It was while he was in this dejected spirit that Bouton decided to return to a familiar haven. Baseball does, after all, appeal to the more introspective side of an athlete. Young sports stars discover early that high school football and basketball games are occasions for hero-worshipping that are woven into the emotional fabric of the community. By contrast, high school baseball games—and even college and minor-league games—are attended for the most part by a coterie of kind relatives and connoisseurs. Football and basketball players tend to be sensitive to their team and the crowd, baseball players to their game and the experience.
But even beyond that, Bouton was a pitcher, the most independent figure in a team game that with every pitch is played one-on-one. When Bouton sighs how he loves baseball, he means the green gardens, a slide into third, the laughing and spitting in the dugout. When he says he loves pitching, he is talking more about destiny. "From the time I was a kid, I had to be out there determining what happens in the game," he says. "In pitching, you are initiating the action, you are in full control. Pitching is the thinkingest of all positions in sport. Pitching most challenges your ability to put mind and body together. At this age, I couldn't be coming back as a rightfielder. I'd be bored."
Certainly one of the most telling terms in the game concerns the pitcher's responsibility—" Bouton leaves, but the runner on second remains his responsibility." Seldom elsewhere in life is responsibility clearer than in pitching. In the real world of flux and situational ethics, responsibility is blurred and shifted. The very command and initiative that Bouton has exhibited to his advantage on the mound are precisely the qualities that have left him a cropper in other endeavors. But pitching is neat, doubtless, perfect for Bouton. There are just outs and runs, and if another fellow makes a mistake, it isn't tabulated into your earned run average. Ultimately, it seems, the mound is just a well-lighted sanctuary that Jim Bouton has returned to for some peace.
Bouton is something of an odd duck, certainly, but he isn't the only guy who has sacrificed for the love of baseball. It might be easier to understand Bouton if you also consider the life of Bobby Dews of Edison, Ga., who was born (this is a little eerie) on March 23, 1939, only 15 days after Bouton. Probably you have never heard of Bobby Dews, unless you grew up in the Peach State and remember him from 20 years ago as the bowlegged basketball guard who played at Georgia Tech alongside Roger Kaiser, the All-America. Dews had to play defense against the opposition's better guards, so Kaiser might be spared for scoring points.
But Dews took it in stride. He was all the things Jim Bouton wasn't; he was a natural athlete, the son of a baseball pro, and basketball was merely a recreation he had mastered on the side. Baseball was his game, and the Cards signed him out of Tech for $10,000. It has been 18 years since then, and Dews has never left baseball, to make 50 grand on TV or to do anything else. He has never gone anywhere, either; he just stayed in the bushes. He has his college degree and he could do a lot of things, but he scuffles by on $15,000 a year, helping prospects. He has never gotten a cent of hospitalization, life insurance, pension funding or profit sharing. His first wife left him when he wouldn't give the game up. And for what? He knew 14 years ago he didn't have a chance.
That was 1964, the year Dews made it to Tulsa, Double A, the year Bouton beat the Cards twice in the Series. "I hit .277 and stole 30 bases," he says. "I was the MVP—the team MVP. Joe Morgan was the league MVP. And I played everywhere they needed me, fielded everything. I knew somebody in the majors had seen me, the kind of year I had, and they'd draft me. I knew. And they didn't. Nobody did. I played another five years, but I knew it was all over then. I knew it.
"My grandfather was a lawyer. When I signed, he said, 'Give it five years, and if you don't make it, get out. I'll get you into a good law school, give you my books.' These kids now, they try it three or four years, and if they don't make it, they phase themselves out. A few years ago, when I was managing Modesto for the Cards, I had a kid named Bobby Corcoran. He had signed for a $1,500 bonus out of Harvard or Yale, one of them. He was with me two weeks, and he called me up and asked if he could meet me at three. When we met, he said, 'Look, I got a problem. This is not for me.' And so he left—went to law school, as a matter of fact. The next day I opened the paper and saw that a reporter had asked the kid why he wanted out. The kid had said, 'Because I don't want to end up like Bobby Dews.' "
Somehow, Dews laughed. He is remarried, happily, and after managing eight years in Class A, at last he got promoted a notch this year. When he pitches batting practice he works without a glove, so he can get to the balls more expeditiously, save a few precious seconds, give everybody a few more swings. "It's a small thing," he says. "You pitch hours of extra batting practice, a kid's average goes up, and they say he's a natural. He stays at .250, then I can't coach. All the kids who have gone up that I've had, I've never heard one of them mention my name. Wouldn't you think?
"Sometimes I think I ought to take stock. There's a lot of things I could do for $15,000. But you see, I'm obsessed with this game. My God, but I love it. There've been times I've been with a team 15, 20 games out in August, but the minute I get to the park I'm completely in the game. Win, we're 14 out. Right? I come home in November after working in the instructional league, and I'm exhausted. And my friends say, Bobby, will you give it up? We can put you in real estate. We can get you into this or that business. But I'm obsessed. February, I'm back for spring training. I don't know why I love it so, but I do."