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  • Bill Chastain

Ball Four and Dean Smith Checks

Every spring I indulge myself with the baseball classic, Ball Four.

I first read an excerpt from the book in 1970 while sitting in Arky’s Barber Shop, which led me to buy the book. Though Jim Bouton’s behind-the-scenes look at baseball was, and still is, risque for young readers, my parents were cool about letting me read it.Ball Four

Over the years, the book has gained greater meaning since I cover the game for a living. Bouton’s contemporary, breezy style still reads well even after the passage of time. Supposedly he scribbled notes on napkins, menus, scraps of paper or anything he could find while secretly cobbling together the anecdotes and vignettes that make up his manuscript. Of those, I’m sure the humorous ones will still be funny a 100 years from now. Like when Fred Talbot’s inability to get anybody out prompted a mound visit by Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz to make a pitching change. Talbot promptly asked him, “What kept you?” Or the one about the player who expressed the difficulty of explaining to his wife why she needed a penicillin shot for his kidney infection. And you had to love Schultz, who would tell his players to “pound the Budweiser.”

Bouton’s stories about players, coaches and managers that I have known or been around were particularly enjoyable as well.

I now relate more to ballplayers due to my understanding of their daily existence — though I don’t believe a sportswriter, or anybody for that matter, can have a true understanding without actually living the life of a player.

Despite all the aggravations and hypocrisies Bouton revealed and talked about, he truly loved the game, which is why he continued to play baseball long after his professional career ended. That is one of the many things that makes Bouton resonate with me.

Dinner’s On Me

In case you missed it, the trust of the late Dean Smith sent $200 checks to all of his former players directing them to “have a dinner out, compliments of Coach Dean Smith.”

My snarky side wonders how in the world Michael Jordan will handle this windfall from the legendary North Carolina coach. Will he need to get his finance guy involved? My other thought comes in regard to the player who said he planned on saving the check because it’s too cherished. To him, I would say, go have a nice dinner with the money. That’s what the man intended for you to do with the money. And when you have that dinner, toast your coach and the relationship you had with the man. A memory is far greater than a memento.

Cool idea, Coach Smith.

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©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography