Last summer was
the time of my life. After the Savannah players got used to me, I became the
team guru. I was the fountain of all wisdom on matters of pitching, careers,
love lives, etc. We'd sit around my room at night. I'd make some popcorn on my
hot plate, and we'd have a few beers and shoot the bull. Or one of the players
would bring some grass, and we'd pass around a few joints.
This certainly is
a new thing in baseball. Years ago, players just got drunk. It was O.K. with
the manager because he got drunk, too. Some managers will tell the whole team
to go out and get drunk to forget a bad loss. Players today still drink, but
more often they get high. Except for being against the law, grass makes more
sense than booze. It's not fattening, and you don't have to play with a
tell a team to go get high. They're against marijuana the way temperance ladies
used to be against alcohol. In spring training they give a warning speech about
drugs. Not the kind of dangerous drugs that are used to make an injury heal
faster, but the "drug" marijuana. As one coach put it, "Boys, if
you get caught with Mary Jane, you better be hitting four-bleepin'-eighty at
the all-star break." I was tempted to ask what kind of a record pitchers
would need to have by the all-star break, but I bit my tongue just in time.
The drug speech
wasn't very effective. I don't want to get anybody in trouble, or cause some
big investigation, but from what I saw, about half the players on all teams,
not just mine, smoked marijuana. One night, after he had downed about a
six-pack, my Knoxville manager in '77, Jim Napier, asked me what he could do
about players smoking grass. I told him he might as well try to hold back the
tide with his fingers. Ballplayers reflect society, and that's what's
happening, especially in colleges. The law hasn't caught up yet. Napier asked
why couldn't ballplayers just get drunk like they used to.
I had fun
pitching in Savannah. I threw a one-hitter and a two-hitter and a 13-inning
shutout, pitching in 100� heat after all-night bus rides and with two days'
rest. I won 11, lost nine and pitched the league's most inexperienced team to a
title. I won my division playoff game 4-1 and became the first pitcher to win
the league's hustlingest-player award. By the end of the summer I was the best
pitcher in the Southern League. The Atlanta Braves had to call me up.
I knew I was
getting called up because I read it in the newspaper. That's how players find
out. It's an old baseball tradition. For the past two years I had fantasized
about getting back to the big leagues. I always saw myself crying for joy. When
I walked into Atlanta's Fulton-County Stadium, I was floating as if in a dream.
How large it was, compared to little Grayson Stadium in Savannah. When I got
into my uniform, with my old No. 56 on it, and went out to the field, my heart
was jumping out of my shirt. But I didn't cry, because it wasn't a gift. I had
earned it. In fact, I was thinking they should have called me up a month
What a feeling,
standing on the mound, listening to the national anthem, waiting to pitch my
first game. I thought, how lucky I am! This was better than my first time
around in 1962. Then I was nervous and too young to appreciate it. This I would
savor. I had flown my family down for the weekend, along with a few friends,
like Johnny Belson, who caught all those knuckleballs at 2 a.m., and Steve
Katz, the trainer for the Portland Mavericks, who taught me to eat real food
instead of junk. And Rob Nelson, pitching coach for the Mavericks. Rob said I
was his first pupil to make it to the majors.
players had made it to the big leagues once; no one had ever done it twice—from
scratch. I knew I was a long shot because David, my 14-year-old miser, had bet
$5 I wouldn't make it. Now the early-morning workouts, the batting practices,
the bus trips and the Mexican bathrooms were paying off. I felt like I was
standing on top of Mount Everest. This was the thrill of my life.
In the next 24
hours I got the shock of my life. My first pitch to Dodger Second Baseman Davey
Lopes was a called strike. Four pitches later, with a full count, I struck
Lopes out, swinging, on a dancing knuckleball. The crowd roared. I felt like
Rocky. After I got the next two hitters on easy outs, I ran to the dugout and
threw my arms up in a victory salute. In the fourth inning the Dodgers broke up
my no-hitter. Also my ball game. They scored five runs. My son Mike, 15, wasn't
surprised. "I figured you'd get clobbered, Dad," he said afterward. But
the day was more important than the game. And it was extraordinary fun. I
laughed a lot—until I read the papers the next day.
"He showed me
nothing," said Lopes. "Nothing." "It was a circus," said
Reggie Smith. "It was like batting against Bozo the Clown," said Rick
Monday. "The commissioner should investigate this," said Cincinnati
Manager Sparky Anderson. "We're in a pennant race. Bouton should have to
pitch against the Giants and Reds, too."