Dogs, Chickens, and Other Appetizing Tangents

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.”

• • • • •

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.

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