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I came across a couple of interesting items while chasing down some of the tangents for my dream piece. Jim Bouton (who immortalized manager Joe Schultz's "pound the ol' Budweiser" directive) had been on my mind a few weeks ago, when admissions from Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti about steroid use touched off a furor and a torrent of editorializing that made it all the way to the steps of the Capitol. In his classic 1970 book Ball Four, Bouton had written, "If you had a pill that would guarantee a pitcher twenty wins, but might take five years off his life, he'd take it." What, I wondered, would Bouton make of these recent revelations?
I wasn't the only one wondering, of course. The pros over at ESPN's Page 2 interviewed Bouton for a Ten Burning Questions With... piece, and leading off with a question about steroids, Bouton drops in that exact line. "The only thing I didn't know at the time was the name," says Bouton. His views on steroids as expounded in the piece (he thinks they should be banned, they give cheaters an advantage, they move the game closer to the realm of professional wrestling, etc.) aren't especially noteworthy beyond that, but any interview with the ol' Bulldog is worth a read, and he has some interesting insights as to the influence of Ball Four thirty years later.
One thing Bouton didn't mention in that interview is that he's apparently got a new book in the works. Waconeh Park is about Bouton's efforts to save the oldest minor-league ballpark in the country, an 83-year old park located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Says the press release: "With his trademark irreverence and sharp-eyed observations, Bouton recounts the battle being waged over whether to build a new stadium to replace 83-year-old Wahconah Park, a contentious struggle that pitted the wishes of the people against those of the local power elite."
As the story goes, Bouton (who lives in the Berkshires near Pittsfield) was involved in a partnership which attempted to bring an independent league team (from either the Atlantic League or the Northern League) to Waconeh Park and keep it there as they renovated the stadium. The city of Pittsfield ultimately accepted a competing proposal to field a Northern League team there, with an eye towards building a new ballpark. The battle was clearly an acrimonious one which gave Bouton some new insights into what he calls "America's new hostage crisis," the practice of team owners extorting publicly-funded stadiums out of taxpayers under the threat of moving their franchises. That does ring a bell these days, doesn't it?
The press release for Bouton's book, which will be published by PublicAffairs in time for the opening of the 2003 season, claims that just as Bouton laid bare the clubhouse in Ball Four, so will he lay bare "baseball's corporate and political strong-arming" in Wahconah Park: "Fans are having their pockets picked by the new-stadium juggernaut, and Jim shows the absurd lengths to which the advocates of these taxpayer-financed stadiums will go. It would be sad if it weren't so funny."
While I think the term "hostage crisis" overstates the case a bit in this political climate, the promise of a new Bouton book is not a trivial one. Is it too early to buy a copy? Or as Homer Simpson said: "Two questions: how much and give it to me."
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Fred "Chicken" Stanley was an exemplary member of the Infielderus futilis classification during the 1970s and early '80s, playing for some awful teams (the '69 Seattle Pilots, where he was a September call-up after their famous author was traded to Houston, '71 Cleveland Indians, and'72 San Diego Padres, all of whom lost at least 95 games) and some great ones (the '76-'78 Yanks, and Billy Martin's '81 Oakland A's). With a lifetime batting average of .216 and 10 homers in 14 years, Stanley certainly won't be confused with Derek Jeter in Yankee lore. But he was a solid glove man who had his uses under the right manager (Martin); the A's even traded young Mike Morgan for him and Brian Doyle to reunite him with Number One.
As Yogi Berra said, "You can learn a lot by watching." Futility infielders, like backup catchers, absorb a lot of the game from the bench and tend to stick around after they retire, becoming successful coaches and managers. Count Stanley among these; he's in his third year piloting the San Francisco Giants' Class A entry in the Northwest League, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (as in Mount St. Helens). Last year, he and the Volcanoes won the league's championship, and Chicken's taken home Manager of the Year honors two years running. It's not exactly the big time (the Volcanoes stadium seats only 4,252), but you've got to start somewhere, and after serving for nine years in the Milwaukee Brewers' front office, Stanley's off to a great start in the dugout. Here's wishing him continued success.
Oh, and there really is a dish called Chicken Stanley: "Chicken breast sautéed with mushrooms and zucchini. Finished in a creamy mustard sauce, " according to this website. For those of you cooking at home, you can even find a recipe here.
I found my locker, right next to Soriano. Multiple uniforms, caps, and spikes, neatly arranged, awaited my arrival. If me being a Yankee wasn't farfetched enough, the well-organized locker should have been the tip-off that I was dreaming. My biggest concern as I arrived at the locker was remembering the combination to a small safe for valuables. Sori reminded me that the combination would match my uniform number, in this case 32 (apologies to Elston Howard for infringing upon his retired jersey. Hey man, I was asleep at the time...). I dialed the combo and the safe opened, much to my relief. Lord knows how I expected to actually secure anything in there when everybody knew everybody else's one-number "combo," but... insert Ruben Rivera punchline here.
I looked around the locker room. My Yankee teammates were for some reason dressing in road greys, rather than pinstripes, so I followed suit. This didn't seem nearly so strange as seeing the player dressing on the other side of Soriano's locker: Keith Hernandez. The former Met first baseman with the cheesy mustache was dressing in uniform number 23--the number belonging to the former Yankee first baseman with the cheesy mustache, Don Mattingly. I didn't have much problem with Hernandez taking Mattingly's number (being in the business of retired-number stealing myself), but I was puzzled why Keith was hanging on with the Yanks.
A large cardboard box was sitting in front of my locker. I opened the top and peeked in. It was a trophy of sorts, a large chalice that was apparently intended for Yogi Berra. I understood instantly--it was because Berra had entertained the fans during a recent rain delay by talking to them over the scoreboard Jumbotron (what, you DON'T remember?), and the Yankee organization once again wanted to show their gratitude to Yogi. As I explained this to Hernandez, he sneered and took issue with it. I told him, "Keith, you should be so lucky. If you were a nicer guy, maybe Cleveland wouldn't have let you go." Keith frowned at me, a Yankee official came by to pick up the trophy as we watched a clip of Berra on the clubhouse TV, and that was the end of the dream.
Even in my dreams, I apparently have a good grasp of baseball arcana. Hernandez finished his career with the Indians in 1990, though it was bad knees, and not a bad attitude, that did him in. I have to admit that I never did like him as a player, and I don't like him much as an announcer either--he's got a condescending air about him, and that mustache always seems to be hiding something. Not that I'm lying awake at nights thinking about my dislike of him--apparently, I'm dragging it down to my subconscious, where a rookie like me can sass back to Keith Hernandez.
This wasn't the first time baseball invaded my dreams, though it happens surprisingly infrequently. One of the most memorable ones involved me conversing with Mariners manager Lou Piniella as we took a shvitz together. The discussion was going along fine until I reminded Lou that his being doubled off of second base during Game 3 of the 1981 World Series was the turning point in that series--a good one for the Dodgers, for whom I was rooting. That dream took place in the winter of 1995-96, hot on the heels of the great 1995 ALDS in which the M's beat the Yanks--back when I was still rooting against the pinstripes. In the dream, Lou grimaced as I reminded him, then unleashed a torrent of obscenties so beyond my comprehension that I could only read his lips, as I'd done back in that Series game. Wow.
Another great baseball-related dream, this one from '97 (I wrote it down at the time, just like I'm doing now) involved me and actor Steve Buscemi. He and I were teammates on a Mexican League ballclub, and we were pounding the ol' Budweiser and consoling ourselves following a tough loss. Poor Steve had been the losing pitcher, and he winced every time he took a swig of beer, rubbing his sore shoulder (imagine, Steve Buscemi wearing a pained look). Buscemi confided that his sore arm had him thinking of hanging it up. I was feeling pretty proud of myself despite the loss, because I'd gotten a base hit with the handle of a garden rake.
Clearly, it was clutch hitting like that which brought me to the Yanks' attention. It took a long time, but I finally got called to The Show. Now it all makes sense...