Thread: RIP Jim Bouton
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Old 07-10-2019, 08:08 PM
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Jeffrey Lichtman
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 5,126

I've told this Bouton story a couple times: he was a huge hero of mine growing up via Ball Four and the fact that he was a sports anchor in the NY/NJ area for a bit of time after his retirement from baseball. Anyway, fast forward to 2008 I believe, when I was at my kids' preschool in Manhattan on Grandparents Day. All the little kids' grandparents were invited and the building on Park Avenue and 85th Street was filled with old people wearing nametags with their grandkids' name on them. I was rushing into the building to pick my kids up when, in the midst of a crowd of grandparents, I immediately spot Jim Bouton. Buzzed haircut, short sleeve shirt, still looked great. He was 69 or so at the time. No one recognized him of course, but me. Naturally, I followed him a bit just to keep an eye on him; he eventually walked into his four year old granddaughter's classroom. I was tempted to say something to him but decided to let the man be, he was entitled to some peace with his grandkids.

That lasted a few hours as the regrets really got to me. When would I get a chance to see Jim Bouton again? So I found his website and sent him an email. At the time, I was doing radio shows in NYC as a bit of a hobby, on two of the biggest stations in NY: WABC and Fox News radio. I wrote to him and told him I saw him at the preschool, and would he care to do an interview with me for my next scheduled radio show -- which happened to be a 3 hour show for Fox in a few days. Incredibly, he wrote back that he would do it. He had no handlers, no managers, agents, etc. Just told me to email him before the show and we could call him from the studio.

I was terrified because he was such a hero of mine. And then the morning of the show as I sat with the Fox producers, I told them for the first time I was interviewing the Bulldog on my show. They responded, "but he's not politics and this show is about politics." I replied, "relax, it will all be about politics." I lied.

Ten mins before the interview, we got Jim on the phone and I spoke to him for the first time. I was so damn excited. He was a completely regular guy, not an asshole, full of good humor. The interview started (I have a disc of it somewhere which I'll download and post) and I recall mainly asking him about Ball Four. He provided a number of additional stories that were not in the book and I brought up my favorite parts including the infamous Alvin Dark autograph story which spawned the famous line, "Take a hike, son, take a hike." This line I included on the Baseball Reference Jim Bouton page of which I am the sponsor:

The interview was my alltime favorite. He told stories that were so funny that he made himself laugh so hard. He was completely uninhibited and honest and goofy. And very smart. We finished the interview and for years afterward, I would email him and he always responded with kindness, especially when I remembered his birthdays. A few years ago he suddenly stopped responding -- and that's when I learned he had advanced dementia.

Looking back, Ball Four is the most important baseball book ever written in my estimation and one of the greatest books period. It's tame compared to today's standards but still incredibly funny. Joe Pepitone's autobiography a few years later was much more disgusting, funny as well, and took some shots at Bouton because Bouton had hilariously pointed out Pepitone as a hairpiece-wearing narcissist who was the only player in the locker room who used a hair dryer.
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