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Pat Jordan
January 06, 1975
Ahead of an athlete, especially one who knew euphoric days of fame, lie retirement and the pain of adapting to another world
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January 06, 1975

After The Sundown

Ahead of an athlete, especially one who knew euphoric days of fame, lie retirement and the pain of adapting to another world

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Walking through the CBS studio, he says, "If I had a chance to be a big-leaguer tomorrow, I'd leave this job in a minute. When I was on the way out with the Astros—just before Ball Four was published—ABC-TV offered me a job for twice the money I was making. The network said I'd have to leave the Astros immediately. I said, 'Are you kidding? Leave the Houston Astros just to be on television?' I finally took the job when the Astros shipped me back to the minors.

"I was terrified when I left baseball, a fish out of water. I still won't admit my career's over. I know the date and the hour, but my mind refuses to accept the fact that I couldn't go back if I tried. I'm only 36. Sometimes I'm pitching in this semi-pro league in New Jersey and for an inning or two I can feel it all coming back. After the game you say to yourself, 'I've got it again! If I work a little bit for the next few weeks I can get it all together. I'll get back there!' And the cruel thing is, the minute you start thinking that way, it's gone. The next game you're warming up and it's not there. You say to yourself, 'No, that's not it. Be patient, it'll come.' It isn't there after the first inning so you start the second, saying, 'No, you don't quite have it, but don't panic, there's still time.' And you go through the whole game and the touch never comes back. So for the next few games you forget about it, and then about a month later it comes back again for an inning or two. You start all over. It's like an evil elf tempting you."

6:30 p.m.—Bouton is sitting in a barber chair in a brilliantly lighted room and scrutinizing his image in a huge mirror. Also reflected in the mirror is a Formica counter littered with soiled tissues, artists' brushes, pencils, pastel crayons, jars of pancake make-up. Standing beside Bouton is a short, heavyset woman with a smooth, pink, baby face that is perfectly made-up. While Bouton watches, she pencils in his eyebrows and carries on a conversation with a gray-haired woman seated on the other side of Bouton and absorbed in her knitting.

The woman with the baby face puts down her pencil and stares at Bouton's reflection. Satisfied, she picks up an artist's brush, daubs it with make-up and begins covering Bouton's forehead, the hollows of his cheeks and under his chin. His face grows orange as she works. He watches her carefully, and when she finally puts down the brush they examine the result. His face has lost all its tone and is a solid, deep orange. There is no hint of beard. He moved his head slightly, left, then right and, finally satisfied, gets out of the chair.

"It's the camera," says the make-up lady. "It distorts reality, adding 20 pounds to a person's appearance. You need make-up to distort the person's face in such a way that when he gets in front of the camera the face appears the way it would in reality. By distorting it with make-up, it looks natural."

6:40 p.m.—Rolland Smith, Dave Marash, Ron Swoboda and Pat Collins, members of the CBS-TV news staff, are sitting behind a long, irregular desk under bright conical lights in the studio that serves as the Channel 2 early evening news set. They read from a script or smile straight ahead while, in the shadows, television cameras roll forward for close-ups, pause, and then retreat into the shadows as other cameras advance. In the darkness behind the cameras Bouton is waiting for the cue to replace Swoboda on the set so that he can deliver his news feature on Dickinson High School and its losing streak. Bouton, fidgeting with his tie, says in a hushed voice, "There's a great similarity between being on television and pitching before thousands of people. In both cases you're working under pressure, you have to be able to concentrate, to be able to focus on one thought quickly, and then just as quickly stand off from it. It helps to be a little tense. Most guys try to eliminate that tenseness before they face the cameras. I like butterflies in my stomach. When I was pitching I tried to manufacture butterflies. I used them to get a better pitch out of myself. I still do."

While Bouton is talking, Marash is delivering a news bulletin on recent developments in the case of Hurricane Carter, a black boxer serving a life term for murdering three men in New Jersey. Two witnesses to the murders seven years before have just come forth to say they lied at Carter's trial, when they swore they had seen him at the scene of the crime. Marash finishes, and there is a pause on the set for a commercial. Bouton slips into Swoboda's seat, shuffles through his papers and prepares to deliver his story.

7 p.m.—Just as he is about to leave the CBS building for supper, Bouton receives a telephone call from a woman chastising him for making a fool out of the winless high school football players. Bouton tries to explain that he wasn't trying to make a fool of anyone, that he really does hope the team wins its game tomorrow. The woman says something. Bouton replies and slams down the receiver. The call has upset him. "How could anyone take offense at that story?" he says. "It was just a funny story."

Bouton treats everything he talks about on television in a humorous vein. Even when he is being sharply critical of, say, the baseball Establishment, he strives for humor. This is his nature. Often he hits his mark. But when he does not, the result is strained. He is a natural entertainer, inclined to deal with the quick, the light, the superficial. He says, "I could have put in for the Hurricane Carter story, but decided not to. I took the Dickinson kids instead." He shakes his head. "That Carter story, I don't know. The magnitude of it scared me."

8 p.m.—Two attractive women in their 20s enter the restaurant—a dark, paneled, sawdusty pub with an Irish name that gives it the license to charge $2.50 for a hamburger. They notice Bouton eating supper and move to the empty table beside him. Without glancing up, he smiles and says, "Things are going to go downhill from here." Then he returns to the subject of conversation. "The television job just fell in my lap. It scares me to think what I'd be doing if it hadn't. I like TV now. It has a lot of the advantages baseball had, pays a nice salary, and there is the recognition factor. When people keep asking for your autograph you don't feel you've lost it. I can have an impact. There are millions of people out there whom I can make see things through my eyes. Sometimes, though, you feel helpless. You wonder, do they really care what you think or say, or is it just that they're curious because you're a celebrity? Once you become a public personality everybody wants to use you for some cause or other. If I was rich I'd give them my money; if I was a nobody I'd give my time. Because I'm a celebrity I give them my face. You wonder, too, should they pay attention to you?

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