The World Series As An Old Pro Sees It

Oct 29, 2011

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host: Jim Bouton knows what it's like to stand on the pitching mound in a World Series with the world watching. He pitched three World Series games for the New York Yankees in 1963 and '64. Of course, he's also wrote the classic baseball memoir about baseball and life, "Ball Four." Jim joins us from Western Massachusetts. Thanks so much for being with us.

JIM BOUTON: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Couple of months ago, would a sane observer see the Cardinals winning the World Series?

BOUTON: You know, if somebody had tried to submit this whole thing as a movie script, I'd say, get out of here. This is ridiculous. It couldn't happen that way.

SIMON: What do you think made the difference in this series?

BOUTON: The difference between, you know, who won or who lost or?

SIMON: And why it was so close

BOUTON: Well, I think it was just, you know, an accident of circumstances. You had the professional players are out there and they all believe in themselves. Every one of these guys has played in dozens, maybe hundreds, of big games in their lives, ever since they're, you know, eight years old, all the way up. So, they know what that's like. And they are tremendous competitors. They absolutely refuse to quit, and that's, you know, that's what the fun of it is.

SIMON: Can you help us understand what it might be like for the Texas Rangers? I mean, just a pitch away from champagne and Disney World and now a long winter of what-ifs.

BOUTON: Well, you know something, it's going to be tougher for the fans. Fans cannot forget these experiences and these games. They remember them for years. The players, ah, they'll get over it. These guys are already thinking about next year, you know, how can they get better? What team are they going to play for" Are they being used properly? What does their agent think? I mean, they're not going to sit around, you know, moping like millions of fans.

SIMON: We saw a number of pitchers - I'll put it this way - suffer homeruns. And you have written over the years about that feeling.

BOUTON: Yeah, you got to get rid of it right away. On of the best things they can say about an athlete is that he has a short memory. If things aren't going well, you got to get a completely different mindset. You got to forget what just happened. I remember when they would hit a homerun off of me is Seattle at Sick's Stadium, when I pitched for the Seattle Pilots. I would watch the ball go into the center field seats, and then I would see Mt. Ranier, and I'd say, hey, look at Mt. Ranier. Boy, that's a beautiful...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BOUTON: ...that sure is a great-looking mountain. You know, you can't keep a bad feeling. In order to throw the best pitch you can possibly throw, you got to pretend that you're on a roll, that you just struck out the last two guys, your knuckleball is moving or your fastball is hopping; whatever it is. And you have to have that really positive feeling. You can't stand on the mound and say to yourself, oh my gosh, I'll never get out of this. I've already given up four runs. And there are players who have that attitude. They don't get very far, but the ones who do, managers know that and they know that once things have gone bad for a pitcher out on the mound, they got to get him out of there. He's not a guy who can turn it around.

SIMON: The cameras kept cutting between these two signature managers: Tony La Russa in the St. Louis dugout; Ron Washington with Texas. Did you observe different personalities, different approaches to managing?

BOUTON: Yes, it does. I did notice that, and La Russa does have the, you know, he's the strategist and Ron Washington, he's the cheerleader. But what was a comment to both of them is that their players love these guys, they really do. You can see it, the way they react. I love the behavior of both managers - La Russa standing there trying to figure out what to do next, and Ron Washington pumping his arms, hoping he's made the right decision. It was a wonderful contrast.

SIMON: Yeah, so they don't manage by fear, which I know some managers believe in.

BOUTON: No. Apparently, they didn't have any fear out there. Yeah, there are a lot of managers - there are some managers who can make a team better, some managers who get in the way, make a team worse, and there are some managers who have no impact at all. And the players just play and, you know, whatever they get that's what they get. So, I would put La Russa in the category of a manager who can make a team better through strategy and planning. And I think Ron Washington has the same result on his players through this sheer enthusiasm.

SIMON: Jim, I know you still have a sentimental love of the game you played for so long. How nice a story is this hometown guy, David Freese. I gather he left baseball for a year to study computer science, and at one point he had major surgery to rebuild his ankles. He winds up being the most valuable player of the 2011 World Series for the team he grew up idolizing.

BOUTON: Well, part of his success, I think, has to do with the fact that he did struggle early on. I always believe that failure is the key to success. It toughens you up. It makes you mentally tough. As far as the hometown hero story - well, that's great. You know, he could be mayor of St. Louis if he wants to, although who would want a job like mayor is beyond me. But he'll be able to make a living for the rest of his life just on this World Series.

SIMON: Jim Bouton, "Ball Four" The Final Pitch," his current book has been reissued. Former Major League pitcher, of course, joining us from western Massachusetts. Thanks so much.

BOUTON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.