Jim Bouton, 37 Years On

ballfour1971_sm.jpgJim Bouton, the author of one of my favorite books from my childhood, Ball Four, is now running a Vintage Base Ball Federation World Series, in Westfield MA.

I absolutely loved Ball Four; easily, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It went behind the scenes — way, way behind the scenes — to show the kind of things that went on in major league clubhouses in the 1960s. And Bouton pulled no punches. It’s must reading for any baseball fan. I myself haven’t read it in decades now, since the paperback I bought back in 1971 is long gone; this situation, clearly, shall not stand.

The Vintage Base Ball Federation World Series is a genuine 1880s baseball exhibition, played under the same rules and with the same equipment used back then. Steve Henson of Yahoo Sports describes it:

Upon reaching the field, spectators passed a kid in a newsboy cap and suspenders hawking programs, a banjo player singing “In the Good Old Summertime,” Keystone Cops giving passersby a flippant once-over, and a legion of primly dressed women holding signs demanding their right to vote. By then it was only a slight shock to come upon a thoroughly ordinary diamond populated by thoroughly distinctive players wearing tiny gloves and pillbox caps. A man with a handlebar mustache wielding a thick-handled bat politely informed a cigar-chomping umpire that given the choice, sir, he’d like the strike zone from the shoulders to the belt, please, rather than from the belt to the knees.Then came the pitch and the familiar thwack! of wood against cowhide, and it was no different than any game at any point since baseball was invented, who knows precisely how long ago. There were hits, runs and errors. Actually, a lot of each, primarily because those diminutive gloves are more appropriate for plucking weeds than ground balls.

Many truths unfold watching Vintage Base Ball, including the realization that the most common 19th-century injuries weren’t strained oblique muscles or torn rotator cuffs, but chronically swollen paws and dislocated fingers. Bouton, the VBBF commissioner and a born showman who can turn out vintage spin on demand, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“In today’s game, people expect every play to be made and get upset when there is an error,” he said, eating a Creamsicle as a crowd of about 2,500 cheered the action in the afternoon sun. “In Vintage Base Ball, nobody expects a play to be made and everybody is thrilled when it happens.”

Sounds pretty intriguing. If I did not live 1000 miles away. ;^)


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