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My 2004 Interview with Jim Bouton

Perhaps it’s a bit macabre, but the thing that motivates me to dig out my old notes and interview transcripts from 2000-2005 is when a player or coach I interviewed dies. I suppose it is inevitable that a bunch of middle-aged and older men I talked to ~20 years ago would be reaching the ends of their lives now, but knowing that doesn’t really soften the blow.

I haven’t posted most of them. Some were only partial transcripts, some I just didn’t quite have time to finish. But while working on something else today I stumbled across the transcript of the time I interviewed Jim Bouton for 50 Greatest Yankees Games.

Jim and I first met, by chance, at BookExpo America, the annual, massive book industry trade show, when I was in line to get an autographed copy of a book by Michael Lewis. (It might have been the Moneyball paperback?) At BookExpo, there is a massive autographing area, with long corrals of lines leading to tables with authors, each of whom has a stack of books to give away and only 30 minutes in which to do it. Often a publicist is sitting with the author, opening the book to the title page so that the author gets about 30 seconds to ask the person’s name (or read it off their badge), say a word of hello, scribble their name, and then bam, on to the next person.

I’ve been the author doing the autographing at the BookExpo corral several times, and it’s a distinctly weird performance of authorhood. But it makes the bookstore workers and librarians who are the majority of attendees (or were back then) happy, and anything that builds buzz is good.

At any rate, Lewis was late to his slot, a long line of disgruntled book people standing in the corral. And sitting by himself on a stool off to the left of the signing table, near the curtained-off backstage area, was a handsome, gray-but-fit-looking older gentleman whose eyes smiled when his mouth did. Many people in the line were staring at him, myself included, because he really looked a lot like Jim Bouton. Where he was sitting looked like he was probably waiting for Lewis, too.

I really didn’t care that much about getting Michael Lewis’s autograph–I just wanted the free book–so I got out of line to ask the publicist if I could just have one sans autograph (she gave me one), and then I said to the guy sitting off to the side, “Everyone’s staring at you because you look just like Jim Bouton.”

And he said, “That’s because I am Jim Bouton.” And we shook hands and immediately got into a brief conversation about Lewis being late and the madness that is BookExpo. I told Bouton I was writing a book about the history of the Yankees and that I’d really love to officially interview him for it. He gave me his card.

We met again a few times after that, including when he came to Boston to promote his self-published book, Foul Ball, which chronicled his efforts to save Wahconah Park, a historic ballpark near his home in North Adams, Massachusetts, and very briefly at the SABR Convention in Seattle, where he was the keynote speaker. Briefly, because I didn’t want to monopolize him, having already taken a lot of his time on the phone and wanting other SABR members to experience the great fun of talking to Jim Bouton.

A quote from the letter I wrote him after the interview, when I had to send him some paperwork from the publisher: “Your interview responses are pure gold to a writer like me: full sentences, to the point, grammatical, vivid, and all the rest.”

So here’s the transcript of the interview we did February 2, 2004, by phone (my parts pared down, his not):

CT: Let’s get right into Game three of the 64 World Series. This was before arm problems for you, wasn’t it?

Jim Bouton: My arm bothered me the first half of ’64–I was only 3-8 at the All-Star break, and I wasn’t sure what the problem was. I had an impacted wisdom tooth removed during the All-Star break and when I came back I felt strong–won 13 games the 2nd half, so I was throwing as well as I’ve ever thrown. By the time the World Series came around I was ready.

Players have these memories, I remember the pennant race and the harmonica incident and all that, and Mickey Mantle calling his shot.

CT: You have to tell me more about that!

Bouton: I was sitting on the bench near the bat rack and Mickey was standing on the dugout steps watching Barney Schultz throw his knuckleball. and Barney Schultz’ knuckleball was dropping about a foot–knee high, drop to the ankles, knee high, drop to the ankles. Mickey had been batting right-handed against Simmons and he has a tomahawk swing, these vicious line drive home runs with overspin on it, but left-handed he had an uppercut. He always upper-cut, so here’s Barney Schultz throwing this knuckleball into Mickey’s uppercut stroke. He’s watching Barney’s warmup throw, and he says to the trainer maybe–Joe Sauros–and I overheard it–not a big announcement, he wasn’t the type to be a big shot or make predictions, it was just a statement of fact. So he walked up to the plate, Barney threw his first pitch, and Mickey hit a seven iron into the upper deck.

The minute he hit it we all knew it was gone, the only question was would it clear the roof? He actually hit it higher than the facade but it then dropped down into the stands. When they run it on Classic Sports you see a guy running in from the left in a pitcher’s jacket. That was me, greeting him at home plate.

CT: What were you thinking then?

Bouton: That was great because otherwise I’d have to go out and pitch the tenth. Nobody was warmed up. Starters almost never go into the tenth inning now. There was no thought of taking me out.

I think I drove in our only run? Or was that in a different game?
(CT: It was a different game.)

CT: Did it concern you at all that the team was a little banged up? Kubek’s wrist, etc…?

Bouton: I never had the sense when I pitched for the Yankees “uh oh we don’t have our best guys in there.” That thought never crossed my mind. To me, all of my thinking about a game had to do with my preparation and what I was thinking about, my mental preparation and my physical preparation. It could have been a high school team running out there behind me.

That was the summer when I developed my double warm up. If I had any trouble it was in the first inning, so that meant I wasn’t into the game yet mentally. So I would warm up twice, to try to simulate an inning, pitching, resting, then pitching, so by the time I went out there it felt like the second or third inning. It was a matter of not being totally focused.

There’s a level of concentration you can arrive at that is almost zen-like.

CT: Was it easier or harder to concentrate in the World Series?

Bouton: I always found it easier to concentrate in the World Series. I didn’t have to manufacture an importance about the game, which I did a few times during the season. I had to sit down at my locker and tell myself it’s life or death, if I don’t win tonight thousands will be starving in Africa. I was out there pitching for the human race. But I didn’t have to do that for the World Series; there was always that butterfly feeling in my stomach.

I loved the whole atmosphere, the buzz in the stadium, the bunting.

CT: 1964 was Mel Stottlemyre’s rookie year. What was your impression of him?

Bouton: [When he came up,] Stottlemyre seemed like a major league pitcher for ten years. He really had the poise and professionalism of a veteran player. It was amazing. He was a pro all the way, a seasoned big league veteran. Both on and off the field.

CT: Where you there in 1962 for the soggy series against the Giants?

Bouton: I almost pitched the 7th game of the 1962 World Series.

CT: Ralph Terry never mentioned that to me!

CT: In 1962 Whitey Ford had hurt his arm and we had nobody to pitch the game. The sports reporters asked Houk who was going to pitch tomorrow, and he said he didn’t know, which meant it was me because he wouldn’t tell me beforehand so I’d toss and turn all night. Ralph relied on seven pitchers all year and I was one of the seven. He said I’m going to go with these guys and that was what he did all year. But then it rained for three days, and game seven was postponed for several days, so they went with Ralph Terry.

CT: About 1960’s World Series loss, did the guys talk about it? (Terry was the pitcher who had served up the walk-off homer to Mill Mazeroski.)

Bouton: Nah, that’s history. Ralph wanted to get the monkey off his back with having given up the home run, so after the 7th game everybody was happy for him because he wouldn’t just be remembered as the guy who gave up that home run.

CT: Do you remember anything else about the game? (1964, again)

Bouton: No.

CT: What about afterward?

Bouton: What I remember about afterward–there was a lot of posing in front of my locker with the baseballs, Mickey and Yogi and I holding a ball–I don’t remember if it was the actual home run ball. There was one of Mickey and I hugging Yogi. I’ve seen that one a lot.

CT: Did you care who you were matched up with, who had to face Gibson?

Bouton: We didn’t care — I always wanted to face the other team’s best pitcher, I wanted to start the World Series, I wanted to be the starter in ’63, but of course Whitey deserved it in ’63. It’s a kind of honorary thing. But whoever pitches game 1 was going to do game 4 and 7 also. I wanted to be the pitcher who would get the three games.

I thought we’d be in the World Series every year and I’d win 20 games every year. I thought I was going to be in the Hall of Fame.

[Jim Bouton died in 2021, and although he was not inducted into the Hall of Fame, his book, Ball Four, was one of the most significant works in the English language in the 20th century.]

Link to Bouton’s books on Amazon: (I get a kickback if you buy anything through this link.)

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