For two championship seasons Jim Bouton was a terrific pitcher. It all begins there. For 30 years he was a pariah to the Yankees, a social outcast who could not come home. That gets us up to yesterday, Oldtimers Day, the day the Yankees honor their past.
The Yankees invited him back to Yankee Stadium. They had his No. 56 hanging in a locker, had a cap that he could brush off in the motion of delivering the ball to the one batter he faced. At the age of 59, it could never be like the old days.
Life had changed. His first marriage had dissolved, and he was remarried. His place in life had changed. A man does not easily step back into his footsteps after the death of a child. Perhaps you heard about the open Fathers Day letter his son Michael wrote appealing to the Yankees that enough time had passed, and that they should invite that old pitcher back.
His reception from the packed stadium was rich with cheers. Perhaps there was some understanding of what had gone on with the man in all those years as an outcast. Certainly, he felt what had changed around the remodeled and redecorated clubhouse, and what was the same. I still see it as it was; I dont see it as it is, he said, trying to put the jumble of pieces together in his mind.
Fans wanted to know whats it like in the dugout, and whats it like in the clubhouse, Bouton reflected. He and Shecter told them, and people who read it loved it and laughed at what they said.
The old guard gritted teeth, and the Yankees regarded it as betrayal.
He wrote that players on the U.S. Steel of baseball teams had fun, and told some of the kind of fun they had. He wrote that Mickey Mantle hit a home run in the haze of a hangover and, when he returned to the dugout, said, Boys, you dont know how hard that was. And of team members playing peeping Tom on the roof of the Shoreham Hotel, and how one player packed a drill and a mirror on the road to improve the craft. And sometimes one of the young men on the team would find the company of a young woman.
Mostly the players went unnamed. Its still funny stuff, however benign by todays standards. He really hurt nobody, but the ethics of baseball said it wasnt done. Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner, demanded that Bouton make a public statement that he exaggerated, which he refused to do. And Michael Burke, then president of the Yankees, wrote a note saying, I, on the other hand, loved it.
In 1963, his second season, he was 21-7. In the World Series sweep by the Dodgers, he lost Game 3, 1-0. In 64 he was 18-13. He won two games in the Series against the Cardinals. Then he broke down. His success was always at the edge of his envelope. I always felt I was a souped-up Volkswagen in the Indianapolis 500, he said. "If the glove compartment flew open, I was in the infield." For the next 13 years he was the last Yankee pitcher to win a World Series game.
My children spent a lot of time with the Bouton children in New York and in spring trainings. We spent social evenings with Jim and Bobbie, his first wife. When I was in the hospital anticipating brain surgery, which didnt happen, they saw that Anita, my wife, had dinner and a place to cry. When I went home he gave me a tree and a bottle of champagne, which we opened together when Lenny died.
Once a TV interviewer asked this outcast player-turned-businessman if he regretted anything of his life, and he replied, Some business deals I missed; some friends I let get away. Nothing big.
He said he made peace with Mantle with a note when Mantles son Billy died. The reply on Boutons answering maching, he said, was Mangle saying thanks, and Im OK with Ball Four, and I want you to know Im not the reason youre not invited Still, Bouton said he felt he wouldnt be invited until he was the oldest living Yankee.
Laurie Bouton was killed in an auto accident in New Jersey in August. Her fathers lingering grief prompted Michaels letter, which prompted the Yankees. When the promotions coordinator called, I jump-ed, Bouton said. He called the invitation her gift.
He said he has learned to cope by filling his house with her picture, of seeing her when they have a party. On occasions when he doesnt want to cry, he said he lets himself cry beforehand. You wake up in the morning, and you forget, he said. Then you remember, and it hits you. He sighed.
We saw the sunshine today, and we gave her credit; she set this all up, he said. If it rains, we give her credit, too.
He noticed the pinstriped hanging next to him. Look at this, he said. They give you a shirt with your name. Now Ill know I was here.
He put it on, put on his cap and looked in the mirror. He liked what he saw. Sometimes, in some ways, a man is welcomed home.
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