America’s called shot, fifty years later

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“When those astronauts landed on the moon, I knew we had a chance.”—Tug McGraw (right), Mets relief pitcher. (Left, of course, Buzz Aldrin on the moon, in the famous photograph taken by Neil Armstrong.

Writing once to commemorate Apollo 11, George F. Will couldn’t resist comparing John F. Kennedy’s kept promise to a baseball legend: It was like Babe Ruth’s ‘called shot’ in the 1932 World Series. America audaciously pointed its bat to the right field bleachers and then hit the ball to the spot.

Whether Ruth actually called the home run he blasted off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root is still open for debate. And it did take Ruth a lit-tle less time to hit the bomb than it took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to hit Kennedy’s ball to the spot.  But let’s not get technical.

The bad news is that 20 July was the birth date of only one Hall of Famer (Heinie Manush) among 48 players to have been born on the date. The good news is at least two World Series champions (Mickey Stanley, 1968 Tigers; Bengie Molina, 2002 Angels) were. And when Armstrong took his small step for man and giant leap for mankind, it inspired the World Series champions to be the same year.

“When those astronauts landed on the moon,” said Mets relief pitcher Tug McGraw, “I knew we had a chance. Anything was possible.”

Alan B. Shepard, Jr. took America’s first suborbital space flight a year before the Mets played their maiden season. As portrayed in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Shepard walked the line between inveterate joker and unflappable Navy commander. He was much like Original Mets manager Casey Stengel that way. Except that, by the time he launched, he didn’t have to ask NASA’s diligent calculators, physicists, aeronauticians, and biochemists any longer, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Wolfe portrayed with staggering accuracy and insouciant wit an American space program that began much like the Mets, the significant distinction being that the Mets might have been better off with monkeys doing men’s work even though they didn’t flub one rocket launch by blowing the top off like a champagne cork.

America’s space program required graduation from then-Senator Lyndon Johnson seriously considering professional acrobats and daredevil stunt people to pilot spacecraft to one Navy pilot (Armstrong) and one Air Force pilot (Aldrin) descending gently but firmly onto the moon, with a second Air Force pilot (Collins) piloting the command module around the moon.

Collins once admitted that in the event Armstrong and Aldrin died on the moon he’d return to earth as “a marked man for life.” He needn’t have worried. Baseball fans unfortunately treat actual or alleged game goats worse. Armstrong and Aldrin came through admirably and spared Collins any chance of becoming space travel’s Fred Merkle. He settled merely for being its Dick Stuart.

Stuart was a Pirate in 1960, a man blessed with preternatural long ball power and an equivalent talent for playing first base like a future 1962 Met, a talent that earned him the nickname Dr. Strangeglove. (Sidebar: Stuart did play for the Mets briefly during his career—in 1966, the year the Gemini space program concluded.)

Collins was preternaturally disposed against mistakes as he orbited the moon. Stuart—who’d promised to hit one out in the Series—went out on deck in the bottom of the ninth in Forbes Field in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, with Ralph Terry on the mound for the Yankees and Bill Mazeroski leading off for the Pirates.

“I was gonna hit one,” Stuart said afterward. “Can I help it if Mazeroski got cute?”

A Met fan got cute in August 1969, when Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins rode down New York’s Canyon of Heroes for a celebratory ticker-tape parade, hoisting the sign Collins claimed his favourite among the sea of signs: WE LOVE THE METS. BUT WE LOVE YOU MORE. SORRY, METS.

Until Apollo 11, 20 July was a kind of lukewarm date for significant history in terms of volume, anyway. St. Hormisdas was elected Pope to succeed Sympowerus (514); Henry I succeeded his father Robert II as king of the Franks (1031); Sitting Bull surrendered to federal troops (1881); Alice Mary Robertson became the first woman to preside over the House of Representatives’ floor (1921); and, the Indo-China Armistice created North and South Vietnam (1954).

Birthdays on 20 July are something else. Heinie Manush, Mickey Stanley, and Bengie Molina share a birthday with Alexander the Great, Pope Innocent IX, New York City mayor Robert Van Wyck (one of the city’s most notoriously suffocating expressways is named for him), the namesake father (and jurist during the last years of the old Russian Empire) of novelist Vladimir Nabokov, future Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, publisher and one-time Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday, screen legend Natalie Wood, and rock star John Lodge (the Moody Blues).

On 20 July 1969, too, the late Jim Bouton was still a relief pitcher for the Seattle Pilots and still composing the diaries that would become Ball Four. His entry for 20 July, when the Pilots continued an extra-innings game suspended from the night before: Poor John Gelnar. The game was picked up today in the seventeenth inning and he promptly lost it. Then he lost the regular game, which is two in one day and not, under most circumstances, easy to do.

The Mets spent 20 July 1969 sweeping a doubleheader from the Montreal Expos. Their National League East rivals, the Cubs, swept one from the Phillies. The Astros, to whom Bouton would be traded in time to be part of their outlying spot in the NL West race, didn’t play. And it was baseball’s last round before that year’s All-Star break.

Unfortunately, the Mets were delayed at the Montreal airport for their flight back to New York. It enabled the players to watch Armstrong and Aldrin hit the moon on a television set in the airport bar. “[T]he irony wasn’t lost,” remembered outfielder Ron Swoboda. “I thought, We can’t get back from Montreal to New York, and here’s a guy stepping on the moon!

A day later, Bouton and his first wife asked the Korean orphan they adopted a year earlier if he’d like an American name, a subject they didn’t broach earlier for fear of adding to the boy’s burden adjusting to American parents in America. Knowing the boy’s friends had trouble pronouncing “Kyong Jo,” Bouton asked what about “David.”

The boy said, “Yeah.” “Okay,” said Pop, “we’ll call you David. You’ll be David Kyong Jo Bouton.” Right on cue, the lad ran out to holler to his neighbourhood buddies, “Hey, everybody, I’m David. I’m David!” Today David Bouton helps run Citigroup’s real estate financial group covering North America.

When the Beatles played their first concert at Shea Stadium, the longtime home of the Mets, before a mammoth, packed house, John Lennon is said to have commented after the evening ended, “We’ve been to the mountaintop. Where do we go from here?” Already having achieved a kind of immortality, the Beatles merely went from there to what an eventual fictitious toy astronaut described, to infinity and beyond.

When the 1969 Mets won their unlikely division, pennant, and World Series championships, they could ask, plausibly, “We’ve reached the Promised Land. Where do we go from here?” They went from there to a couple of pennant races, the death of a beloved manager, a few spells of futility and the occasional World Series appearance (including another claim on the Promised Land), and, alas, to today’s traveling circus.

When Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon, they, especially, could ask plausibly, “We’ve been to the moon. Where do we go from here?” Armstrong became a teacher, co-investigator of the Challenger tragedy, and a businessman; Aldrin, sadly, battled clinical depression and alcoholism before he sobered and, in due course, founded a company to develop re-usable rocket launchers. He also once settled the hash of a conspiracy theorist claiming the moon landings were faked and (with a Bible) poking him repeatedly by administering a right cross.

America sent a few more men (including Shepard himself, romping like a boy all over again with a makeshift lunar golf club) to the moon, ran eventual space shuttle missions to build the international space station among other projects, and has its eye on Mars and beyond at this writing. CBS turned out to be only half kidding when it scored a mid-1960s hit with My Favourite Martian.

Sometimes you can ponder that nothing we’ve done in space since equals Apollo 11 for the singular, permanent joy of having done what we promised to do, that was once unthinkable, and that hadn’t been done. Ever. But then nothing in baseball quite equals the singular, permanent joy of, say, the Mets conquering the game in 1969, the Phillies reaching the Promised Land for the first time ever in three long-distance tries, the Red Sox’s first return to the Promised Land since the end of World War I, the Cubs’ first return to the Promised Land since the Roosevelt Administration (Theodore’s), the Angels’ and the Astros’ first trips to the Promised Land ever.

Seven major league teams still have yet to win a World Series at all; another (the Indians) hasn’t won one since the Berlin Airlift. And two have been traded, the Astros going to the American League in exchange for the Brewers. So far, the American League has the better end of that deal.

The Dodgers haven’t won a Series since the day after the British tried to ban broadcast interviews with members of the Irish Republican Army. But right now their chances of returning to the Promised Land this year are the best they’ve been in a likely seventh consecutive season of winning the NL West.

Among the teams having yet to reach the Promised Land, one (the Nationals) plays in the nation’s capital, which once had a couple of baseball teams (both known as the Senators) that gave it a not always accurate image: “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” Today, Nats fans can chant plausibly enough, “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and not yet beyond the NL East.”

Take heart, Nationals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Rangers, Rays, and Rockies fans. When those astronauts landed on the moon, and the 1969 Mets reached the Promised Land, they did indeed prove that anything was possible. For baseball teams, for America, and for mankind.

And it’s possible that Washington, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Seattle, Arlington, Tampa Bay, and Denver will deliver themselves to the Promised Land before America points her bat to the Martian right field bleachers. And hits the ball to the spot.

Jim Bouton, RIP: The grip

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Jim Bouton steps forth from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office and the meeting in which Kuhn tried to suppress Ball Four—based entirely on a magazine excerpt.

Fifty years ago Jim Bouton pitched the season he would record to write Ball Four. Once a glittering Yankee prospect reduced to relief pitching thanks to arm trouble that arose after the 1964 World Series, Bouton’s wryly candid notes, asides, and observations while pitching for the expansion Seattle Pilots and the Astros both humanised and scandalised baseball and enough of its actual or reputed guardians.

By now, of course, Ball Four is the only sports book included on the New York Public Library’s list of 20th Century Books of the Century. And Bouton died Wednesday at 80, at the Massachussetts home he shared with his second wife, Paula Kurman.

A 2012 stroke left Bouton to suffer cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a brain disease linked to dementia that compromised his ability to speak and write. Making it worse: the stroke occurred on the fifteenth anniversary of his daughter Laurie’s death in a New Jersey automobile accident.

Baseball may have gone ballistic when Ball Four hit the ground running in 1970, and Bouton could never be certain whether the Astros sent him down that year because he wasn’t pitching well or because the book was driving the front office and others out of their gourds. But he out-lived enough of his critics, most of the time the living and breathing evidence of the maxim about living well and the best revenge.

And Ball Four keeps company on the New York Public Library list with the likes of T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, Jack Kerouac, John Dos Passos, Albert Camus, Agatha Christie, Grace Metalious, and Tom Wolfe.

Go ahead. Say if you must that Bouton didn’t exactly write The Waste Land, Light in August, Invisible Man, On the Road, or The Bonfire of the Vanities. But then T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Jack Kerouac, and Tom Wolfe never had to try throwing to Harmon Killebrew, Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Robinson, Lou Brock, Frank Howard, or Willie Mays and living to tell about it, either.

To say Ball Four was received less than approvingly around baseball is to say Baltimore needed breathing treatments after the Mets flattened the Orioles four straight following a Game One loss in the 1969 World Series. “F@ck you, Shakespeare!” was Pete Rose’s review, hollered while Bouton had a rough relief outing against the Reds. All things to come considered, it was a wonder Rose knew Shakespeare wasn’t something the tavern served on tap.

Nicknamed Bulldog in his pitching days, Bouton would have been the first to say how fortunate he was to have met and married Kurman, an academic and speech therapist who holds a Columbia University doctorate in interpersonal communications, and who has worked with brain damaged children during her career. She worked with her husband carefully and helped him re-gain much of his speaking ability despite his illness.

“Together we make a whole person,” Kurman once told a Society for American Baseball Research panel, to laughter that was sad as much as approving.

But Bouton struggled concurrently with what Kurman told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times was “a pothole syndrome: Things will seem smooth, his wit and vocabulary intact, and then there will be a sudden, unforeseen gap in his reasoning, or a concept he cannot quite grasp.”

Teammates were divided mostly over Ball Four; they seemed less offended by Bouton’s vivid descriptions of the lopsided contract talks too many players experienced before the free agency era than by his candid descriptions of their clubhouse, off-field, and road off-field activities.

“The first thing I have to tell people,” said his Seattle roommate and fellow pitcher Gary Bell, with whom Bouton maintained a lifelong friendship to follow, “is that you’re not [fornicating] Adolf Hitler.” Bouton wrote in his book that being Bell’s roommate helped make him slightly more tolerable amidst teammates who weren’t exactly forward-looking or thinking. “Every year,” Bouton said of Bell, “I receive a Christmas card addressed to ‘Ass Eyes’.”

Bouton long believed fellow pitcher Fred Talbot (who died six years ago) was the teammate who was quoted anonymously as saying Bouton’s prose “would gag a maggot.” (“When I asked Fred how he was doing,” Bouton would remember in Ball Four‘s tenth anniversary edition’s postscript, “Ball Five,” after a where-is-he-now call to Talbot, “he said, ‘Well, I’m still living,’ and hung up. I didn’t even get a chance to tell him I was glad.”)

And before the Astros sent him to the minors, where he entered what proved a first retirement, unknown members of the Padres left a burned copy of Ball Four on the Astros’ dugout steps.

He got a delicious chance to write about the reaction/overreaction to Ball Four in the just-as-delightful I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, from then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s active attempt to suppress Ball Four to New York Daily News sportswriting legend Dick Young ripping him as a “social leper” for having written the book. When Bouton met Young in the clubhouse after that column, Young said hello and Bouton couldn’t resist replying, “Hi Dick, I didn’t know you were talking to social lepers these days.” Young replied genially, “Well, I’m glad you didn’t take it personally.” Little did Young know.

Bouton’s most famous words may well be the ones with which he ended Ball Four: “You spend a good part of your life gripping a baseball, and it turns out that it was the other way around.” But in I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, it may have been an exercise in futility for him to write, ““I think it’s possible that you can view people as heroes and at the same time understand that they are people, too, imperfect, narrow sometimes, even not very good at what they do. I didn’t smash any heroes or ruin the game for anybody. You want heroes, you can have them. Heroes exist in the mind, anyway.”

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Bouton enjoys a dance with his wife, Paula Kurman, at their Massachussetts home; the couple once competed as ballroom dance partners.

It took a very long time for baseball people to get it. Even longer than it took them to get that the late Jim Brosnan, a decade earlier, wasn’t trying to smash heroes or ruin a game when he wrote The Long Season and Pennant Race, and Brosnan didn’t go half as far as Bouton went in revealing baseball’s inner sanctum even if Brosnan incurred comparable wrath.

“I had . . . violated the idolatrous image of big leaguers who had been previously portrayed as models of modesty, loyalty and sobriety — i.e., what they were really not like,” Brosnan wrote on the 40th anniversary republication of Pennant Race. “Finally, I had actually written the book by myself, thus trampling upon the tradition that a player should hire a sportswriter to do the work. I was, on these accounts, a sneak and a snob and a scab.”

Bouton wrote and recorded Ball Four by himself, too, his editor Leonard Shecter doing nothing much more than knocking it into book-readable condition, as he would for I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally. It didn’t stop Kuhn from hauling Bouton into his office and trying to jam down the pitcher’s throat a statement saying he hadn’t meant it and the whole thing was Shecter’s fault.

Both pitchers were very aware of the worlds around them, and both wrote about the periodic spells of boredom, racial tensions, off-field skirt chasings, and self-doubts endemic in their professional baseball lives. Brosnan saved them for his books and articles; Bouton was less reluctant to speak his mind about things like politics, Vietnam, and civil rights when asked or when a conversation left him the opening.

Bouton bought even less into the still-lingering press representations of athletes as heroes. Teammates didn’t always hold with that or other things, like calling them out on it when they made mistakes that cost the Yankees games he pitched.

“After two or three years of playing with guys like [Mickey] Mantle and [Roger] Maris,” he wrote in I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, “I was no longer awed. I started to look at those guys as people and I didn’t like what I saw. They were fine as baseball heroes. As men they were not quite so successful. At the same time I guess I started to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Instead of being a funny rookie, I was a veteran wise guy. I reached the point where I would argue to support my opinion and that didn’t go down too well either.”

“He stands out,” Shecter wrote of Bouton in Sport, “because he is a decent young man in a game which does not recognize decency as valuable.” Much the same thing was said of Brosnan no matter what particular writers did or didn’t think of his two books.

For decades Bouton believed Ball Four got him blackballed from the Yankees in terms of Old-Timer’s Days and other such events involving team alumni, and that Mantle was the instigator. When one of Mantle’s sons died in the mid-1990s, Bouton left a message of sympathy on Mantle’s answering machine. To Bouton’s surprise, Mantle himself called to thank Bouton and, by the way, say that it wasn’t Mantle who put Bouton in the Yankee deep freeze.

Laurie Bouton’s death prompted her oldest of two brothers, Michael, to write an astonishing op-ed piece in The New York Times calling for the Yankees to reconcile with both his father and with Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, estranged ever since George Steinbrenner fired him as manager through an intermediary in the 1980s. Michael Bouton got what he asked for. In both regards. (Yankee Stadium rocked especially with a section occupied by Laurie’s friends, holding a banner hollering LAURIE’S GIRLS!)

When Bouton retired the first time in 1970, he assembled another book, a splendid anthology of writings about baseball managers and managing called “I Managed Good But, Boy, Did They Play Bad,” then became a sportscaster for New York ABC and CBS. As his first marriage was falling apart, Bouton also tried a baseball comeback. He slogged the minors a couple of years before then-Braves owner Ted Turner abetted his September callup in 1978. After a start that prompted such comments as, “It was like facing Bozo the Clown,” as Bouton eventually recorded (in “Ball Five”), “In his next start, Bozo the Clown beat the San Francisco Giants. The pennant-contending San Francisco Giants.”

Then he tangled with Astros howitzer J.R. Richard. “The young flamethrower and the old junkballer,” Bouton described them. On the same night the towering Richard broke the National League’s single-season strikeout record for righthanded pitchers, the old junkballer fought the young flamethrower to a draw, somehow. In the interim, Bouton and a Portland Mavericks teammate named Rob Nelson cooked up the concoction that became Big League Chew gum, the kind that looked shredded like chewing tobacco, and its success made some nice dollars for Bouton and Nelson.

Bouton ended his brief baseball comeback, satisfied that he’d proven what he tried to prove, and also became a motivational speaker who also continued writing as well as joining his second wife administering a recreational 19th century-style baseball league, helping preserve an old ballpark (about which Bouton wrote Foul Ball), and becoming a competition ballroom dancing team. The Renaissance Bulldog.

Whenever one of Bouton’s former Ball Four-season teammates went to his reward, Bouton was genuinely saddened. “I think he came, over the years, to love them,” Kurman told Kepner. “As each one died, he got really teary about it. He realized how deeply they were part of him.” (The Pilots, of course, were sold and moved to Milwaukee for the 1970 season, becoming the Brewers. “The old Pilots are a ghost team,” Bouton once wrote, “doomed forever to circumnavigate the globe in the pages of a book.”)

Ball Four‘s true success, wrote Roger Angell himself (one more time: Angell isn’t baseball’s Homer; Homer was ancient Greece’s Roger Angell), “is Mr. Bouton himself, as a day-to-day observer, hard thinker, marvellous listener, comical critic, angry victim, and unabashed lover of a sport. What he has given us is a rare view of a highly complex public profession seen from the innermost side, along with an ironic and courageous mind. And, very likely, the funniest book of the year.”

Baseball didn’t collapse. The world didn’t implode. That Star Spangled Banner yet waves. Things have happened in baseball since that make any outrage over Ball Four resemble the kindergarten style debate most of the original hoopla really was. “If Mickey Mantle had written Ball Four,” Bouton once wrote, “it wouldn’t have been a big deal. A marginal relief pitcher on the Seattle Pilots had no business writing a book.” Or, implicitly, exposing the foibles and more of the reserve era’s abuses than anyone suspected existed within the Old Ball Game.

The marginal relief pitcher, once a Yankee World Series star, ended up meaning far more than that. If you want to call Bouton part of the conscience of baseball, then you must admit with more than a single tear that baseball lost something precious with his illness and, now, his death. So has his wife. So have their children and grandchildren. So has America. May the Lord and his beloved daughter welcome him home gently but happily.

A tale of two literary baseball seasons

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The books they said would subvert baseball. The game goes ever onward and the books never remain out of print. (So far.) Fifty years ago, Jim Bouton pitched his Ball Four season; ten years before that, Jim Brosnan pitched The Long Season.

The New York Public Library’s list of 20th century Books of the Century includes only one book pertaining to sports, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. Yes, I was surprised, too, considering such volumes as Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season, anything by Roger Angell (one more time: he isn’t baseball’s Homer, Homer was ancient Greece’s Roger Angell), Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer, Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, Mark Harris’s Bang the Drum Slowly, and Arnold Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers, among others.

But there Bouton’s volume reposes, in a club to which also belong T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, Jack Kerouac, John Dos Passos, Albert Camus, Agatha Christie, Grace Metalious, and Tom Wolfe. Before you retort that Bouton didn’t exactly write The Waste Land, Light in August, Invisible Man, On the Road, or The Bonfire of the Vanities, it’s only fair to say that Eliot, Faulkner, Ellison, Kerouac, and Wolfe never had to try sneaking a pitch past Carl Yastrzemski, Lou Brock, Harmon Killebrew, or Willie Mays, either.

Bouton was with the Astros when Ball Four was published in April 1970, after excerpts appeared in Look. To say it was received less than approvingly around baseball is to say Baltimore needed breathing treatments after the Mets flattened the Orioles four straight following a Game One loss in the 1969 World Series. “F@ck you, Shakespeare!” was Pete Rose’s review, hollered while Bouton had a rough relief outing against the Reds. All things to come considered, it was a wonder Rose knew Shakespeare wasn’t a brew served on tap at the ballpark.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary season of the one Bouton recorded for Ball Four and the sixtieth anniversary of the one animating Brosnan’s The Long Season. The books have their common ground and their distinctions, chief among the latter being that Bouton didn’t shy from detailing things even Brosnan, whose candor was considered jolting enough in its own time and place, didn’t dare to tread. If Brosnan even hinted at them, it was euphemistically. Bouton didn’t bother with euphemisms.

The two pitchers have something sadder in common, too. Brosnan suffered a stroke from which he was recovering when sepsis came manifest and caused his death in 2014 at 82, a year after his wife of 62 years died. Bouton, on the threshold of 80, suffered a stroke in 2012 that left him with cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a brain disease linked to dementia and compromised his ability to speak and write. Making it worse: the stroke occurred on the fifteenth anniversary of his daughter Laurie’s death in a New Jersey automobile accident.

Bouton’s wife, Paula Kurman, a speech therapist among other things (she has a Columbia University doctorate in interpersonal communications) who has worked with brain damaged children during her career, has worked with him carefully (“Together we make a whole person,” she once told a Society for American Baseball Research panel, to laughter that was sad as much as approving) and he has regained much of his speaking ability.

But he continues to struggle with what Kurman told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times was “a pothole syndrome: Things will seem smooth, his wit and vocabulary intact, and then there will be a sudden, unforeseen gap in his reasoning, or a concept he cannot quite grasp.”

Brosnan’s book was seeded two years before The Long Season‘s focus when he bumped into Sports Illustrated editor Bob Boyle. Having heard the bespectacled reliever had ideas about writing a book about major league baseball, Boyle suggested an article first “if something significant happens.” Brosnan turned in an essay about his trade from the Cubs to the Cardinals for veteran shortstop Alvin Dark, a trade one reporter described as the Cubs committing theft by trading “a mutt for a pedigreed pooch.”

“Loved it,” Boyle told Brosnan. “Why don’t you write a book about a whole season?” Two years later, that’s exactly what Brosnan did. He praised and needled in the same arch but honest tone, even if he did sanitize much of the vocabulary of the locker room or the dugout, as Bouton wouldn’t need to do a decade later. He showed the better and lesser sides of several players, but even his needles seemed not to come from malice aforethought.

Bouton was approached to do what became Ball Four by iconoclastic sports writer/editor Leonard Shecter, who’d previously written an in-depth profile of Bouton for Sport. Shecter proposed an in-season diary somewhat along Brosnan’s lines. “Funny you should mention that,” Bouton replied. “I’ve been taking notes.” During the 1969 season, Bouton would observe of his teammates, “My note-taking is beginning to make the natives restless.”

Brosnan offered no sense of wanting any kind of revenge for any kind of slight, in an era when players were too often slighted under a system that kept them, in essence, indentured servants. (One reviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that Brosnan’s “pot shots,” such as they were, didn’t enrage fellow players “because ballplayers didn’t read; it was so out of character, or so he said.”) Bouton was often accused of trying to settle scores, particularly about the Yankees, his former team about whom he wrote and spoke extensively enough when the occasion suggested it. All Brosnan and Bouton did was try to show baseball and its players, coaches, managers, and administrators, as a too-human game played and run with too-human foibles, follies, and fantasias alike.

The devil was really in the details and even the language in Ball Four, from neither of which Bouton shied a single step. But both pitchers were accused of a kind of insider trading for fun and profit. “Brosnan has his say about many who may have, in times past, had their say about him,” wrote Bill Veeck of The Long Season, at a time Veeck still owned the White Sox. “This just doesn’t seem to come off so well, and tends to lessen the impact and enjoyment of his undeniably colorful material.” Presumably, Veeck took his own critique to heart when writing his own Veeck—as in Wreck, which did for baseball executives’ memoiring what Brosnan and later Bouton did for players’, and what Veeck did even further with his subsequent The Hustler’s Handbook.

“As an active player on a big-league team I had seemingly taken undue advantage by recording an insider’s viewpoint on what some professional baseball players were really like,” Brosnan wrote, after The Long Season and Pennant Race (his followup, about the 1961 Reds’ unexpected National League pennant winner) were republished on the latter’s season’s fortieth anniversary. “I had, moreover, violated the idolatrous image of big leaguers who had been previously portrayed as models of modesty, loyalty and sobriety — i.e., what they were really not like. Finally, I had actually written the book by myself, thus trampling upon the tradition that a player should hire a sportswriter to do the work. I was, on these accounts, a sneak and a snob and a scab.”

Bouton got the chance to address the hoopla around Ball Four in a followup book, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally (its jacket featured a baseball with a blackened eye drawn onto the hide) which was just as funny as Ball Four and sometimes a lot more poignant.  “I think it’s possible,” he wrote, “that you can view people as heroes and at the same time understand that they are people, too, imperfect, narrow sometimes, even not very good at what they do. I didn’t smash any heroes or ruin the game for anybody. You want heroes, you can have them. Heroes exist in the mind, anyway.”

Or, out of their minds, if you ponder one reaction to Ball Four. Before the Astros farmed Bouton out in 1970, Bouton discovered a burned copy of the book on the steps of the dugout, courtesy of the Padres. Even Brosnan’s and Veeck’s books avoided that kind of grotesquery.

The worst to happen to Brosnan after The Long Season and Pennant Race, not to mention other essays published in several other magazines, was the White Sox (to whom Brosnan was traded early in the 1963 season, long after Veeck sold the team) inserting a clause in his proposed 1964 contract barring him from writing for publication without prior team approval. Refusing to sign a contract with a clause like that in it, Brosnan retired after no other team took even a flyer on him, despite both Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News taking his side.

Bouton was either reviled as “a social leper” or a cancer on the game for having written and published Ball Four. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn actually tried to suppress the book, hauling Bouton into his office, demanding Bouton sign a statement saying it was all the pernicious work of his editor Shecter. Bouton probably had to restrain himself from telling Kuhn where to shove the statement when he wasn’t trying to restrain himself from laughing.

It was Dick Young of the New York Daily News who described Bouton as a social leper for writing Ball Four. When he ran into Bouton on an Astros visit to Shea Stadium, he said hello and, when Bouton needled him for talking to social lepers, Young replied, “Well, I’m glad you didn’t take it personally.” That reply gave Bouton the title of his followup book, in which he credited such overreactions in the sports press for doing almost the most to ensure Ball Four a best seller.

Both pitchers were witty, literate, and not even close to being thoroughgoing jocks. Brosnan made his way as a competent if mostly unspectacular relief pitcher and spot starter with a strong slider who had his moments. Bouton was a promising, hard throwing Yankee starting star, with a live fastball and a hard curve ball, until two seasons of overwork (1963 and 1964, and a whopping 520.2 innings over the two) left him with arm and shoulder trouble (it began a third of the way through 1964) that reduced him to marginal relief work and prompted him to make the knuckleball, which he’d thrown only as a change of pace previously, his bread and butter pitch.

Brosnan kept so many books in his locker that his 1961 Reds teammate, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, nicknamed him the Professor. Bouton was no less literate or cerebral, though he may not have had a locker library equal to Brosnan’s, but his early ferocity as a competitor (he was once famous for his cap falling off his head as he delivered) inspired New York Post writer Maury Allen to nickname him Bulldog.

But Bouton may have put baseball into perspective even more than Brosnan did. Both pitchers were very aware of the worlds around them, and both wrote about the periodic spells of boredom, racial tensions, off-field skirt chasings, and self-doubts endemic in their professional baseball lives. Brosnan saved them for his books and articles; Bouton was less reluctant to speak his mind about things like politics, Vietnam, and civil rights when asked or when a conversation left him the opening.

Bouton bought even less into the still-lingering press representations of athletes as heroes. Teammates didn’t always hold with that or other things, like calling them out on it when they made mistakes that cost the Yankees games he pitched.

“After two or three years of playing with guys like [Mickey] Mantle and [Roger] Maris,” he wrote in I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, “I was no longer awed. I started to look at those guys as people and I didn’t like what I saw. They were fine as baseball heroes. As men they were not quite so successful. At the same time I guess I started to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Instead of being a funny rookie, I was a veteran wise guy. I reached the point where I would argue to support my opinion and that didn’t go down too well either.”

“He stands out,” Shecter wrote of Bouton in Sport, “because he is a decent young man in a game which does not recognize decency as valuable.” Much the same thing was said of Brosnan no matter what particular writers did or didn’t think of his two books.

Brosnan’s post baseball life including writing, advertising work (he’d done it in the offseasons of his pitching career), occasional sportscasting, and raising his family in the same Illinois home he bought with his wife, Anne, in 1956. (When they married, one local story’s headline, referencing his wife’s maiden name, said, “Pitcher Marries Pitcher.”)

Bouton became a sports anchor for New York ABC and then CBS before trying a baseball comeback in the White Sox system and then with the independent (some say notorious) Portland Mavericks, a comeback that ended with getting five starts for the Braves in late 1978. In one of those starts, Bouton squared off against Astros legend J.R. Richard, on the same night Richard broke the National League single-season strikeout record for righthanders, and pitched Richard to a draw. “The young flamethrower against the old junkballer,” Bouton wrote of the game.

A concoction Bouton and Mavericks teammate Rob Nelson invented in the bullpen, shredding gum into strands similar to chewing tobacco, became a hit as Big League Chew when they sold the idea to Wrigley. Bouton also continued writing, became a motivational speaker, and survived the collapse of his first marriage to meet and marry Kurman, blending two families, becoming founders and leaders of a recreational baseball league playing by 19th century rules, and becoming competition ballroom dancers. The Renaissance Bulldog.

The Washington Post‘s distinguished literary critic Jonathan Yardley wrote of The Long Season that it was literature about “[a]n ordinary season — life as it’s really lived — rather than an extraordinary one.” You could say, then, that Pennant Race was literature about an extraordinary season lived and played by ordinary men, if you don’t count Frank Robinson. Ball Four, which ran more temperatures higher up scales than Brosnan could claim, could be called an ordinary season lived and played by ordinary men. Recorded by a man whose extraordinary side was eroded by injuries.

Bouton may have hit the true key as to why all three books also unnerved baseball and its assorted establishments. “If Mickey Mantle had written Ball Four,” he later remembered, “it wouldn’t have been a big deal. A marginal relief pitcher on the Seattle Pilots had no business writing a book.” Likewise, if Robinson or Stan Musial had written The Long Season (Brosnan began 1959 with the Cardinals but was traded to the Reds midway) instead of a middle relief pitcher, it might not have proven a big deal.

Brosnan’s and Bouton’s books became baseball classics (as did Veeck—as in Wreck), and Ball Four also helped further expose the abuses heaped on players by front offices before the end of the reserve clause but probably caused no few of its younger readers to become sports journalists themselves. One suspects even now that Bouton’s revelations about the one-sided contract negotiations to which reserve era players were subject might have infuriated the purists more than his revelations about players’ sex drives, amphetamine indulgences, pranks, and feuds did.

Whenever one of Bouton’s former Ball Four-season teammates goes to his reward, Bouton is genuinely saddened. “I think he came, over the years, to love them,” Kurman told Kepner. “As each one died, he got really teary about it. He realized how deeply they were part of him.” (The Pilots, of course, were sold and moved to Milwaukee for the 1970 season, becoming the Brewers. Writing in Ball Four Plus Ball Five, a tenth-anniversary update, Bouton said, “The old Pilots are a ghost team, doomed forever to circumnavigate the globe in the pages of a book.”)

The Long Season remains “a cocky book, caustic and candid and, in a way, courageous, for Brosnan calls him like he sees them, doesn’t hesitate to name names, and employs ridicule like a stiletto,” as wrote Red Smith, arguably the best baseball writer in New York (then with the Herald-Tribune).

Ball Four‘s true success, wrote Roger Angell himself, “is Mr. Bouton himself, as a day-to-day observer, hard thinker, marvellous listener, comical critic, angry victim, and unabashed lover of a sport. What he has given us is a rare view of a highly complex public profession seen from the innermost side, along with an ironic and courageous mind. And, very likely, the funniest book of the year.”

And in the long, long, long wake of Brosnan’s and Bouton’s books, baseball hasn’t collapsed, the world hasn’t imploded, that Star Spangled Banner yet waves, and men and women of note or fame can be considered in all their human flaws, foibles, and fantasias, without being seen where appropriate as any less than heroes.