Almost. In the meantime, dig this:

“Jim Bouton, Reliever”

By Jack Mann

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.

Breast or Bottle?

Head on over to Grantland for a long appreciation of the Chipmunks by Bryan Curtis. Nice to see Shecter, Merchant, Isaacs, Vecsey and company celebrated.

The only problem I have with the piece is how Jimmy Cannon is portrayed. It’s not that Curtis is inaccurate in saying that Cannon was tired and bitter by the mid-’60s, or that he was the foil that the Chipmunks needed (too bad there is no mention of Dick Young). Curtis lampoons Cannon’s writing style but I wish it was balanced with a sense of how good Cannon was in his prime. Cannon is seen here as he’s most often remembered these days–an out-of-touch old timer who had become a parody of himself. That’s a shame because while Cannon was sentimental to a fault when he was bad, he was terrific, one of the very best, when he was good.

[Picture by Bags]

Bronx Banter Interview: George Vecsey

photo

We’ve talked about Jack Mann a lot lately (here and here).

Mann was at Sports Illustrated for a brief time in the 1960s. Here is a sampling of his work:

“Just a Guy at Oxford” (Bill Bradley)

“The Great Wall of Boston” (The Green Monster)

“Sam, You Make the Ball too Small” (Sam McDowell)

“The King of the Jungle” (Walter O’Malley)

George Vecsey, right, with his arm around the wonderful Ray Robinson

I recently exchanged e-mails with George Vecsey, the veteran columnist for the New York Times, who started his career at Newsday under Mann.

Here’s our chat. Enjoy:

 

Bronx Banter: When Jack Mann took over the Newsday sports department was he influenced by any sports editors that came before him? I’m thinking of someone like Stanley Woodward.

George Vecsey: I don’t know. He came up through the news department at Newsday, had some college, was well read, surely knew about sports editors, but was so much an outsider that I doubt he would consider himself an acolyte of anybody.

BB: How would you describe to young readers what the climate of the press box was like in 1960? And how did Mann and “his Chipmunks” differ from the older writers?

GV: Well, the dichotomy was not as clear as I guess we would like to have thought. It may have been a function of age. But Isaacs and Len Shecter of the Post and Larry Merchant of the Philly Daily News were not children, and were capable of thinking for themselves, with Jack only part of it. The Chipmunks were young and energetic and brash. The split was probably on the same generational lines of the Kennedy-Nixon election – new vs. old (politics excluded). Even in 1960, some of us (me at least) were anticipating the forces of the mid-60’s in style and music and attitude. But we all were pretty traditional, except in comparison to the older writers, who were often hooked into the free drinks of the press room and the party line of the clubs they covered, or so we thought. Sounds pretty simplistic, looking back.

BB: Who else writing for the New York papers in the early 60s were like-minded? I’m thinking specifically of Shecter at the Post. Who else was part of the new breed?

GV: Len Shecter, Isaacs, Merchant, of course. And Stan Hochman A lot of the younger guys were Chipmunks just because we chattered a lot, and hung out together. Looking back, it would be hard to put one label on me, Steve, Maury Allen, Vic Ziegel, Phil Pepe, Paul Zimmerman, Joe Donnelly, Joe Gergen. We (or at least I did) admired Dick Young, who was no Chipmunk, but I knew him through my dad when I was a little kid, and Dick was very gracious to me when I came along as a young writer. I was friendly with older guys like Harold Rosenthal (more acerbic than any of us) and Barney Kremenko (a kind man, a friend), and I learned a lot from Leonard Koppett, one of the great people of the business, and I adored Jimmy Cannon. I don’t know that Bob Lipsyte considered himself a Chipmunk, but he and I hung out a lot in those days, and his excellent early work as a sports columnist (in his first tour of duty, I emphasize) re-defined the genre. So it’s hard to define Chipmunk, at this late date. Every generation has its new look. When I came back to Sports in 1980, there was Jane Gross, Allen Abel, Michael Farber, Jane Leavy, Phil Hersh, all good pals of mine. New faces.

BB: And now, the climate is different from then.

GV: The one difference between then and now was that everybody talked in the press box. Talked about the game. Argued about politics. Bickered about where we were going to dinner. Nowadays, the kids are all hunched over their machines, with headsets on, tweeting and facebooking and blogging and goodness knows what else. Nobody talks in the press box. I miss arguments. I miss human contact. I think we had more fun than the Thumb Generation. But the output in the New York Times is really good, probably better than ever, which is what matters.

(more…)

Mann, Oh Mann

Jack Mann appreciation continues with three pieces by his colleagues. Please enjoy these memories of Mann from John Schulian, Tom Callahan and Dave McKenna.

Unvarnished Mann

By John Schulian

In the world according to Jack Mann, if a ballplayer dragged his private parts over the post-game spread while reaching for the mustard, a sports writer damn well better file it away for future use. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to re-create the scene for a family newspaper, but he could certainly offer some well-crafted hints. In fact Jack insisted on it when he was a visionary sports editor at Newsday because he would have done no less were he writing the story himself. He was, after all, a slave to the truth no matter how discomfiting.

Not everybody appreciated it. To this day, there are those who recoil at the sound of his name before recovering to rail profanely about his parentage, fondness for the grape, and well-worn mean streak. Jack was, in his time, the most complicated and divisive figure in sportswriting this side of Mark Kram and Dick Young. You either loved him or hated him, and if you loved him, there were still going to be times when you wondered why the hell he did some of the things he did.

Of course the legend occasionally got in the way of the facts. Jack may have thrown a tray of type out a window at the Washington Daily News, for instance, or it may have been his boss, Dave Burgin, who did the honors. God knows they were both capable of it in the days when they were making the sports section in that abysmal tabloid the liveliest reading in town. Or maybe the incident never happened at all.

What I can guarantee did happen was Jack’s constant and very public humiliation of Shirley Povich, the icon who anchored the Washington Post’s sports page for 70 years. Shirley was every bit as gracious and gentlemanly as Red Smith, and a fine writer, too, but by the early 1970s, his reportorial legs were gone and his column showed it. He covered more and more games by watching them on TV. Even the Redskins, who become more important than the White House during the NFL season, couldn’t get him off his couch. Jack smelled blood and went for the kill, parodying Shirley’s style (“The way it came across on Channel 9”) and sneeringly referring to the Post by its advertising slogan (“Over at ‘Quoted, Honored and Consulted’”).

It was not for nothing then that the Post never hired Jack full-time after the Daily News and his subsequent employer, the Washington Star, went belly up. To tell the truth, I was surprised he got so much as a freelance assignment at the Post, but when Casey Stengel died, there was that byline – Jack Mann – on the front of the next day’s sports page. I doubt the old Professor got a better sendoff. And there would be more pieces by Jack, not a lot of them but enough to keep his name alive. I still wonder how hard George Solomon, who was then settling into his job as the Post’s sports editor, had to fight for Jack. But they had worked together at the Daily News, and George understood just how good Jack was.

To read his prose was to get a sense of the man at the typewriter. It was blunt, no-nonsense, and it could, on certain occasions, feel like a punch in the mouth. And yet, while lyricism wasn’t his game, he wove enough literary allusions into his work to let readers in on the fact that he knew Hester Prynne wasn’t a baseball Annie from Boston.

(more…)

The Elements of Style

Jack Mann was a great newspaper man: editor, reporter, and columnist.

Over at the National Sports Journalism Center, Dave Kindred has a wonderful piece on Mann:

Mann made his reputation through the tumult of the 1960s. First as Newsday’s sports editor, then writing for Sports Illustrated, he encouraged and reveled in reporting that disturbed the peace. “Chipmunks,” he wrote, appropriating the term of disdain coined by co-opted hacks, “are the New Breed … their outstanding characteristics being irreverence and curiosity.”

He made words dance. He once assigned reporters to interview track fans who carried their own stopwatches so he could write the headline: “These Are the Souls Who Time Men’s Tries.” By the end, his resume came with stops in New York, Long Island, Miami, Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis, perhaps because in his fierce integrity he suffered fools not at all. “Most chicken newspapers,” he once wrote, “which is most newspapers….”

When he was at Newsday (1960-62) Mann sent a style sheet to his staff. It was known as “the yellow pages” because he typed his memos on legal pad paper. I recently came across a copy and so in the interest of honoring history and the elements of style, I now share it with you:

[Photo Credit: Shaefer]

My! It Shure Ain’t Sweet

Historian Glenn Stout finds the smoking gun concerning Tom Yawkey’s take on African Americans. From a 1965 Sports Illustrated article on the Red Sox by Jack Mann:

“They blame me,” Yawkey says, ‘and I’m not even a Southerner. I’m from Detroit.” Yawkey remains on his South Carolina fief until May because Boston weather before then is too much for his sensitive sinuses. “I have no feeling against colored people,” he says. “I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club. Actually, we scouted them right along, but we didn’t want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer.”

Stout continues:

But then comes the first of two smoking guns: “But they are clannish,” Mann quotes Yawkey as saying of African Americans, “and when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club.”

No single sentence could be more revealing – or more pathetic. First Yawkey offers that all African Americans share the same characteristics – in this case, being “clannish.” That kind of stereotyping is damning enough, but when he states that “when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club,” he fantasy land. Yawkey is making the claim that the reason the Red Sox remained white is the fault of the black ballplayers themselves. He is saying nothing less than “African Americans erroneously thought we were racist so therefore they refused to sign with us.”

yawk

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver