SI Vault
Jim Bouton
April 09, 1979
On his way back to the bigs last season, the author found today's players aren't like the ones he met his first time up. They're looser and lazier and prefer pot to potables
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April 09, 1979

Son Of 'ball Four'

On his way back to the bigs last season, the author found today's players aren't like the ones he met his first time up. They're looser and lazier and prefer pot to potables

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"I'm sorry, Pete, but we've already got too many second basemen."

"But I'm an outfielder."

"Uh, we also have too many outfielders."

At 9 a.m. Hank told me what I already knew. At 2 p.m. I was sitting in Ted's office, 600 miles away in Atlanta. I didn't even have an appointment. On the plane from Florida I had written a short speech. I knew Ted was a busy man. Building a communications empire can be time-consuming. I told him to listen for five minutes, and then I'd get the hell out. I started off by saying I was a lot like him. I was a winner, too. The great spring I had just had wasn't luck. What's more, the yachting establishment didn't like him either. They would sink his boat if they could. I told him that I'd won my preliminary trials just like he had, and now I deserved to stay in the race. I wanted my boat back.

I guess Ted liked my speech because he picked up the phone, with me sitting right there, and told Lucas to find a place for me. Lucas said I could pitch batting practice for the Richmond farm team. No salary, just expenses, and I could stay in shape and wait for some pitcher to get a sore arm. Maybe, I thought, one of them would get run over in the parking lot by some other player's Corvette. Nothing serious, just a few broken bones.

My going to Richmond as batting-practice pitcher was like Br'er Rabbit getting thrown into the briar patch. The Richmond pitching coach was Johnny Sain. Johnny is not only the best coach in baseball, but he also happens to be my friend. He was the Yankee pitching coach the year I won 21. And he's famous for refurbishing sunken pitching derelicts. Jim Kaat, Mudcat Grant and Jim Perry come to mind. Maybe I could be refloated, too.

If you're wondering why the best coach in baseball is in the minors, it's simple. The system for selecting coaches hasn't changed since the days of Abner Doubleday. The manager picks the coaches. And managers always choose an old teammate, close friend, brother-in-law or next-door neighbor—anybody who will be loyal to the manager. Loyalty is more important than ability. The best qualification a coach can have is being the manager's drinking buddy. Johnny Sain drinks milk shakes and is loyal to pitchers.

Sain got credit for winning pennants in New York, Detroit and Minnesota. Ralph Houk, Mayo Smith and Sam Mele never won anywhere without him. And that's another thing. Managers don't like it when the pitching coach gets his name in the paper more than the manager. Which is too bad. If I owned a baseball team, I'd hire Sain as my pitching coach, and let him choose the manager. Maybe Ted will do that someday.

So I went to Richmond, and for six weeks I pitched batting practice. At game time I'd get out of my uniform, buy some peanuts and sit in the stands. Then one day the patron saint of batting-practice pitchers handed me the ball. The Atlanta Braves were coming to town for an exhibition game against their top farm team. Ted said, let Bouton pitch for Richmond. Ted would umpire at third base.

To make a long—but fascinating—story short, in front of the second-largest crowd in the history of Parker Field (fans stood in roped-off sections of the outfield), I did a job on the Atlanta Braves. I was removed to a standing ovation in the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead, having struck out seven of the big boys, including Jeff Burroughs, the National League's hottest hitter. I think I surprised a few people. It took them a week to figure out what the hell to do with me. Then they sent me down to Savannah to pitch in real games. I had made it to the next plateau.

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