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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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An athlete—any athlete, but especially a famous one—carries everywhere an indefinable resource, a certain glow that can only be dimmed by his ceasing to be an athlete. This resource, tangentially the inheritance of fame or talent, may be real or illusory. In the eyes of nonathletes, however, the athlete is different. He is privy to certain mysteries that elevate him. He is blessed in a world of the unblessed. In his book "The Summer Game''' Roger Angel I writes, "...we had never made it. We would never know the rich joke that doubled over three young pitchers in front of the dugout; we would never be part of that golden company on the field, which each of us, certainly for one moment of his life, had wanted more than anything else in the world to join.

Membership in this golden company brings a host of privileges. For an athlete certain rules are suspended, amenities not required, life's unpleasantness diminished and his every deficiency muted in the eyes of nonathletes. In his presence the conversation invariably revolves around the athlete, his talent and his sport. Even far removed from a stadium he remains the center of attention, the hub of a private universe that is satisfyingly simple. An athlete floats above the complex and the disagreeable, which become for him the unreal. His private world is the real world.

The loss of all this at the end of a sports career can be traumatic. The athlete fears it far more than his diminishing talent or giving up his salary. The following profiles show what happened to two professional athletes—Pitcher Jim Bouton and basketball player Art Heyman—who retired from competition while still quite young and found themselves in that other world.

It is 1 p.m. Football Coach Tom (Bull) Bulwith stands with his players and their mascot, a small goat that is urinating on the stage in the William L. Dickinson High School auditorium. Eight hundred students are screeching, chanting, cheering, stamping and otherwise exhorting their team to victory in tomorrow's game. Bulwith, a veteran coach in his first year at Dickinson, had not expected such a rally at this soot-stained, brick-Gothic school whose students ordinarily drowse in class and litter the graffitied halls with milk cartons, candy wrappers and cigarette butts. Dickinson, located close by the turnpike in the smog of Jersey City, has difficulty rousing its students for any endeavor, especially football since the team has not won a game in five years.

The cheering, however, seems off-center. It is not directed toward Coach Bulwith, who is shouting into a microphone at center stage, but to the right and below, at the foot of the stage where Jim Bouton, the former New York Yankee and now CBS-TV sportscaster, is aiming a microphone at the chanting students while a camera crew films them. The students, as if on cue, rise from their seats and surge toward Bouton. On stage Bulwith turns slightly and tries to follow them with his voice. Bouton is swept up in the pandemonium. "Jeez, look at 'em!" he shouts. "Imagine being 16 again! I'd give $10,000 cash to be tomorrow's quarterback!" The chanting students surround him, press him back against a wall and he disappears from view. Meanwhile, Bulwith has made a 90-degree turn and is shouting exhortations at the backs of the students.

3 p.m.—Driving back to the CBS building in Manhattan, Bouton says, "Any good reporter twists reality. He alters it just by the way he sees it. In my case, I alter it twice: once by the way I see it, and a second time just by my presence. My being there with a camera affected the way those kids acted. Who's to say how. You never know. Partly, it's just the camera and partly it's my being there, rather than my reason for being there. I ask them how it feels to lose 43 games in a row, and they ask me for my autograph. All they are thinking is, 'Hey, man, I'm talking to Jim Bouton!' It's nice being recognized, but I feel I would be anyway. It makes my job more fun but it doesn't help me do a good job. It would have made a better story if I could have gotten those kids to sing the school fight song. But all they wanted to do was cheer."

5 p.m.—Bouton, shirtless, bends forward, sticking his head into a sink. He turns on the water and begins shampooing his hair. Beside him in the cramped CBS men's room, Ron Swoboda, also an ex-Yankee and now a sportscaster, lathers his face with shaving cream, leans toward a mirror and begins to shave.

"We are doing our toilette," says Bouton from the sink bowl.

Swoboda, examining one half of his shaved face, says, "That's right, Jim. We always do our toilette before we go on the air."

"No kidding," says Bouton. "It's a tough habit to break. As a ballplayer you always took a shower and shaved as soon as you got to the clubhouse for a night game. It made you feel good, freshened you up so that you felt like you were starting the day all over again. It was a shock to discover that people in the real world didn't do that. They showered in the morning and that was it."

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