You will excuse me if I didn't break out in measles when word came that Jim Bouton was coming to town.
Jim Bouton, a former major league pitcher with a fast typewriter. Jim Bouton, a former Greensboro Patriot who used, among other accomplishments, a Carolina League-leading earned run average in 1960 as part of his springboard to the big leagues. Jim Bouton, who used his big-league locker as a vantage point from which to fill a book with all sorts of juicy revelations about teammates and opponents.
I didn't wait in line in 1970 to buy Bouton's fabulously successful best-seller, ``Ball Four,'' and after all these years I still would not walk across the street to visit with the ex-Yankee who was the centerpiece of Tuesday night's Hot Stove League banquet at The Depot.
If that stamps me as a holdover from another era of sports writing, as a friend of the baseball establishment, so be it. The kind of kissing and telling to which Bouton resorted in his book has never been my style either in writing, reading or social interaction.
But that was the Bouton style. And in that regard, I must admit that the guy was ahead of his time.
Bouton was kissing and telling even before kissing and telling became quite so fashionable in the world of sports. And it is almost certain that Bouton, who lost one more big-league game than he won (62-63, according to the Baseball Encyclopedia), made a lot more money as a writer than he did as a pitcher.
His was such a fringe career, indeed, that had he not authored a book, his fame would have subsided a long time ago, and it is unlikely that he would have enlivened our winter with this Hot Stove League appearance.
So that's how I feel about Jim Bouton.
That stated, what Bouton's presence does, a long time past his prime, is to force those of us who covered big league baseball in that era to re-examine the jobs we did. And that certainly is the case with me.
What you have to say about Jim Bouton is that, as his career was fading, he had the courage to write about what he had seen and observed. He had seen and observed the same things most of us had witnessed. Yet, in those days sports writers, as well as political writers, normally observed a clear distinction between private lives and public performances.
``Greenies'' and ``groupies'' were not foreign terms to those of us who covered major league teams in the 1960s and early 1970s. Yet those terms seemed so incidental to the ebbing and flowing of pennant races that they almost never saw the light of print, even on rare occasions when there might have been direct tie-ins to performance.
I remember well the day the Braves faced the Philadelphia Phillies in old Connie Mack Stadium and a particularly weak-hitting Atlanta catcher belted two long home runs, one of them over the left-field roof, to become a hero for one of the few times in his long career.
``What got into your roomie?'' I asked the catcher's roommate as I walked into the Braves dressing room that Saturday afternoon.
``My greenies,'' the roommate said, referring to a popular brand of amphetamines.
I didn't use that exchange in my Sunday morning story. Performance-enhancing substances were not the big thing then that they are today, or so we thought.
Neither did I ever write an expose about the players who seemed always to attract the ``groupies'' on the road, though all of us could have checked off the after-hours players from any roster with close to 100 percent accuracy.
We knew, as well, that one of Atlanta's pitchers, Ken Johnson, was such a straight arrow that his carousing teammates always sent him an expensive flower arrangement on Mother's Day.
None of that makes those of us who wrote sports at that time righteous in our approach. Nor does it necessarily mean that Bouton was wrong to kiss and tell.
He was wrong only in the manner in which his fraternity perceived his work. I can tell you that players in the big league at the time ``Ball Four'' appeared would not have been shocked had one of us sports writers written the book. That one of their own did it was difficult to accept.
For whatever its virtue, Bouton's book was sensational because it was a frontal attack upon our public naivete. And it tells us as well that times have changed. Now the names of those who have shocked us reads like a Who's Who. Like Wade Boggs, whose road companion turned on him. Or Steve Garvey, who allegedly has spread his affections around so that one comedian has called him ``the father of our country.'' Or Pete Rose and all his problems with gambling and cheating on his taxes.
Now we know that even those recent revelations are not terribly new, that even our ancient sports stars had feet of clay. And it tells us that sports stars maybe never were any more morally spotless than, for example, sports writers.
I have no idea what social price Bouton paid for his expose of his old teammates and others. I do know that Bouton generally is regarded as no hero, and that he has few personal friends among former major leaguers of that era with whom I am acquainted. He remains something of an outcast. Which is his problem.
My problem is that his arrival in town reminds me that there was an easier time. And that in reviewing the way we were and the way we did our writing there is no overwhelming urge to apologize for the manner in which we covered the people and the teams of those times.
This business was more fun when all of us were a bit more naive.