throwback thursday: jim bouton 1939-2019

Jim Bouton died yesterday. I wrote about his classic book, Ball Four, back in 2012. I'll re-post it here.

Ball Four, Revisited

This wasn’t the first time I revisited Jim Bouton’s book about the 1969 Seattle Pilots baseball team. He seems to come out with a new edition every decade or so, and I generally re-read it then. This time around, my birthday came up, I saw there was a Kindle version, I put it on my wish list, and my baseball-loving sister got it for me (thanks!).

Ball Four is of interest, even to a non-fan of baseball, because of its historical importance as one of the first sports books to reveal what the game was “really” like. It wasn’t the first … not sure what is, although Jim Brosnan wrote two similar books in the early 60s, The Long Season and Pennant Race, that have long been favorites of mine. Nowadays, it might seem quaint to realize there was a time (the early 70s) when the baseball establishment could be in an uproar because Bouton (and his co-writer, Leonard Shecter) talked about players cussing and taking amphetamines and getting drunk on their off-days (and sometimes their on-days). Brosnan went through the same thing, although as I recall (not having re-read his books for a few years … perhaps it’s time) his books didn’t have quite as much a feel of exposé as Bouton’s did.

But most of the interest for the non-fan comes from that historical impact. The diary aspects, with its chronicling of the drudgery of a six-month season, are great for baseball aficionados, but I don’t suppose others would care. Having said that, Ball Four ultimately works because it is a book filled with characters, and the fact that they are real people makes it even better. Apparently Joe Schultz, manager of the Pilots, was angered by his portrayal in the book. Which is sad, because Schultz comes across as a great character, someone placed in an impossible situation (managing a poor, expansion ball team that lasted only one season before moving to Milwaukee) who used an idiosyncratic use of language to cajole his team into whatever heights they might possibly reach.

That’s what is most enjoyable about revisiting Ball Four, reading once again about Bouton and Schultz and the rest. The response of the time is historically interesting, but in the end, what I like best is Joe Schultz telling the guys, “Boys, bunting is like jacking off. Once you learn how you never forget.”

For an interesting, positive contemporaneous review of the book from a perhaps surprising source, check out Robert “Dean of American Rock Critics” Christgau’s piece, “Bouton Baseball”:

Bouton is the kind of iconoclast who is so insecure in his chosen isolation that he seems to delight in making other men look foolish. To an extent, this may be salutory. Even the most skeptical fan forgets that those names in the newspapers and figures on the screen are as frail as you or me, and this oversight is compounded by the daily dope from journalists whose living depends on acquiring more dope tomorrow. But it's hard to say how essential such an illusion may be to the continued power of the game. The baseball men who complain most bitterly about this book never claim it is untrue, only unfair--because it examines baseball's errants so steadfastly--and injudicious--because it reveals what the kids are better off not knowing. Unfair it isn't: Bouton obviously loves baseball and despite his snittiness he describes his fellows with generous appreciation. But injudicious? I don't know. Theoretically, a player is judged by what he can do on the field--the game itself is the thing. But even more than other sports baseball requires not just technical esteem but an investment of emotion, and emotion is best invested in people, however faultily perceived. I don't think the glowering visage of Sal Maglie will ever fill me with awe again.


ten years ago today: my first and only no-hitter

A day early for a Throwback Thursday, but I can't change the calendar. Here is my post from July 10, 2009:

Tonight I attended my first no-hitter in 50+ years of going to baseball games.

In my crankier moods, and they are frequent when I’m watching the Giants, I’ve berated fans for giving out standing ovations too easily. A pitcher gets pulled in the sixth inning and he hasn’t stunk up the place, people give him a standing O. I always take that to its logical conclusion: if you give someone a standing ovation for a middling performance, what do you do when greatness occurs, throw yourself off the upper deck?

Tonight, Jonathan Sánchez earned his standing ovation.

How goofy was this? After 8 innings, I texted my wife with an update. You need to understand, my wife doesn’t like baseball. She never goes with me to games, and about the only time she ever comments on the sport is when she passes by the teevee and sees someone with long hair … she inevitably says he needs a haircut. But I was on the verge of seeing something historic, and I knew that would matter to her, even though the actual event wasn’t of interest. Funny thing is, I assumed she wouldn’t even know who Jonathan Sánchez was … I’m not sure she knows who Tim Lincecum is … so I didn’t mention his name to her, but afterwards, when I sent one last text saying I’d just seen my first no-hitter, she replied by asking if the pitcher was our daughter-in-law’s favorite. Sánchez is indeed Sonia’s fave, but how my wife knew that was a mystery.

My brother was at the game with me, and he was feeling a bit down when he got to the park. As the Giants built up their big lead, it became evident that the only story left was the no-hitter, and my brother informed me that the minute Sánchez gave up a hit, he was going to leave so he could drown his sorrows at a karaoke bar. Well, I don’t suppose he’s sorry that he had to stick around for the final out.

Here’s a picture I took with the Pre as the team rushed the field after the game. There’s no zoom function, so it’s very much an upper-deck kind of photo, but it’s better than nothing and proves I was there:

sanchez no-hitter

Here is a video showing all 27 outs:

Andrew Baggarly has an excellent piece on Sánchez today at The Athletic. Not sure if it has a paywall ... I subscribe ... but if you can read it, it's worth it.

On the 10-year anniversary of his no-hitter, Jonathan Sánchez is still pitching for the love of the game in Mexico


throwback to the well a third time

I've told this story at least twice before, each time on June 6, which is the date when this singular event occurred. The first post came on June 6, 2004 ... it marked the 20th anniversary. I'll cut-and-paste with minor edits.

There were better years to be a Giants fan than 1984. Among the "stars" of that 1984 squad were the combo of Al Oliver and Scot Thompson at first base (Oliver, a newly-acquired, decent if overrated player, was 37 years old, and he hit an empty .298 with no walks and literally no homers before being traded away in August; Thompson was a career bench-warmer who was OK for the Giants in '84). There was a three-headed, hitless Hydra at second consisting of Manny Trillo, Brad Wellman and Duane Kuiper (two were past their prime, one never had a prime); outfielder Joel Youngblood at thirdbase (he made 36 errors in 117 games); and the immortal Johnnie LeMaster hitting .217 at shortstop. Jack "The Ripper" Clark got off to a terrific start at the plate, and he was in his prime, but then he got injured, only played in 57 games, and was traded before the next season began. The winningest pitcher on the team was Mike Krukow, who won 11 while losing 12 with an ERA a full run higher than the league average ... it was his worst season.

At the beginning of play on June 6, the Giants were buried in last place, with the worst record in baseball, having lost 2/3 of their games thus far. They had finished off May by losing the last four games of a road trip. Returning to Candlestick Park, they won once, then lost another five in a row, leading up to the events of June 6th. It was grey and drizzly that afternoon, and only 7635 fans showed up, one of whom was me, playing a little mini-hooky from work (I was working swing shift and would be showing up late that day). The Giants leadoff hitter was Johnnie LeMaster, for those who think Neifi Perez is the worst leadoff hitter in Giants history. The visiting Atlanta Braves, led by Dale Murphy, picked up a couple of early runs off of Giants starter Jeff Robinson, but then, miracle of miracles, the Giants loaded the bases with two singles and a walk, at which point, Bob Brenly hit a grand-slam homer to put the locals up, 4-2. (As punishment, the next time he batted, Brenly was hit by a pitch.)

This was as good as it got for Giants fans in those days. You wouldn't have had any problem figuring out that we were disgruntled, since some fans had taken to showing up to games wearing paper bags over their heads, as if to say they were too ashamed of rooting for the Giants to show their heads. And, sadly, it was as good as it got for the Giants that day, as well. As the water drizzled over our bodies (it never actually rained, so they never quit playing, but it was never anything less than wet), the Giants farted away the rest of the game. In the top of the ninth inning, Bob Watson doubled home Rafael Ramirez to tie the game, 4-4. And so the game went on and on and on ... 3 1/2 hours worth by the time it was all done, which was a lot in those days.

In the top of the 11th inning, with two outs, the Braves got a runner on via a Giants error, bringing up pitcher Steve Bedrosian, who in his entire career hit .098 (15 singles and 3 walks in 14 years constituting his entire offensive output, while he struck out 58 times in 153 at-bats). Bedrosian singled to put runners on 1st and 2nd. In a move that will sound familiar to current Giants fans, the Giants then intentionally walked Dale Murphy, far and away the Braves' best hitter, moving everyone up a base to load 'em up, bringing up lefty Chris Chambliss (the Giants pitcher by this point being another lefty, Gary Lavelle). Lavelle proceeded to walk Chambliss as well, giving the Braves the lead ... the Giants couldn't score in the bottom of the 11th, ending the game with strikeouts by Johnnie LeMaster and Chili Davis, and just like that, the Giants had their sixth consecutive loss.

Which was too much to bear for a fan in the upper deck. I used to know his name, but I've forgotten it over the years. He was mad ... well, we were all mad, except for those of us who were just beaten down by the awfulness of everything ... a team that had never won the World Series, in the midst of their worst season ever, losing game after game in ugly fashion ... all 7000 of us who had been sitting in the drizzle all afternoon long with nothing to show for it except wet clothing, and there was this guy in the upper deck, and he'd had enough. As the Giants dragged ass back to their clubhouse, this fan, who had placed himself in the upper deck just above where the Giants's dugout was located, started yelling at the players. And he was loud, he was pissed, and he knew a lot of cuss words. There weren't very many of us left at the game, so it wasn't hard to hear this guy as he lambasted the players for their pathetic performance, spicing his commentary with f-this and f-that. He apparently felt the need to get closer to the players, so he climbed onto the railing so he could lean over better ... and by that point, I was out of the park, hoping to get on the road so I could get to work without missing too much time. For that reason, I only know what happened next from news reports.

The fan leaned over the railing ... like everything else in the park by that point, the railing was wet ... he leaned over, he slipped, he fell to the bottom deck and died from the impact, which was so hard he splintered a chair, a piece of which flew in the air and knocked an old-timer unconscious.

I've always thought the fan's last words were probably "YOU SUCK!" And while no one should die like that, and I mean no disrespect to the man or his family, nonetheless a part of me thinks that's how all SF Giants fans would like to go: at the ballpark, bitching about yet another loss. Seems appropriate, somehow.

Might as well finish with the greatest game of Bob Brenly's career:


still had it

On May 25, 1935, Babe Ruth was playing for the first time in the National League. He had turned 40 years old, and the New York Yankees let him go to the Boston Braves. The Babe played regularly for Boston, but it wasn't going well for the aging slugger, and as he took the field at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field that day, his batting average was at .153, with only 3 homers, which gave him 711 for his career.

I'm not sure there's an explanation for what happened that day. The Braves were a terrible team with a record of 8-19 (they eventually finished in last place). Ruth came up in the top of the first with one out and a man on, and hit his 712th home run off of Pirates pitcher Red Lucas. Top of the third, same situation: one out, man on, although the pitcher was now Guy Bush. Ruth hit another home run, his 713th. By the time Ruth faced Bush in the 7th inning, he had added an RBI single ... at that point, he had knocked in all five Boston runs, but they trailed, 7-5. There was no one on base this time, but The Babe wasn't done. He hit his third home run of the game, the 714th of his career. The 4-for-4 day boosted his batting average to .206. His career record 714 home runs lasted from 1935 until Henry Aaron broke it in 1974.

Landon Donovan was arguably the greatest soccer player in U.S. history. While still a teenager, he joined the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS and helped them to two league championships in four years. He then moved to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the majority of his career. When he retired, he held the all-time MLS regular season record with 145 goals.

Chris Wondolowski was something of a late bloomer. In 2010, at the age of 27, Wondo led MLS in goals scored while playing for the Earthquakes. In 2018, still with the Quakes, he scored ten goals, making it nine straight seasons with at least ten goals, a league record. At the end of that season, he had 144 career league goals, one short of Donovan's record.

At the beginning of 2019, Wondo, now 36 years old, started the team's first four matches, all of which they lost. Wondo didn't score in any of them. He found himself on the bench for the fifth game, which the Quakes won. Wondo became a late-game substitute, and was scoreless for the season, while the Quakes were getting better every week under new coach Matías "Pelado" Almeyda.

Today, Wondolowski got his first start in awhile, due to an injury to regular starter Danny Hoesen. And this followed:

Hopefully, this marks a late resurgence for Wondo, but in any event, he has been a True Earthquake.

Since I brought up Babe Ruth to start this post, I should probably add that after that three-homer game, Ruth played five more games and never had another hit.


reaction

Anyone who has spent any time on YouTube knows the way it can become a giant time suck. You go there to watch one video, and by the time you leave the site, you've watched ten. I've been watching a lot of "reaction videos" lately ... I know that's what they are called, there's a Wikipedia page about them. They are exactly what you think: videos of people reacting to other videos, which often/usually appear on your screen along with the person doing the reacting.

Perhaps my favorite, which I have posted here before, is a compilation of fans of The 100 watching a key scene from the show that features (SPOILER FOR SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED YEARS AGO, BUT WHATEVER) the return of a beloved character thought to be gone for good.

An ironic note: Lexa's earlier death was a perfect example of Dead Lesbian Syndrome, the worst since Tara in Buffy. Fans were outraged ... many said they would never watch again. But in the above scene, we saw that while we can never forget that stupid death, showrunner Jason Rothenberg knew his character, and knew how to send her off properly (even if it took 9 episodes to get there). The 100 has just begun its 6th season, with a 7th already in place, but for me, Lexa's return remains the most emotional scene in a series that is full of them.

My recent binge has been focused on someone who calls himself Modern Renaissance Man. He gave himself the right handle, as a look at his Patreon page demonstrates: "videos, comedy relief, ministering, counseling, advice". As I type this, he has uploaded 963 reaction videos to his YouTube channel. What I find fascinating is that he is knowledgeable about music (he is, in fact, a musician in addition to everything else he does), but he is fairly young and not necessarily familiar with the classic tunes of older times. It can be a delight seeing his response to things that he has never heard, things that us old timers have heard so many times the songs become almost meaningless. Here is the first one I watched:

There is no way for me to go back to the moment I first heard this song. The next best thing is watching someone else hear it for the first time.

One more, a favorite song of mine, and a favorite video of mine as well:

Finally, something a little different, but again, an example of something us geezers have memorized but which might be new to others:


opening day #40

[As I write this, there is a 90% chance of rain tomorrow.]

Tomorrow I will attend my 40th consecutive Giants home opener. Here is how the first 39 turned out:

4-17-80: Opening Day # 1 (Giants 7 Padres 3)
4- 9-81: Opening Day # 2 (Padres 4 Giants 1, 12 inn.)
4-13-82: Opening Day # 3 (Giants 3 Padres 2)
4- 5-83: Opening Day # 4 (Padres 16 Giants 13)
4- 3-84: Opening Day # 5 (Cubs 5 Giants 3)
4- 9-85: Opening Day # 6 (Giants 4 Padres 3)
4-15-86: Opening Day # 7 (Astros 8 Giants 3)
4- 6-87: Opening Day # 8 (Giants 4 Padres 3, 12 inn.)
4- 7-88: Opening Day # 9 (Giants 6 Padres 1)
4-10-89: Opening Day #10 (Dodgers 7 Giants 4)
4-13-90: Opening Day #11 (Padres 8 Giants 3)
4-15-91: Opening Day #12 (Dodgers 2 Giants 1)
4-14-92: Opening Day #13 (Padres 4 Giants 0)
4-12-93: Opening Day #14 (Giants 4 Marlins 3, 11 inn.)
4- 4-94: Opening Day #15 (Giants 8 Pirates 0)
4-28-95: Opening Day #16 (Giants 4 Marlins 0)
4-12-96: Opening Day #17 (Giants 4 Cubs 1)
4- 1-97: Opening Day #18 (Pirates 5 Giants 2)
4- 7-98: Opening Day #19 (Giants 5 Astros 4, 10 inn.)
4- 8-99: Opening Day #20 (Giants 12 Padres 4)
4-11-00: Opening Day #21 (Dodgers 6 Giants 5)
4- 2-01: Opening Day #22 (Giants 3 Padres 2)
4- 5-02: Opening Day #23 (Giants 3 Padres 1, 10 inn.)
4- 7-03: Opening Day #24 (Giants 7, Padres 4)
4-12-04: Opening Day #25 (Giants 7 Brewers 5)
4- 5-05: Opening Day #26 (Giants 4, Dodgers 2)
4- 6-06: Opening Day #27 (Giants 6, Braves 4)
4 -3-07: Opening Day #28 (Padres 7 Giants 0)
4- 7-08: Opening Day #29 (Padres 8, Giants 4)
4- 7-09: Opening Day #30 (Giants 10 Brewers 6)
4- 9-10: Opening Day #31 (Giants 5 Braves 4, 13 inn.)
4- 8-11: Opening Day #32 (Giants 5 Cardinals 4, 12 inn.)
4-13-12: Opening Day #33 (Giants 5 Pirates 0)
4- 5-13: Opening Day #34 (Giants 1 Cardinals 0)
4- 8-14: Opening Day #35 (Giants 7 Diamondbacks 3)
4-13-15: Opening Day #36 (Rockies 2 Giants 0)
4- 7-16: Opening Day #37 (Giants 12 Dodgers 6)
4-10-17: Opening Day #38 (Giants 4 D-Backs 1)
4 - 3-18: Opening Day #39 (Mariners 6 Giants 4)
4- 5-19: OPENING DAY #40: RAYS-GIANTS

Bonus for hardcore baseball fans: here are the starting lineups for my first Opening Day back in 1980. Three future Hall-of-Famers ... I have no idea if that's a lot or a little for any random game:

San Diego Padres, managed by Jerry Coleman:

  1. Ozzie Smith ss
  2. Dave Cash 2b
  3. Gene Richards lf
  4. Dave Winfield rf
  5. Willie Montanez 1b
  6. Gene Tenace c
  7. Jerry Mumphrey cf
  8. Aurelio Rodriguez 3b
  9. Eric Rasmussen p

San Francisco Giants, managed by Dave Bristol:

  1. Bill North cf
  2. Darrell Evans 3b
  3. Jack Clark rf
  4. Willie McCovey 1b
  5. Terry Whitfield lf
  6. Rennie Stennett 2b
  7. Milt May c
  8. Johnnie LeMaster ss
  9. Vida Blue p

five years (2019-2023)

Every five years, my sister and I choose baseball players that we think will do well over the following five seasons. We pick one player for each position, 4 starting pitchers, and one reliever. That's all of the rules ... there are no substitutes (one of my choices once died during the five-year period, but I couldn't make a change). After five years, we see who made the best picks ... there are no hard-and-fast tools for evaluation, we just eyeball what they have done, and it's usually obvious. We pair the players by position, so we compare her catcher to mine, etc. This is our fifth time doing this, going back 20 years, and my sister wins every time. Here are our choices for 2019-2023:

Chris:

C: JT Realmuto
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Jose Altuve
3B: Nolan Arenado
SS: Francisco Lindor
OF: Mike Trout, Roberto Acuna, Bryce Harper
SP: Gerrit Cole, Blake Snell, Corey Kluber, Walker Buehler
RP: Edwin Diaz

Steven:

C: Gary Sanchez
1B: Cody Bellinger
2B: Javier Baez
3B: Alex Bregman
SS: Trea Turner
OF: Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge
SP: Chris Sale, Aaron Nola, Noah Syndergaard, Jameson Taillon
RP: Josh Hader

We dug up our first draft, from 1999. Here are the players we picked 20 years ago:

Chris:

C: Mike Piazza
1B: Jim Thome
2B:Craig Biggio
3B: Chipper Jones
SS: Alex Rodriguez
OF: Ken Griffey, Ben Grieve, Shannon Stewart
SP: Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Kevin Brown
RP: Mariano Rivera

Steven:

C: Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Carlos Delgado
2B: Todd Walker
3B: Scott Rolen
SS: Derek Jeter
OF: Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, Bobby Higginson
SP: Brad Radke, Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood, Jimmy Haynes
RP: Matt Anderson