Listen to an evening of Jim Bouton readings by five writers in his debt (including me)

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:

The end of an era

In case you missed it, my work responsibilities at my day job just got a whole lot lighter on Friday, as the Village Voice ownership announced that it will no longer be running new content, effective immediately.

This should mean I’ll have more time in the mornings to devote to scanning the globe for stadium and arena news, so if you’ve been irked by this site’s increasing tendency to leave lots of news for the Friday roundups, that tendency should begin to wane soon. (Though I kind of feel like people like the Friday roundups best, so maybe I shouldn’t try too hard to cover all news as soon as it happens.) That good news, though, is outweighed by the greater bad news of another still-vital news outlet disappearing from the world, with no indication that it’s soon going to be replaced.

Unless you count a single article in 1989, my time as a regular Voice contributor — just under 300 articles, according to the Voice’s internal database, though there are at least several dozen early pieces that aren’t included there — began with stadiums: Yankee Stadium in particular, whose 1998 falling-beam incident Joanna Cagan and I covered for the paper’s then-singular sports section, The Score. Later renamed Jockbeat, the Voice sports page survived until 2003; its last-ever feature was a report by me on a developer named Bruce Ratner who had a crazy idea to get New York to give him prime Brooklyn property to build an arena for the New Jersey Nets. I kept on covering sports subsidies for the paper’s website, though, along with writing about myriad subjects for the print edition, including Coney Island redevelopment and Michael Bloomberg’s homeless policies and the perils of standardized testing and climate change and how to not be an asshole about being a gentrifier. (You can find the full list of my articles here; Voice management has said it intends to keep the archives up indefinitely.)

I kept on writing for the Voice across three decades and ten editors-in-chief in part because they paid well and had a good reach — there was a time not that long ago when more than 100,000 New Yorkers would pick up the paper from its ubiquitous red boxes — but mostly because of the kind of journalism it stood for. Snarky long before Gawker, devoted to investigative reporting would cover what the city’s dailies ignored, and always with an eye toward encouraging writers to find new ways of honing their craft, it was both a writers’ paper and a readers’ one; picking up the Voice always felt to me like visiting with the coolest, smartest kids in town, and actually working with the Voice was like being allowed into their club. I learned volumes in both roles, and was forever changed by the experience; as one long-ago Voice writer mourned on Facebook on Friday: “I am still writing for the Voice. I think most of the people who wrote for the Voice are still writing for the Voice.”

There are other news outlets out there trying to pick up the Voice gauntlet — or at least a finger or two of it — but none will be able to fully replace it, certainly not in this current era of feeble revenues and journalistic retrenchment. If there’s a publication out there that you cherish, please consider throwing some money its way, whether as a subscription or just a donation; while it’s great that the internet allows me to bring daily stadium news to you without having to own a printing press, this site wouldn’t exist without the work of all the reporters out there getting paid to report on the news — sometimes better than others, but it’s all way, way better than nothing. If too many more of these outlets disappear, as I told the New York Times on Friday, it makes me fear for what’s left of our democracy.