On Thursday, I got to participate in Varsity Letters’ regular reading series in New York for a very special tribute to the late Jim Bouton, along with my friends Jay Jaffe and Paul Lukas and my new friends Mitchell Nathanson and Nick Diunte. I got to expand on my thoughts I wrote on this site about the times I’d met Jim, and also read one of my favorite excerpts from his book Foul Ball, which was about his attempts to save century-old Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from attempts by the local power structure to raze it and replace it with a publicly subsidized new stadium. You can hear my segment below (and also Nick’s hilarious show closer, which was centered on a supercut of Ball Four quotes from Seattle Pilots manager Joe “Shitfuck” Schultz):
Or if you want to relive the evening in order, start with the opening set, featuring Jay, Mitchell, and Paul:
One thing that didn’t occur to me until I got to the event and started hearing all these writers talk about how influential Ball Four had been on their work: Jim Bouton was not just a great writer, he was in some respects a visionary one. As I said in my talk, none of the outlets that I’ve written for — the Village Voice sports section, Deadspin, Vice Sports, Baseball Prospectus — could have existed in the same way without Jim nearly singlehandedly inventing antiauthoritarian sportswriting, changing Americans’ view of sports from superheroic white-hats-vs.-black-hats escapism to a much more nuanced view that recognized that people are people and the personal is political and it’s important to question things, always. If it’s incredible that this was a message that still needed to be heard 23 years after Jackie Robinson, and that still needs hearing today almost another half-century later, it makes it all the more important when a Jim Bouton shows up to deliver it.
As a bonus reader challenge, anyone who can correctly identify all the Bouton-related gear we were wearing (Mitchell had to leave early and missed the post-event photo shoot) wins the people’s ovation and fame forever: