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:
- Asked at the MLB All-Star Game about Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s idea to have the team build two new stadiums, one in Montreal and one in Florida, and play in both, league commissioner Rob Manfred called it “an opportunity to preserve baseball in Tampa Bay.” MLB players have less kind things to say about the notion — “borderline impossible” was the verdict of Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole, who noted that players with families would need to uproot themselves in the middle of every season — but players union executive director (and former player himself) Tony Clark said he was open to any ideas to improve the Rays’ finances: “To the extent that that’s in Tampa, somewhere else in Florida, split in Montreal, there’s a lot of work to be done to see what that looks like.” I’m pretty sure Gerrit Cole just made clear what that would look like, but sure, I guess it can’t hurt to listen.
- Speaking of old(ish) sports venues, the Detroit Pistons‘ former home of the Palace of Auburn Hills is about to get demolished at age 31, and John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press would like to remind you what a waste of money and environmental resources it is to treat sports venues like disposable plastic straws.
- A new study of the economic impact of the Orange Bowl paid for by the Orange Bowl Committee shows that that annual college football game generates a million billion trillion dollars in benefits for <strike>Orlando</strike> Miami, Florida. (Okay, not actually a million billion trillion, but the report’s number is almost certainly just as made up as that, so I’m going with my answer.)
- The St. Louis Blues got $70 million in state subsidies approved for arena renovations, and Inter Miami got free land for their new temporary stadium and practice facility in Fort Lauderdale, and the Chicago Fire finalized their buyout of their lease in Bridgeview so they can relocate to Chicago’s Soldier Field, all of which we’d reported on here when those deals were initially agreed to, but they’re signed and agreed to now, so put ’em in the books.
- Chester, Pennsylvania, still hasn’t seen much of the development that was promised around the Philadelphia Union stadium it helped pay for a decade ago, but locals are holding out hope that it’ll come any day now.
- If you’re wondering why so many sports venues are investing in works of art when sports fans probably don’t care so much about art in the lobby, it’s so that they can rent the space out for high-end events during the offseason. (Also some art fans are less than happy that museums are renting out their artworks to for-profit entities, but museum operators say it’s a great way for sports fans who would never go to a museum to be exposed to art, so quit bothering us while we’re trying to count our dough, willya?)
- Inter Milan and A.C. Milan are set to jointly build a new $1.35 billion soccer stadium, with their own money. This is unremarkable in Italy, which is literally a different country from the U.S.
- Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, who tried and failed to get public money for the renovation of Wrigley Field (but did get some historic preservation tax credits), is in hot water with Cook County tax officials for claiming he shouldn’t pay increased property taxes on his house by submitting a photo of the old, smaller house he’d knocked down to make way for the new one. Notes the ever-astute Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports, “Say what you want about Todd Ricketts and his lawyer, but they are not lacking in chutzpah.”