JULY, 2004: Excerpt
from Berkshire Trade & Commerce
February 12, 2005 - Letter to the Editor
of the Berkshire Eagle:
To the Editor of THE EAGLE:
February 9, 2005 - Berkshire Eagle Editorial:
Berkshire Dukes owner Dan Duquette sees
Pittsfield and baseball as “estranged lovers” who simply can’t
put their differences aside. That is a good analogy, but the Parks Commission’s
tabling of a deal Monday that would have brought the collegiate baseball
team to Wahconah Park reflects a far more complex problem in a city that
can never quite put aside its paranoia, its pipe dreams and its paralysis
to move boldly forward.
July, 2004 - Excerpt from Berkshire Trade and Commerce
A new plan to upgrade Wahconah Park and prepare it for a return of the American pastime is shifting into high gear.
This spring, a licensing agreement was finalized between the City of Pittsfield, which owns the property, and a new Berkshire-based venture, Wahconah Park Inc.
The proponents of Wahconah Park Inc. plan to invest an estimated $3 million to refurbish and upgrade the aged facility and bring a minor league franchise team there by summer 2005. Construction is slated to start this summer.
Wahconah Park Inc. was initiated by a partnership that includes author and former New York Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton of North Egremont, Donald (Chip) Elitzer, an investment finance specialist who lives in Great Barrington, and Eric Margenau, a sports psychologist and entrepreneur who lives in New York and has a part-time residence in West Stockbridge.
If their plans bear fruit, the beloved-but-frayed ballpark will acquire a new sheen. In addition to enhancing the experience of attending games, the proponents plan to revitalize Wahconah Park in a larger sense. They hope to transform the park into a lively gathering spot that will provide a stimulus for the city’s redevelopment efforts and also help to broaden the base of Berkshire County’s tourism economy.
One goal is to enhance Wahconah Park’s appeal beyond those who are baseball fans, with the addition of a food court, shopping arcade and other attractions that will draw people to the park who may not be going to the game itself.
“We want Wahconah Park to become a center of public activity in Pittsfield,” said Elitzer. “We envision it becoming like a town square, where people come to gather and enjoy themselves on summer evenings.”
They also are bringing a new twist to local baseball with the Berkshire Hillies, a vintage amateur baseball team that will also be based in Wahconah Park.
The partners also are pursing a business plan that is intended to reinforce its identity as a community-based enterprise by selling shares in Wahconah Park Inc. This will enable local residents to have a stake as investors and owners - a concept similar to the ownership structure of the Green Bay Packers football team.
“Pittsfield has always been at the mercy of migrant team owners from elsewhere,” said Bouton. “We thought it would be nice to turn that system upside down and have a fan-owned team.”
They are currently in the midst of a share offering, which will continue through July. The shares are being limited to investors in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. Particular preference in allocating shares will be given to residents of Berkshire County.
Their goal is to raise some $4 million from approximately 350 to 400 investors, based on shares in units of $728. “It will be a mix of small and large investors,” said Elitzer. “We see this as a community resource as much as a business, so we wanted to give people in the community an opportunity to acquire a stake in its ownership.”
- John Townes
AOL Sports Exclusive
It has been 33 years since Jim Bouton wrote "Ball Four" and was pilloried by many in the baseball world -- led by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn -- for telling stories that simply couldn't be true or, at the very least, shouldn't be true.
Everyone said, "It ain't so!"
Of course it was so, all of it: Mickey Mantle's drinking; the beaver-shooting on the roof of the Shoreham Hotel by the Yankees; Alvin Dark's famous, "take a hike son," and countless other tales spun by the then-30-year-old retread knuckleballer.
Some, like me, would make the case that there's never been a more important book written about sports. Bouton pulled back a veil that had previously been impenetrable and revealed that professional athletes were mortal guys who did smart things and dumb things; guys who drank too much sometimes; cheated on their wives sometimes; cheated the game sometimes.
Remarkably, the walls did not come tumbling down. Baseball survived. Those who practiced sports journalism learned from a non-journalist (and his co-writer Leonard Shecter) that telling the truth was more valuable than creating myths. That didn't mean you had to follow athletes around at night; it just meant that skepticism and idealism made a good mix.
My Uncle Peter bought me the book in the spring of 1970, but read it before he gave it to me to make sure that it wouldn't be too shocking for a 13-year-old. He decided it wasn't.
He was right. I still remember not being amazed by the stories Bouton told about his ex-Yankee teammates and his 1969 teams, the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros. I laughed at a lot of it and to this day lines from the book come back to me all the time: "Yeah sure (Jim Gosger jumping out of the closet); "Smoke him inside," (Gary Bell); Joe Schultz repeating his two favorite words in, as Bouton put it, "all their possible combinations." Steve Hovley's, "offending hairs." (I wonder what ever became of Hovley).
And on and on. I'm reciting all of this without looking at the book. Don't need to. It is burned into my brain.
Now, Bouton has finally written his second book. Once again, he probably has upset a lot of people. He's right up there with J.D. Salinger when it comes to not following up on a classic, I guess.
"Foul Ball" isn't going to create the national sensation that "Ball Four" did. It is, essentially, a morality play about small-town politics -- in this case Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
What it shares with "Ball Four" is Bouton's humor, his keen sense of what's right and what's wrong, and a remarkable tale that -- if you didn't trust the author -- you would find difficult to believe is completely true.
"Foul Ball" is the story of Bouton's attempt -- along with partners Chip Elitzer and Eric Margeneau -- to save Pittsfield's historic Waconah Park, which developers and local politicians wanted gone so that a spanking new, taxpayer-built park could replace it.
I've been to a lot of the new minor-league parks and they're fun to go to, but Bouton makes a compelling case for not spending millions in public money, esp ecially when private investors come along with their own money and plans to bring an old stadium back to life.
Like "Ball Four," this book wanders in a lot of different directions because it is a diary. There's little doubt about who the bad guys are: the mayor, the city council, the incredibly arrogant and incompetent city parks commission, General Electric and, most disappointing, the local newspaper. The Berkshire Eagle is rife with conflicts of interest and remarkably incompetent reporting. The paper owns the property where the new ballpark it is desperately pushing for would be built.
Being an old newspaper guy, I very much wanted to find Bouton's quarrel with the paper to be simply a matter of the paper and the author being on opposite sides of the stadium issue.
Not so. If there was any doubt about the competence -- and intent -- of The Eagle's staff, it was dispelled in a scene with Bouton, Elitzer and one of their supporters, a candidate for the city council. The candidate, whose name is Rick Jones, is a plumber by trade. When he became involved with the Bouton-Elitzer group, he suddenly found himself being investigated by the city for allegedly committing the cardinal sin of not properly displaying his plumber's logo.
Pretty clearly he was being blackmailed and/or threatened, depending on your point of view. When a reporter from The Eagle showed up to hear his story -- having been called by Bouton -- he walked into the meeting and found Jones equipped with a tape recorder.
"No tape recorders," the reporter said.
Huh? You are a reporter, going to a meeting at which you have been told in advance that you will be presented with evidence that the Mayor and at least one member of his staff may have committed political blackmail and you don't bring a tape recorder? Then, when someone else happens to have one, you insist it be turned off? That's not reporting, that's stealing money from whomever is paying you.
Of course, given what's gone on at The New York Times in recent months, even those of us who defend journalism and journalists should be beyond being shocked by almost anything. And yet, it is still terribly disappointing to read Bouton's description of The Eagle from the publisher on down to reporters who don't believe in tape recorders.
It isn't as if there aren't also good guys in this story. There are plenty of them, many of them characters almost as colorful as the ones Bouton wrote about 33 years ago.
My only complaint with the book is that Bouton didn't give us a little more detail about some of those characters. He writes movingly about the death (in a car accident) of his daughter Laurie and mentions the members of the Pilots who have died. But other than mentioning his concerns about his other children on 9-11, he doesn't tell us anything about their lives.
Remember the great scene in "Ball Four" where his adopted son Kyung-Jo is given an American name and runs outside telling all his friends, "hey everybody, I'm David!" -- and I'd still like to know where the heck Steve Hovley is. He also glosses over his return to Yankee Stadium as an old-timer -- he was banned for almost 30 years after "Ball Four," -- not talking at all about what it means to him to be back there.
But that's a quibble. Bouton ended up self-publishing this book because his original publisher apparently got cold feet since he writes about apparent pollution of the Housatonic River by General Electric. Maybe that's why the book has received more attention. To quote another great writer, "Attention Must Be Paid."
This has been a great summer for sports books -- at one point six of them were on The New York Times bestseller list. "Foul Ball," was not among them. Which is really too bad. It is a remarkable story, a sad one in that the bad guys win.
But one thing I can tell you for sure: If Jim Bouton says it happened this way, it happened this way.
Smoke 'em inside, Jim.
John Feinstein's column appears every Tuesday, exclusively on AOL Sports.
Stepping Up to the Plate
Reviewed by David Kipen San Francisco Chronicle Sunday, July 27, 2003
Buying most books is an exercise in enriching Peter to thank Paul. A goodly cut of the money will always go to the publisher, which in most cases means either a foreign corporation such as Bertelsmann or a transnational one such as AOL Time Warner. Then, if there's cab fare left over, maybe the writer gets a piece -- minus expenses, of course. Readers are therefore heartily urged to eliminate the middleman and buy a copy (or two) of Jim Bouton's self-published but widely available new memoir, the delightfully funny, bittersweet and altogether engaging "Foul Ball."
Bouton, remember, is the former Yankee who wrote "Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues," a diary of his 1969 season pitching for the Houston Astros and the hapless Seattle Pilots. An eminently rereadable masterpiece, "Ball Four" became so influential that the New York Public Library named it one of its 204 "books of the century." It remains the best book around to hook a baseball-mad boy on reading.
Because it tipped over a lot of sacred cows, "Ball Four" also made enemies left and right. Graciously, Bouton made the mistake of giving his editor credit on the cover, and as a result had to endure charges that he hadn't even written the book himself.
At the very least, "Foul Ball" should lay that vile old canard to rest. Without benefit of an editor -- or even a publisher -- that same humane, sarcastic Bouton voice rings out in "Foul Ball" as clearly as it always did, albeit mellowed by a lot of road miles and roughened by some serious heartbreak.
Part of the new book's immense charm is how open Bouton is to the possibility that, in trying to save dilapidated old Wahconah Park in New England from the wrecking ball, he's really just sublimating his grief over the 1997 death of his daughter, Laurie, in a car accident. He's discreet about it, only once or twice mentioning how bereft he sometimes feels, but "Foul Ball" nevertheless succeeds as, among other things, a profoundly moving account of how a man copes with the unbrookable shock of outliving his child. Unmistakably, Wahconah isn't the only ruin Bouton is trying to salvage.
Like the 62-year-old Bouton, Wahconah Park has seen better days. The sort of old-fashioned ball field inevitably, endearingly referred to as a bandbox, it stands near the middle of poor blighted Pittsfield, Mass., the former industrial powerhouse of the fast-gentrifying Berkshire Mountains, where Bouton lives.
In a back story sure to ring a bell with San Franciscans, Pittsfield city fathers had swung and missed at the ballot box three times in a row, increasingly desperate to get voters to approve the spending of taxpayer money on an antiseptic new ballpark. Enter Bouton and his neighbor, who come up with a plan to save Wahconah -- at 111 years old, the longest-surviving minor-league park in America -- and make prospective teams bid against one another for the right to play there. This would have marked a momentous reversal in the way professional sports usually works, with franchises blackmailing cities into bidding for them.
Because one of the advantages of publishing your own book is getting to write your own flap copy, Bouton himself explains there what happened to the plan in his own pesky, commonsensical style: "The only people who didn't like it were the Mayor, the Mayor's hand-picked Parks Commissioners, a majority of the City Council, the only daily newspaper in town, the city's largest bank, its most powerful law firm, and a guy from General Electric. Everyone else -- or approximately 94% of the citizens of Pittsfield, Massachusetts -- loved it."
Bouton can cite the percentage of his majority because, in a scene of genuinely agonizing suspense, he submits the issue to a telephone referendum during a locally televised debate. It's just one twist among many in an irresistible story whose outcome remains in doubt until the very end -- and maybe even to this day.
Through it all, Bouton loses neither his sense of outrage nor his sense of humor. There's a priceless moment when Bouton describes a Seattle Pilots Web site as "so comprehensive you can hear the hot water not running in the clubhouse."
It gets even better when one of his fatuous millionaire opponents rises to state his piece before the townsfolk. To wit: "I'm not about fighting, okay? I'm about the community and the charity and making things work. Okay?" As Bouton's long-suffering wife, Paula, later characterizes his opponent, "He's a nice-looking man with a beautiful speaking voice . . . and then he spoils it all by speaking."
Paula gradually emerges as the sly, skeptical soul of "Foul Ball." Bouton's diary of their loving marriage, as it coasts the shoals of late middle age, is one of the book's real joys.
To be sure, living with Bouton doesn't sound like anybody's idea of a day at the ballpark. Thirty years after "Ball Four," he's still having trouble with authority figures -- including the New York publisher he eventually falls out with over this book's final form. Then again, 30 years after "Ball Four," authority figures are still having trouble with right and wrong, so why blame Bouton?
Ultimately, "Foul Ball" isn't just about Bouton's life and hard times trying to save an old ballpark, any more than "Ball Four" was about throwing the knuckleball. Without getting too grand about it, both books are also about American society in transition. First published in 1970, "Ball Four" affectionately debunked the idea of athletes as heroes at the exact moment when a lot of other cherished illusions -- the dignity of the presidency, the rightness of American foreign policy -- were also taking a beating.
Thirty years on, Bouton's "Foul Ball" looks at another storied American verity -- small-town democracy, New England style -- and finds only media manipulation, political corruption and underground toxic waste. Or not only those things, but enough of them to make a lesser man than Bouton lose heart. That he's still spoiling for the good fight instead, even if it's with parks commissioners instead of the commissioner of baseball, makes "Foul Ball" not just a funny book but a patriotic one.
E-mail David Kipen at firstname.lastname@example.org ©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Take Him Out to the Ballpark
Jim Bouton gets the other side out in 'Foul Ball' Reviewed by John Wilkens June 8, 2003
Late in his career as a baseball pitcher, Jim Bouton threw knuckleballs, erratic dancers with minds of their own. As a writer, he throws fastballs, straight and true and right down the middle.
He will be known forever as the author of "Ball Four," an almost revolutionary sports book published in 1970 that pulled the mask off the players, showed them not as heroes but as flawed human beings who sometimes do heroic things.
Now he's produced this gem, a fine and frightening tale about how power brokers can subvert the will of the people in a supposed democracy.
"Foul Ball" is a diary that chronicles the efforts of Bouton and his partners to save Wahconah Park, built in the heart of the Berkshires in Pittsfield, Mass., and home to professional baseball since 1892. Lou Gehrig played there. So did Jim Thorpe.
The citizens of Pittsfield love the old park; twice they voted in the late 1990s to have it renovated. But when the owner of the team playing in Wahconah left town for a new stadium built in another city, Pittsfield's movers and shakers decided they needed a new downtown ballpark, too – at a cost of $18.5 million.
That proposal lost at the polls. Bouton and his partners (chiefly, Chip Elitzer, an investment banker) came out of left field to make this offer: We'll renovate Wahconah, at no cost to the taxpayers. We'll buy an independent-league team to play there. And we'll sell stock in the team to local investors so that it can't easily be moved the next time some neighboring town offers a better deal.
Who could be against that?
Plenty of people, as it turned out. The City Council. The parks commissioners. The daily newspaper. The leading bank. They blocked Bouton at every turn, raising questions about his group's plans, its finances, its ethics. When that didn't work, they just told lies. The newcomers eventually found themselves in an impossible situation. They couldn't get a lease for Wahconah Park without having a team to play in it, and they couldn't get a team without having a lease.
They wouldn't give up, though. "Persistent is what got me most of the good things in my life," Bouton writes. You can't help but marvel at their tenacity, especially in the face of such crass corruption.
As a diary, this is obviously one-sided. Certainly the public officials and journalists he skewers would have differing versions. Let them write their own books.
This one succeeds because Bouton is a clear-eyed observer of events and the human condition. He would have made a very good newspaper reporter. He has a particular gift for description, like this bit on the mayor's style: " ... a combination of regular-guy affability and unjustly accused fury, creating the overall impression of a pugnacious maitre d'."
He's a funny writer, too – not joke-telling funny, but amusing in how he captures the absurdity of different situations. "I defy anyone to make up stuff like this," he cracks at one point when the parks board is trying to hold a secret meeting, or the newspaper is ignoring news it doesn't like.
What ultimately happens to his stadium plan won't be surprising to the readers; the book isn't called "Fair Ball." But there is a final surprise, when you learn why Bouton had to publish the book himself.
"We started out with a small dream and a big idea," he writes, "and ended up in a morality play."
John Wilkens is a staff writer for the Union-Tribune. Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Bouton Terminates Contract with PublicAffairs
Will Self-publish New Book: FOUL BALL Publication Date: June 1, 2003
(North Egremont, MA, April, 2003) - Jim Bouton, the author of Ball Four, the most provocative, most influential, and funniest book ever written about baseball, has terminated his contract with PublicAffairs over the issue of censorship. Bouton, who never backed off what he said in Ball Four, has written a new book that may turn out to be equally important.
Foul Ball is the behind-the-scenes story of Bouton’s efforts to save Wahconah Park, one of the oldest ballparks in the United States, located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, not far from his home in the Berkshires. With his trademark wit and distinctive voice, Bouton recounts his battle against the local power elite, who wanted to build a new stadium to replace Wahconah Park, a project the citizens had voted against three different times.
“I call it America’s most costly hostage crisis,” said Bouton. “Team owners say, ‘Build me a new stadium or you’ll never see your team again.’ This is happening all over America. And the politicians help them do it.”
But Foul Ball is more than a hilarious romp about saving an old ballpark. In a detailed diary - his first since Ball Four - Bouton takes us along on his wild ride, into the teeth of corporate malfeasance, anti-democratic process, the tyranny of a one-newspaper town, and the real reason why the “good old boys” wanted to build a new stadium.
“Jim is fearless in his efforts to open the doors that are closed to the rest of us,” a PublicAffairs editor had said.
But that was before the top lawyer from General Electric decided to invest in PublicAffairs and subsequently Bouton was told to remove certain GE related passages from his book. Bouton refused, and you can read all about that, too, in Foul Ball, from Bulldog Publishing, available in June.
Bouton was a major league pitcher for the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. His book, Ball Four, was entered into evidence at the decisive arbitration hearing that led to free-agency in baseball, and the New York Public Library included it as one of its “Books of the Century,” along with Gone With the Wind, Catch-22, and In Cold Blood. It is the only sports book on the list.
Jim Bouton’s New Book Earns High Praise
FOUL BALL in Stores June 1st
In his first diary since Ball Four, Jim Bouton recounts his hilarious adventure trying to save Wahconah Park, one of the oldest ballparks in the United States, located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, not far from his home in the Berkshires. Opposing Bouton was the local power elite that wanted to build a new stadium, a project voters had rejected three times.
“I call it America’s most costly hostage crisis,” said Bouton. “Team owners say, ‘Build me a new stadium or you’ll never see your team again.’ This is happening all over America. And the politicians help them do it.” It wasn’t all fun and games. Along the way, Bouton had to deal with a few problems—like threats, conspiracy, toxic waste, a biased newspaper, and a city government that operates out of a bar. And that was before a publisher said he had to remove certain passages from his manuscript.
Here’s the early scouting report on Foul Ball:
“It is the things that Jim Bouton loves that he perceives so well, but that sometimes disappoint him so. Like, say, baseball and democracy. Foul Ball is the wonderfully wrenching tale about both—and also about refusing to stop dreaming and about refusing to grow up, even when you're in your sixties. Foul Ball is witty and wry. And it's good to have Bouton back on the mound with a lively ball.” Frank Deford, Writer & Commentator
"Now in his fifth decade of telling the truth no matter the conseqen- ces, Jim Bouton proves in Foul Ball that a badly run city government can be just as dangerous—and just as hilarious—as a badly run baseball team." Keith Olbermann, Broadcaster
“Foul Ball proves baseball still has its grip on Bouton. And he's still picking the big—and funny—fights in its behalf.” Susan Stamberg, NPR
“Jim Bouton had to self-publish this triumphant and exhilarating book. Why? Certain politicians and corporation big shots do not want some facts to be known, so they have done their best to kill it. Jim Bouton himself has never been more full of life.” Kurt Vonnegut, Novelist
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