Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stuff I like:
Ball Four
Part 4: Sex, drugs and Jim Bouton.

Many people had written sports diaries before the publication of Ball Four, but Jim Bouton told a lot of truth about being on a ball club, and this pissed off sportswriters and the baseball establishment to no end. Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner of baseball when the book came out, was especially upset about sex stories that weren't really about sex and drug stories that were completely legal.

Lemme 'splain.

The Seattle Pilots, like sports organizations throughout recorded history, thought that making fun of homosexuality was the height of wit, so guys started kissing other guys when on the bus to a game or in the clubhouse. When it started, the perpetrator would put his hand over his intended's mouth and kiss the back of his own hand. Hilarity ensued. But later, guys stopped putting their hand on the other guy's face, so actual lips to face or lips to mouth action occurred, sometimes followed by fist to jaw action going in the other direction.

This deeply annoyed Bowie Kuhn.

Kuhn also was outraged by the idea that some guys came to the game still hung over and played, sometimes remarkably well.

Bouton also talks about real sex, though he doesn't name names much. He talks about the women who are available, known as Baseball Annies. He also talks about stewardesses, known as "stews". He says the stories are true. He also brings up a few fine points. Taking a Baseball Annie out for dinner and drinks is considered bad form, but it is fully expected if a ballplayer is hooking up with a stewardess. While someone had to be taking advantage of the Baseball Annies and the stews, Bouton snitches on no one.

The closest he gets to naming names is a practical joke where a paternity suit letter from a fake New York City law firm is sent to Fred Talbot, a guy Bouton kind of hates, and the guy goes into a serious funk. Bouton didn't do it, but everyone knew the letter was coming, except of course Talbot himself.

And then there's the drugs. Alcohol is completely accepted and provided after the game by the club, but the drugs whose legality are something of a gray area are amphetamines, known in the book as greenies. Some clubs provided them to the players free of charge. The clubs that didn't allegedly frowned upon them, but every club had a supplier, either a player or a guy on the coaching staff or clubhouse crew. Bouton writes that greenies are great. No one in the book is snitched as an abuser of alcohol or greenies. It's just relaxation and enhanced performance without consequence.

Forty years later, many in baseball have forgiven Bouton for his trangressions, and now that he is allowed to show up for Old Timers' games, the fans always give him a rousing ovation. But the greatest of his transgressions had nothing to do with sex or drugs, but instead the real taboo topics of sports: money, stardom and the chain of command.

More on that tomorrow in part 5.

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