From gripping a knuckleball to brain disease gripping Jim Bouton

The dance is only too different now for Jim Bouton and his wife, Paula Kurman.

The dance is only too different now for Jim Bouton and his wife, Paula Kurman, now that Bouton battles cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

Freshly-deceased Anthony Young, hapless Mets pitcher, showed grace under the harrowing pressure of a record-breaking losing streak and in refusing to let the inoperable brain tumour that killed him last week knock him down. Now another New York baseball legend shows his own grace under the pressure of insidious brain disease. 

And, unlike some of the reaction he got when he published the book that changed his and baseball’s life irrevocably, there won’t be many wisecracks about former Yankee, Pilots, Astros, and Braves pitcher Jim Bouton’s brain making for a good dog’s breakfast.

Charlie’s Devils

Finley (left) with Dick Williams, who managed back-to-back Series champs before trying to escape the asylum.

Finley (left) with Dick Williams, who managed back-to-back Series champs before trying to escape the asylum.

It’s mentioned only in passing in Jason Turnbow’s Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt; 386 p, $26.) But what Finley did to outfielder Ken (Hawk) Harrelson in 1967 gave a sneak preview into two things.

Finley showed what he was capable of doing to divide and conquer his own team, never mind that he often united the team against him. And the Hawk showed what a player considered top drawer or with the visible potential to get there could earn on a fair, open market, at a time when baseball owners continued abusing the ancient reserve clause to keep them chattel.

Some in baseball still try shooting the messengers

Bremer, confronted by a Twins player over (God help us!) truth in broadcasting . . .

Bremer, confronted by a Twins player over (God help us!) truth in broadcasting . . .

Shooting or brushing back the messenger is two things. One is bad form. The second is that, until or unless the message is demonstrably libelous or slanderous, it rarely works to the shooter’s advantage. It doesn’t keep people from trying. And it doesn’t keep those folks from looking foolish. (Donaldus Minimus, call your office. You too, Hilarious Rodent Clinton.)

Is there still trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line?

Joe Pepitone, young, haunted, a Yankee whose promise went unkept.

Joe Pepitone, young, haunted, a Yankee whose promise went unkept.

“There’s trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line,” was the title Bill Madden gave a chapter of his 2003 book Pride of October: What It Was to be Young and a Yankee. The title alluded to what Madden heard when he first called Pepitone at his Long Island home to arrange interviews for the book. Long before he struggled to reach the former first baseman, there was trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line. And there would be again, nine years later.

Does baseball need its own First Amendment?

Karen Eidem wearing the T-shirt that offended Miller Park security . . .

Karen Eidem wearing the T-shirt that offended Miller Park security . . .

Let’s see. A harmless Milwaukee Brewers fan disgusted over Ryan Braun shows up at Miller Park last Wednesday. She shows her contempt for Braun’s duplicitous behaviour by wearing a T-shirt replica of Braun’s uniform jersey—with “F” and “D” replacing “B” and “N” in Braun’s name above the familiar number 8. And Miller Park security offers a choice between turning the shirt inside-out or leaving the ballpark.

Endangered Species: The Arms That Lost the Races

While we’re on the subject of the Strasburg Plan, it might be wise to hark back to past young guns whose careers—or, more accurately, the lack thereof, for most—may or may not have factored into the Washington Nationals’ thinking. (Manager Davey Johnson, who’s absolutely on board with the Strasburg Plan, happens to know about at least one of those guns directly.) They didn’t all have fractured comebacks from Tommy John surgery (though a few of them could have used it, if the procedure had been around), but they did have work use or other physical  issues in one or another way that turned them from brilliant or burgeoning youth to gone, or at least nothing near what they first seemed they’d be, before they should have been in prime.

The Whistlers

Today, I’d rather think about Barry Larkin and Ron Santo going into the Hall of Fame, Tim McCarver going in as the Frick Award recipient, and Bob Elliott going in as the Spink Award recipient. Thank Murray Chass for putting that to one side for now. Chass, himself a Hall of Fame baseball writer (longtime New York Times reporter and columnist whose specialties included acute analyses of the business side of the game), has uncorked yet another in his periodic series which could be called “Valentine’s Day,” considering that Bobby Valentine has been a particular bete noire of Chass’s since Chass was still a Timesman and Valentine was the manager of the New York Mets.

D-Train's Derailment, and Others' . . .

How strange and sad it is, now and over a lifetime of watching and loving the game, that as often as not the players who are the most fun to watch become the players whose careers derail soon enough after they get their first tastes of success. Dontrelle Willis is the latest such casualty. The sad part is that the D-Train won’t be the last, even if he might take comfort in knowing he wasn’t even close to the first.

The D-Train: from phenom to finished . . .

Jim Bouton's Forgotten Postscript

Which is worse? A baseball commissioner trying to suppress a from-the-inside book written by an active player? An opposing team burning a copy of the book?

When Jim Bouton’s Ball Four reached the magazine-excerpt stage and, then, full publication, in 1970, the former Yankee fastball standout, reduced by arm miseries to knuckleballing, marginal Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros middle reliever/spot starter, had both happen. But if you wonder whether Bouton shriveled into a shell and disappeared as a result, you don’t remember much of his post-playing life. Not to mention the book he published a year later.