The beloved pitcher and writer who exposed the raunchy side of baseball has died

July 12, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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July 12, 2019

Good Friday morning. Today I go back to my roots with several sports-related items. Have a great weekend.

Pitcher, writer Jim Bouton dies at 80

The ‘Ball Four’ author drew back the curtain on the clubhouse, alienating insiders but delighting baseball fans.

As a baseball pitcher, Jim Bouton was mediocre over his 10 major-league seasons. But his impact on the game went far beyond the field. In 1970, Bouton wrote “Ball Four,” a groundbreaking book considered one of the greatest sports books ever written. Check that. You could make the case that it’s one of the best nonfiction books ever written.

Bouton died Wednesday after a struggle with vascular dementia. He was 80.

“Ball Four” was a hilarious, raunchy, revealing and never-before-seen look at what really goes on inside a baseball clubhouse. Bouton recalled such stories as the great Mickey Mantle playing hungover, players chasing women, drug use and other scandalous behavior. But it was also an introspection of the crossroads of his career as a middle-aged pitcher trying to hang on.

The New York Times noted that, “In 2002, Sports Illustrated placed it at No. 3 on its list of the top 100 sports books of all time. Perhaps more notable, in 1995, as the New York Public Library celebrated its centennial, it included ‘Ball Four’ as the only sports book among 159 titles in its exhibit ‘Books of the Century.’”

“Ball Four” was a smashing success, producing several copycat books over the years. But it made Bouton a social pariah at the time, as those inside the game accused him of breaking the code: What goes on in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.

In the end, his inside access took sports fans into a world they had never seen. Bouton used that access, as well as wit and fearlessness, to produce a work that stands up with any journalist, inside or outside of sports.

Calling an audible

AFC wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

KCTV5, a TV station in Kansas City, is defending its decision for how it handled an audio recording of a Kansas City Chief football player who had been accused of child abuse. The station did not run the entire 11-minute conversation between Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill and his fiancee, Crystal Espinal, that surfaced in April. At the time, reporter Angie Ricono said the station “released the newsworthy portions.”

In the edited audio released by KCTV5, Espinal said their 3-year-old son was terrified of Hill and Hill responded, “You need to be terrified of me too, b—-.”

But the Kansas City Star reported that a local sports radio station, KCSP, aired the full audio this week where Hill denied that he ever injured the couple’s 3-year-old son or hit Espinal in a 2014 incident for which he pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation.

As Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz points out, that led to various sports and news websites running stories with generally the same headline, which was a version of “In new audio, Hill denies abuse.” But as Moskovitz also notes, Hill’s denials are nothing new and, she wrote, “The extended audio, to my ears, wasn’t newsworthy. It sounded like more of the same: Espinal confronts Hill, saying he has hurt her and their son, and Hill either deflects or denies it.”

During a Q&A on the station’s “Locker Room Show,” KCTV5 station manager Casey Clark said the station debated running the full audio, but believed it ran the pertinent parts.

As far as Hill, he is not being charged with any crime. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe dropped all charges last month. In April, before the audio became public, Howe said he believed the 3-year-old was hurt, but could not prove who did it.

The success of ‘Dateline’ is no mystery

The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio embedded with the NBC show “Dateline” recently and wrote a feature calling the true crime-related news magazine show a “pop culture phenomenon.”

Battaglio isn’t wrong. Consider his findings: “Dateline” currently airs 90 hours a week across NBC and various cable and local TV stations. NBC News produces about 100 new hours a year of the show, which debuted in 1992 and still does well in reruns. Through the first half of 2019, 106 million people have watched at least six minutes of a “Dateline” episode. Among its avid viewers, according to social media posts, include celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Kristen Bell.

Battaglio wrote, “The enduring success of ‘Dateline’ — one of the most profitable network TV news shows — reflects the growing appeal of the true-crime genre despite big changes in viewing habits.”

My prediction: Credibility will suffer

Jalen Rose in 2018. (Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Earlier this week, I had an item in the newsletter on how many sports reporters and analysts were flat-out wrong in their guesses of where NBA free agent star Kawhi Leonard would end up. One of them was ESPN’s Jalen Rose, who appeared on the show “Get Up” on Thursday and admitted his “prediction” was wrong.

And that’s where The Big Lead’s Bobby Burack picks it up with a great point. He wrote:

“Rose said his ‘prediction’ was wrong, which leads to a bigger problem. There are so many of these things being thrown out there right now, hybrids of a report and a prediction. Then when they turn out wrong, which is becoming the new norm, they say: ‘Well, it was just my prediction.’ But if you go back and watch the tape, they are clearly more than predictions and much closer to ‘reports’ based on alleged inside information. These are the same media people that demand credit when their report ‘prediction’ turns out correct.”

#thursdaythoughts: ‘Abnormal, dangerous’

Twitter was down for about an hour Thursday afternoon, leading to this tweet from former Obama White House cabinet secretary Chris Lu:

“As Twitter goes down for a big chunk of U.S., let’s consider how abnormal and dangerous it is that the president chooses to communicate major policy decisions, including threats to conduct military action, on a private-sector platform susceptible to hacking and outages.”


Hot type

File photo of the Ford logo. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

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Correction: This piece has been updated to correct a typo that indicated a baseball player was a flesh-eating Amazonian fish instead of a social outcast. We regret the error.