Viva Jim Bouton
Thursday March 8th, 2012 - Fox Lake, IL
Today is the birthday of one of my all time favorite baseball players, who also happens to be the author of one of my all time favorite books. Anyone who knows me well knows of my love for sports and for the book “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. I read it in high school and absolutely loved it, and have never stopped enjoying it. It resonates on many levels.
For some reason, that particular book strikes all kinds of personal chords with me. First, it’s just plain laugh out loud funny. If you’ve never read it, (and I can’t believe how many of my friends I thought were sports fans hadn’t until I bought them a copy) it’s a diary of Jim Bouton’s 1969 season and offers a peek inside life as a Major League Baseball player.
Second, he spent most of that season with the Seattle Pilots who became the Milwaukee Brewers the very next year. Many of the players he wrote about were the beloved Brewers I cheered for in my earliest baseball memories. Reading about them as people put a whole new perspective on everything. They weren’t gods after all, they were just human beings.
I was still striving to be a Major League player myself then, and I had no idea about the inner workings of baseball. I assumed everyone was one big happy family, and owners of baseball teams were benevolent old men who were in the business of making young men rich and always looked out for their best interests. Unfortunately, I was not the only one.
I think most of the misinformed public share that insanely warped and inaccurate image not only of professional sports, but Hollywood and the music business too. The only thing Jim Bouton did was tell the truth of how it really was, and he did it in an entertaining way that struck a nerve with a lot of people. He was loved and hated for it, and that takes guts.
I happened to love it, as did a lot of other people looking in from the outside. Those that weren’t so thrilled were on the inside and it ended up causing a major stir that blackballed Jim in many circles for many years. It wasn’t easy to do what he did, but he stuck with his vision and let it play out to the end. That’s why I have such deep respect for Jim Bouton.
Little did I know, years later I’d be facing the exact same small time thinking and petty politics as I navigated my way through both the comedy and radio businesses. The names and some of the situations were different, but the insanity of it all was exactly the same.
Jim Bouton had the balls to speak his mind through the years, as have I. It cost us both a degree of certain privileges in the short run, and maybe pissed some people off, but in the long run we can hold our heads high knowing we were true to ourselves and our vision of how to handle our business. Nobody likes to be an outcast, but sometimes that‘s the price.
I’ve always freely admitted the main reason I ever started doing these daily ramblings in the first place was a tribute to my love for Ball Four and how much I was entertained by it and learned from it over the years. I failed as a baseball player, but it sure helped me have a game plan to survive in the entertainment jungle. Thanks and happy birthday Jim Bouton.