Baseball World Will Miss The Sharp Wit Of Jim Bouton

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Former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton signs copies of the Associated Press book <em>New York Yankees 365</em> in New York on Oct. 7, 2009.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)” data-image-width=”711″ data-image-height=”468″><figcaption>         Former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton signs copies of the Associated Press book New York Yankees 365 in New York on Oct. 7, 2009.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)        </figcaption></figure>
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<p>Jim Bouton once compared talking with Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz to having a conversation with a liverwurst sandwich.</p>
<p>That remark was typical of Bouton, a righthanded pitcher with a lefthanded attitude about both baseball and life.</p>
<p>Living in Massachusetts late in his career, the former Yankees stalwart was wearing the team’s NY cap while working in his yard. His wife asked him to remove it. When he asked why, she said, “Wearing a Yankee hat in Massachusetts is like wearing antlers in hunting season.”</p>
<p>Bouton began as a fastball pitcher for the Yankees and finished as a knuckleball pitcher for the Braves – after an eight-year hiatus from baseball.</p>
<p>Only a casual comment from Bouton to Braves owner Ted Turner, another maverick, facilitated the unlikely comeback.</p>
<p>The Braves weren’t going anywhere in 1978 and Turner, never one to bypass a publicity stunt, brought Bouton back after starting him in the minors. Atlanta’s ace pitcher at the time was another knuckleballer, future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.</p>
<p>Bouton insisted his comeback was a serious attempt to resurrect his career but the baseball world didn’t believe him — even though he actually won a game.</p>
<p>In five starts, Bouton knuckled his way to a win over the San Francisco Giants. It was the last of his 62 regular-season wins in the majors. Giants players were scornful of his performance but Bouton didn’t mind; he definitely marched to a different drummer.</p>
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Jim Bouton, right, chairman and CEO of the Vintage Base Ball Federation (VBBF), chat with federation team players Matt “Crazy Legs” March, left, of the Bristol Barnstormers from Bristol, Conn., and David “Fleetwood” Chambers of the Pittsfield Hillies from Pittsfield, Mass., at a press conference in New York Aug. 24, 2006. Bouton, a former Yankees pitcher, announced plans to increase the number of teams playing vintage baseball using 19th century rules and manners, with an invitation to amateur baseball and softball teams to join the VBBF. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In 1969, he pitched for the expansion Seattle Pilots, beating the Boston Red Sox twice, before joining the Houston Astros in an August waiver trade. When the Astros demoted him in 1970, he retired rather than report to the minors again.

Bouton worked for ABC and CBS affiliates as a sports anchor; played himself in a short-lived CBS series based upon his book; delivered frequent talks on baseball humor to college crowds; promoted vintage baseball games; and wrote a second book based on the tumult caused by his first one. The new title was I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.

He also updated his best-seller, changing its title to Ball Five; co-authored a baseball novel; edited a book about managers; and produced a book called Foul Ball, detailing his efforts to save a historic ballpark in Pittsfield, MA.

I met Bouton many times, most recently at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls, NJ. Even later in life, his wit was as quick as his fastball, entertaining everyone around him. He would have made a great counterpart to Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H.

Stymied by a stroke in 2012, Bouton suffered loss of memory and speaking skills over the last seven years. It was typical of him that he waited until the day after the All-Star Game before he died. He never lost his interest in baseball.

Even after he his knuckleball stopped dancing, Bouton remained an active player, pitching in Bergen County leagues across the Hudson from his TV gigs in New York. He also headed companies that created bubble gum that resembled chewing tobacco (Big League Chew) and allowed fans to produce baseball cards of themselves.

The world will miss the wit and wisdom of Jim Bouton.

He left us far too early at the age of 80.

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