Ball Four tracersby Chris Jaffe
May 02, 2011
In the early 1990s, Bill James wrote an annual post-Abstract work called his Baseball Books that featured tracers. A tracer is a story an old ballplayer remembered from bygone days that James would research (or rather, have his then-assistant Rob Neyer research) and see if he can locate the event in the historical record. It's tricky as memories get hazy and distort some details of what happened.
They were a lot of fun, and Neyer enjoyed them so much that he later did a book of his own, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, looking up tracers.
Recently, I re-read Jim Bouton's famous Ball Four and realized there are numerous stories in it begging for the tracer treatment. On the face of it, Ball Four is an odd choice for tracers. It's a day-by-day season diary, with each entry noting what happened that day. Hardly an issue of matching memory vs. reality.
True, but Bouton also tells several good stories about his times with the Yankees that occurred years before the book was written. When did those events actually happen? The info is so much easier to look up now with Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index.
Let's find out when some of Bouton's better stories happened.
It reminded me of a time when I was pitching in Baltimore, three, four years ago. I threw a low outside fastball to Jackie Brandt. He held back on it and at the last instant reached out and hit a line drive right back to me. I never saw the damn thing. It smacked me on the jaw and opened up for about twelve stitches.- Jim Bouton, Ball Four, March 3rd entry.
Those were the days when I gutsed it, so I jumped right up and said I wanted to pitch. "Ralph, I'm ready, I'm ready," I said. "I can pitch." Johnny Blanchard was the catcher. "Not with two mouths you ain't, Meat," he said.
They wanted to carry me off on a stretcher, but I knew if my wife heard I was carried off the field she'd have a miscarriage. So I went off under my own power, bloody towel and all, and listened for the ovation. I got it.
This is a pretty easy one to look up, as Bouton provides the name of the opposing batter: Jackie Brandt.
On June 6, 1963, the Yanks pulled Bouton with one out in the fourth immediately after Brandt hit an infield single to the pitcher. Looking further, it also makes sense that Bouton would be the eager beaver to gut it out. After bouncing between the bullpen and startnig rotation, it was only his sixth start since Yankee manager Ralph Houk added him to the rotation to stay. Bouton still wanted to make a good impression.
There are some differences between the quote and the game, but they're fairly minor. Bouton said it was three or four years ago, when it was six. He identified Johnny Blanchard as the catcher, but Elston Howard worked the plate that day.
Hanging curve meets hung over Mickey Mantle
I remember one time [Mickey Mantle]'d been injured and didn't expect to play, and I guess he got himself smashed. The next day he looked hung over out of his mind and was sent up to pinch-hit. He could hardly see.- Jim Bouton, Ball Four, March 4th entry.
So he staggered up to the plate and hit a tremendous drive to left field for a home run. When he came back into the dugout, everybody shook his hand and leaped all over him, and all the time he was getting a standing ovation from the crowd. He squinted out at the stands and said, "Those people don't know how tough that really was."
Let's see, seven of Mickey Mantle's 536 career home runs were pinch hit, five of which took place when Bouton was on the Yankees.
Narrowing it down further, the shot must've happened at Yankee Stadium. Otherwise, there's no reason for the fans to cheer as loud and as long as Bouton says they did. Three of the five pinch-hit homers for Mantle were at home.
Also, the blast should've been a day game. While it's always possible for someone to still be hung over at night from his previous night's festivities, given how incredibly wrecked Bouton depicts Mantle—staggering and nearly blind—you'd certainly hope it wasn't eight o'clock at night.
As it happens, only one of the remaining three pinch-hit homers came in a day game: A solo shot in the bottom of the 7th on August 4, 1963 against Baltimore's George Brunet that tied the game, 10-10.
Digging a little further, it's clear this must be the game Bouton had in mind. Bouton said that Mantle was injured and didn't expect to play. That's an understatement. That pinch-hit homer was his first time on the field since injuring his foot in early June. No wonder the crowd went so crazy.
Finally, checking ProQuest, The Sporting News account of the home run notes that the shot was a long one to left, just as Bouton said. Everything lines up: The August 4, 1963, shot was Mantle's hangover homer.
Umpires do get even with people, even good umpires. I remember when George Scott first came up to Boston. He must have irritated Ed Runge somehow, because the word came out from Elston Howard that when Runge was behind the plate and Scott was hitting, the strikes wouldn't have to be too good.- Jim Bouton, Ball Four. March 28th entry.
The first pitch I threw to Scott was about six inches off the plate. Strike one. The second pitch was eight inches outside. Strike two. The third pitch was a curve in the dirt. Scott swung and missed. He never had a chance.
Bouton fanned George Scott six times, including once in 1969 after recounting this story. Ed Runge was the home plate umpire once: May 12, 1968. It was the first time Scott faced Bouton all day. In his only previous time up, he'd been intentionally walked, so if Runge wanted to make a point, that was the time. Later, Scott flew out to second base.
Bouton said the strikeout came when Scott first came up, but he came up in 1966, not 1968. Also, Elston Howard wasn't even on the Yanks anymore by 1968. Could Bouton have remembered the wrong ump? It's possible, but I think it's more likely he got the catcher wrong than the umpire.
Bouton fanned Scott three times in 1966, but none really fit the story. One whiff is specifically listed as caught looking, whereas Bouton said Scott swung at the third strike. Another came in his third time facing Bouton in a game, while the story makes is sound like it would be the first time they were facing each other that day. (And Scott reached base each of the first two times, going against the notion that he "never had a chance" in this story).
The other time Bouton fanned Scott in 1966 came on June 30. The umpire was Marty Springstead. That doesn't sound right. Bouton's point was that even the best and most respected umps get even with players, and while Springstead would become a well-respected umpire, 1966 was his rookie year.
Why was Runge upset with Scott? I don't know, but Runge worked the plate in Game Five of the 1967 World Series, featuring Scott's Red Sox. Did something happen there? The Bouton game was the first time Runge worked the plate with Scott since then. Whatever Runge's issue was, three weeks later Scott went 3-for-4 with a walk with Runge working the plate.
One of my favorite [Ralph] Houk meetings took place before a game with the Red Sox during a losing streak in 1963.- Jim Bouton, Ball Four May 12th entry.
"I just got to looking at these two lineups," he said, "and I thought I ought to compare them for you. Take the leadoff mean. They got Mike Andrews. We got Bobby Richardson. Any comparison there? No.
Number two we got Tom Tresh and they got Rico Petrocelli. (This was when Petrocelli was just coming up and Tresh was just off rookie of the year). Could you imagine trading Tresh for Petrocelli?
Third is Carl Yastrzemski and Roger Maris. Well, Yastrzemski is not a bad player, so maybe there's a standoff there.
But look who's batting fourth! Jim Pagliaroni and Mickey Mantle. Now who the hell is Pagliaroni?"
It broke up the whole clubhouse and really made his point.
This one doesn't work at all. Rico Petrocelli, aside from one game in 1963, didn't come up with Boston until 1965. Meanwhile, Red Sox cleanup hitter Jim Pagliaroni last played for Boston in 1962. Mike Andrews played five games in 1966 before breaking in during the 1967 season. But by 1967 Roger Maris and Bobby Richardson were no longer on the Yankees.
So some of the guys named don't belong. That's not terribly surprising, as the details can become increasingly vague over the years. Here's the question: Which details was Bouton more likely to mess up and which ones would he get right?
The main outline of the story sounds reasonable: Houk has a meeting comparing Yankee and Red Sox lineups during a bad spell by New York. You can remember that but miss most of the names as the years move along. Which names would be correct?
To me, the key is Jim Pagliaroni. That's something Bouton likely got correct. First, the point of the story was comparing cleanup hitters. The rest is just the buildup. And why would Bouton add in Pagliaroni if he wasn't there? When Bouton recounted the story, Pagliaroni was just a name to him. Later, Pagliaroni would be traded to the Pilots and become a teammate, but at the time it was just a random name of a player that few in 1969 associated with Boston.
It makes more sense to inaccurately throw in Petrocelli or Andrews. Think: It's May, 1969, and you're trying to remember the story. You get to the No. 2 hitter—who isn't that important to the story, anyway—and who would've been hitting No. 2 for Boston however many years ago? Ehhh, well Petrocelli's been there a while, right? Maybe this happened when he first came up. Ditto Andrews.
Let's add this: Pagliaroni rarely batted cleanup for Boston, but he did a few times, most notably early 1962. And sure enough, in May, 1962, the Yanks came into Boston after losing three of four to Cleveland, falling into second place. The Yankees lost the first game in Boston on May 15, 1962 but won the next day.
This story probably comes from one of those two games. The Yankee batting order is precisely as Bouton remembered. Pete Runnels and Eddie Bressoud were Boston's table setters, ahead of Yaz and Pags.
At any rate, one day Fritz Peterson and I, a bit bored during a game we were winning about 6-2, went into the clubhouse and filled [Joe Pepitone]'s hair-dryer with talcum powder. Then we cleaned it up, left it where he had and went back to watch the game.- Jim Bouton, Ball Four. May 22nd entry.
By this time it was 6-3, and then they tied it up and we lost it, 7-6, in extra innings. And one of the reasons we lost is that Pepitone struck out in a clutch situation.
So everyone was tired and angry and upset, and you could hear a pin drop in the clubhouse, because after a loss that's the way it's supposed to be.
After a while Pepitone came out of the shower and turned his hair-dryer on. Whooosh! Instant white. He looked like an Italian George Washington with a powdered wig. There was talcum powder over everything, his hair, his eyebrows, his nose, the hair on his chest.
Of course, everybody went crazy. Loss or no, they all laughed like hell.
Peterson, Bouton, and Pepitone were teammates for only three years, 1966-68. That said, Bouton himself wasn't always around, spending half of 1967 and 1968 in the minors. In the times Bouton was with the Yanks in those years, they lost about a dozen extra-inning games. Only once did they blow the lead badly. On August 2, 1966 they led the Angels 5-0, only to lose 6-5 in 11 innings. Pepitone had a great game, going 3-for-5 while reaching on an error, but saved his worst for last. In the tenth, with one out and a man on first, Pepitone hit into a double play. Not the strikeout that Bouton recalled, but clearly a late clutch out.
So that's in, right? Some facts are off—the score, the strikeout, but the general gist is there. Maybe.
I have another theory: It also could be a game from two weeks earlier: July 23, 1966. This contest, again against the Angels, didn't go into extra innings, but it was a 7-6 final in which the Yankees blew a 6-3 lead. Pepitone again didn't strike out, but he made a clutch out to end the game. With runners on the corners and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Pepitone fouled out to the catcher, ending a perfectly miserable 0-for-5 day.
It could be either game. Neither Peterson nor Bouton pitched in either contest, both of which had similar trajectories. Either Bouton misremembered the score or that it went into extra innings. Either way, he got Pepitone's big out wrong. I lean a little toward the Aug. 2 game, as Pepitone's out was more crucial, but it's a toss up.
Bouton of California
The reason for the rule, [Marvin Milkes, Pilots general manager] said, was that he remembered when he was with the Angels, and the Yankees used to come into town and stay out all night at those Johnny Grant parties. (Grant is what they call a radio personality in Hollywood.)- Jim Bouton, Ball Four, June 25th entry.
"But Marvin," I said, "the way I remember it, we would stay out all night and then beat you guys, anyway. I remember having a pretty good time at a Johnny Grant party and then pitching a two-hitter against you."
In fact, I remembered more than that. I remembered doing a strip to my underwear to the theme song of Lawrence of Arabia, and then treading water in the swimming pool with a martini in each hand, an then going out and beating the Angels the next night. In fact, every time I hear the Lawrence of Arabia [theme], my mind still snaps.
Bad news: Bouton never threw a two-hitter in California, so we'll have to dig.
Starting point: Lawrence of Arabia came out in December 1962, so this couldn't have been Bouton's rookie year.
Bouton pitched three great games in California. All were night games, so that detail doesn't help. On June 6, 1964, Bouton threw 13 shutout innings but got a no-decision, as the Yanks didn't win until the 15th. That doesn't sound like it. You'd think Bouton would remember the longest start of his career.
Those other two were complete-game shutout victories. On August 9, 1963, he allowed five hits in a 1-0 win, and on July 29, 1964, he allowed four hits in a 5-0 win.
Neither fully fit, but either could be Bouton's game. It's impossible to say which, but the 1963 game would be my guess. It had more hits allowed, but the difference there is negligible. The drama of a 1-0 victory could become a two-hitter in hazy memory. Besides, it's closer to the release of Lawrence of Arabia, so that song might be fresher in Bouton's mind.
References and Resources
This was inspired by the old traces Bill James and Rob Neyer did back in the day, just applied to Jim Bouton's Ball Four.
Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index was crucial to this column.
Retrosheet's umpire index helped with the George Scott strike out.
And ProQuest came in handy with the Mantle home run.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.