Owing to church and other commitments I can’t write a full column today. But I can’t let this day pass without mentioning Jim Bouton’s struggles. Starting with a massive stroke in August 2012, he now battles with a form of dementia.
Bouton will be 79 next March. At age 30 he toiled in obscurity with the 1969 Seattle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) and was traded to Houston in august of that year. All the while he was keeping a diary and memoir which became the classic baseball book “Ball Four.” The book went viral before that term existed. Sales were modest until Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to ban the book. That sent sales into the stratosphere and beyond. He wanted to ban it because unlike your average sports book of that time frame Bouton described the humanity of baseball players-the rough humor and rough language of the dugout, the hard drinking and womanizing that was such a huge part of the game then, and the criminally low salaries players received. The book won fame for Bouton though it lost him a lot of friends in baseball.
Nearly 50 years later it’s still the funniest baseball book ever written. Bouton himself narrated the audio edition for the web site audible.com and that multiplied the comedic value. He was reading his own material and he was laughing at his own humor which makes the listener laugh right along-take it from me, I laughed even harder at his reading than any other audio edition-and there have been several through the decades.
There is an article by Tyler Keppner in today’s “New York Times,” that fully chronicles the life Bouton lives today in Massachusetts. I can’t share it here but I can steer you in that direction. Bouton and his wife Paula opened up fully for the first time about Jim’s struggles with a form of dementia that began with the stroke nearly 5 years back. The brilliant wit that filled “Ball Four” and several other books is gone, and writing those simple words tears at my heart. Please read Keppner’s article and pray for the man whose autograph in my ex-wife’s copy of “Ball Four” reads “Smoke ‘Em Inside.”