Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The LuLac Edition #1300, Sept. 15th, 2010




Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four" is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Perhaps what an author craves more than a best seller is a book that can be classified as either a classic or one that leaves a legacy. "Ball Four" was a book I read when I was a Junior in high school. I re-read it over again because having been brought up on the sanitized versions of sports bios as well as The Chuck White athletic series the nuns used to recommend, I was stunned to see Bouton's characterizations of some of his team mates. I met him once in Manhattan when he was hawking his Big League Chew and had a fascinating conversation about the old Madison Garden as opposed to the new one. Bouton's book is celebrating four decades and even though it was controversial at the time and made people uncomfortable, it lives on as a sports and pop culture classic. Plus Bouton has run this act into many sequels. There was a TV show, "Ball Four Plus 5" and a few other tomes based on the original. Here is an excerpt from the classic, the one and only, "Ball Four".
November 15, 1968: I signed my contract today to play for the new expansion-born Seattle Pilots at a salary of $22,000. It was a letdown because there was no bargaining. In the old days, before I became a 30-year old veteran trying to hold on with a knuckleball, a freaky pitch that is almost as difficult to throw as it is to catch, signing a contract was a yearly adventure.
The biggest adventure came in the spring of 1964, after I'd won 21 games for the New York Yankees with an overpowering fast ball. I'd taken down a big $10,500 for that bit of work and was determined to get $20,000. The man I dealt with was Ralph Houk, the manager, who was then in his brief time as general manager.
He offered me $15,500. Houk can look as sincere as hell with those big blue eyes of his, and when he calls you "ponder," it's hard to argue with him. He said the reason he was willing to give me such a big raise right off was that he wanted to give me a top salary, more than any second-year pitcher had ever made with the Yankees, and forget it.
"How many guys have you had who won 21 games in their second year?" I asked him.
He said he didn't know. And despite all the "ponders," I didn't sign.
This was around January 15. I didn't hear from Houk again until two weeks before spring training, when he came up another thousand. This was definitely final.
I said it wasn't final for me, I wanted $20,000.
"You can't make twenty," Houk said. "We never double contracts. It's a rule."
It's a rule he made up right there, I'd bet. Once again, I didn't sign.
The day before spring training, Houk offered me $18,500. I told him I might have considered signing for that, except the Yankees had forced me to work for so little the year before that it had become a matter of principle. The Yankees had their rules, I had my principles.
Two weeks into spring training, I was still a holdout and enjoying every minute of it. The phone never stopped ringing, and I was busy explaining to reporters all around the country why I was holding out, giving them all the figures.
I don't think Houk liked that. Anyway, on March 8, he called me and said he was going to deduct $100 a day from his offer for every day I held out beyond March 10. It amounted to a fine for not signing. "Oh no, it's not a fine," Houk said. "I don't believe in fining people."
Frantic, I called Joe Cronin, president of the American League. Could Houk legally fine me that way? Cronin said, "Walk around the block, then go back in and talk some more." With that encouragement, I chickened out. I signed.
I shouldn't have. If I held out, I probably would have gotten my figure. I could tell from the negative reaction Houk got in the press. And I got a lot of letters from distinguished citizens and season-ticket holders, all of them outraged at Houk. I think that's when Ralph Houk started hating me.
February 26, 1969: Reported to the Seattle Pilots' spring camp today in Tempe, Ariz. As soon as I got to the park, I went right over to General Manager Marvin Milkes' office, and we shook hands and he asked me if I had a nice flight. He also said:
"There's been a lot of things said about the players' strike, and I know you've said some things about it, but we're going to forget all that and start fresh. We have a new team, and everybody starts with a clean slate. I'm giving some people a new opportunity. I've got a man in the organization who is a former alcoholic. I've even got a moral degenerate that I know of. But we're going to let bygones be bygones."
As I left, I wondered where, on a scale of one to ten, a guy who talks a lot falls between a former alcoholic and a moral degenerate.
March 5 , 1969: Mickey Mantle announced his retirement the other day, and I got to thinking about the mixed feelings I've always had about him. On the one hand, I really liked his sense of humor and his boyishness, the way he'd spend all that time in the clubhouse making up involved games of chance, and the pools he got up on golf matches and the Derby and things like that.
I once invested a dollar when Mantle raffled a ham, I won, only there was no ham. That was one of the hazards of entering a game of chance Mickey explained.
I also remember the time I won my first game. It was a shutout against the Washington Senators, in which I walked seven guys and gave up seven hits and had to pitch from a stretch position the whole game. When it was over, I walked into the clubhouse, and there was a path of white towels from the door to my locker, and just as I opened the door, Mickey was putting the last towel down in place. I'll never forget him for that.
On the other hand, there were all those times he'd push little kids aside when they wanted his autograph, and the times when he was snotty to reporters, just about making them crawl and beg for a minute of his time. I've seen him slam a bus window on kids trying to get his autograph. And I hated that look of his, when he'd get angry at somebody and cut him down with a glare.


At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed your recent baseball pieces. It was once a great game although always slightly corrupt. I, like you was so shocked at the time that I had to read the Bouton book again!
In recent references to local greats, I havent seen the name of Hughie Jennings from Pittston, a Hall of Famer. He had a long and great career in the Major Leagues.

Red Barons Fan


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