Friday roundup: Remembering Jim Bouton, and the latest in stadium shakedown absurdities

One day maybe 16 or 17 years ago, I was sitting at my computer when my phone rang and a voice at the other end said, “Hi, this is Jim Bouton. Can I speak with Neil deMause?”

Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor that the author of Ball Four (and winner of two games in the 1964 World Series) was calling me, we got down to business: Bouton was in the midst of writing a book about his attempts to save a nearly century-old minor-league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and had some questions about how attempts to save old ballparks (and save the public’s money on building new ones) had gone in other cities. We soon fell to chatting amiably about the nuances and absurdities of the stadium game — I’m pretty sure Jim had only one setting with people he’d just met, which was “chatting amiably” — and eventually ended up having a few conversations about his book and his work as a short-term preservationist and ballclub operator. (The preservation part was successful — Wahconah Park is still in use today — but he was eventually forced out from team management.) I got to meet him in person for the first time a couple of years later when he came to Brooklyn to talk with local residents then fighting demolition of their buildings to make way for a new Brooklyn Nets arena, an issue he quickly became as passionate about as everything else that touched his sense of injustice; when I learned (at a Jim Bouton book talk, in fact) that the initial edition of Field of Schemes had gone out of print, he enthusiastically encouraged me and Joanna Cagan to find a publisher for a revised edition, as he had never been shy about doing for his own books, even when that meant publishing them himself.

The last time I talked to Jim was in the spring of 2012, when he showed up at a screening of the documentary Knuckleball! (along with fellow knuckleball pitchers R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield, and Charlie Hough) to help teach kids how to throw the near-magical pitch. We only got to talk briefly, as he was kept busy chatting amiably with everyone else who wanted a moment with him. Soon after that, he had a stroke, and eventually developed vascular dementia, which on Wednesday took his life at age 80.

I’m eternally grateful to have had a chance to spend a little time with one of the nicest, smartest, funniest world-famous authors and ballplayers you could ever hope to meet, especially when we crossed paths on a topic that was so important to both of us. The image I’ll always retain of Jim, though, was of getting ice cream with him near his home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and him looking at my cup and exclaiming, “Sprinkles! That’s a great idea!” and then sprinting back into the shop to get some added to his as well. To the end, Jim Bouton remained boyishly intense about things that were truly important, whether fighting General Electric to save an old ballpark or eating ice cream, and that’s a rare and precious gift. My sympathies to his wife, Paula, and to all who loved him, which by this point I think was pretty much everybody.

And now, to the nuances and absurdities of this week’s stadium and arena news:


25 comments on “Friday roundup: Remembering Jim Bouton, and the latest in stadium shakedown absurdities

  1. You’ve got the wrong city attached to the Orange Bowl – although I’m sure the Orange Bowl people would gladly claim that the benefits extend as far as Orlando.

    • The linked article is from 2016. Maybe the Orange Bowl people are threatening to move the bowl and it’s amazing economic impact up to Orlando.

      • Hey, oranges are a kind of citrus!

        As for the 2016 article date, I just linked to the wrong year’s study. I’ve now corrected it to the current one, but the 2016 numbers are just as valid as the 2019 ones.

  2. I believe I read that Duo Milano are cumulatively paying $8 Euro (sorry don’t have a euro button here) a year in rent and are also building a “private” stadium as well. I also read there’s some confusion as the city is contractually obligated to the Giuseppe Massa San Siro for the opening and closing ceremonies…

    Mr DeMause, Any off-hand predictions on how that will shake out?

    I think this is quite one of the most outlandish posts I have ever read on FoS in comparison to the Loria/Jeter/Kroenke/Ilitch/Jones/Wilpons/LibertyMedia et al of the world…and have hope the next Globe Life Field/Yankee Stadium may not require my pennies.

    • The city of Milan has already told them to pound sand on the demolition. They’re sort of open to letting them build a new stadium, but the clubs don’t own the stadium the city does, and the city is dead set against tearing it down. Who knows what’s going to happen here honestly.

  3. Bouton was one of a kind.

    I will always remember him being interviewed about Ball Four (early on, like maybe after the first edition was sold out etc). He said he had just received a really nasty letter from Bowie Kuhn accusing him of practically everything bad that Kuhn could dream up (and he dreamed up a lot…), and having ‘done permanent damage to the integrity of Baseball’ or something like that.

    The interviewer asked him if he was hurt by that letter and he said something like “at first, yeah. But then I realized I needed a foreword for the second edition, and Kuhn had just written it for me..”

    I don’t have a copy of the second/third whatever edition, but I understand he did just exactly that…

  4. I love what you wrote about Jim Bouton. I always felt Jim Bouton was too smart to be a baseball player. But we are all lucky that he chose that career path.

    One of the most memorable parts of Ball Four was when he described how players would gather on the roof of a hotel in Washington. They did that so they could look inside the windows of hotel rooms, hoping to catch a glimpse of a naked woman. My God, how times have changed. Nowadays If you want to see a named woman there are easier ways to do it.

  5. Ricketts really is a piece of shit.

    I know we aren’t supposed to post personal attacks, but I think that is more of a factual statement than anything else. I know so many long time Cub fans who are on the verge of abandoning the club they have supported since the 1970s solely because of the conduct of the owner…

  6. Taking his cue from the governor of Illinois, Ricketts cooks up a scam to get out of paying taxes he can well afford to pay.

  7. Sorry, Jim Boutin publicized actions and conversations of his teammates in his books, which they thought were private. This is called betrayal of confidences. That is why he was ostricised in baseball in the 1970’s. He is not on my hero list. Still, may he RIP.

  8. It’s about time someone starts questioning the sustainability of rebuilding stadiums every couple of decades. What other structures in our civilization do we spend more on for such a short lifespan?

  9. Actually, Gary, it’s LONG PAST time someone starts questioning the sustainability of rebuilding stadiums every couple of decades. The comparisons of arena spectator sports with the gladiatorial contests and beast ‘hunts’ staged in ancient Rome are all too obvious for football and boxing, and the ‘bread & circuses’ analogy was already a cliche 60 years ago when I was a kid, but that that doesn’t negate its truthfulness. And now it’s even more of an empty spectacle, so our society has to build new arenas more often to keep the interest level up and help foster the illusion that professional sports somehow materially matter in some real sense to Joe & Josephine six-pack.

  10. It is stunning to me that the Palace is being demolished. The building is in great shape and, even at 30 years, there isn’t a single thing about it amenity wise that can be called obsolete. IMHO it’s a better venue than Little Caesar’s Arena is with its cramped seating, lousy parking and overhyped and overpriced mall of a concourse.

    It’s beyond disgusting that an arena that could still place among the best in the NBA is being discarded like yesterday’s mail. Tom Gores is a crap owner and Bill Davidson’s widow should be ashamed that she sold her husband’s legacy to this two bit grifter.

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