Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Biggest Jump in Baseball

Jim Bouton's Ball Four, a diary of his 1969 season in the majors and minors, was at its time a notoriously candid sports book that broke new ground by being honest about playing, drug use, women, and the personalities of the players. It reads a bit dated these days but is nonetheless fascinating to the fan of the sport or genre. For me, it's an anxious read, as Bouton is constantly evaluating himself as a pitcher in light of his most recent performance and lives in constant fear of being sent down, called up, traded, or fired.

There’s nothing like walking into a minor-league clubhouse to remind you what the minors are like. You have a tendency to block it. It was cold and rainy in Tacoma when I went there to meet the Vancouver club and the locker room was shudderingly damp, small and smelly. There’s no tarpaulin on the field, so everything is wet and muddy and the dirt crunches on the cement. The locker stalls are made of chicken wire and you hang your stuff on rusty nails. There’s no rubbing table in the tiny trainer’s room, just a wooden bench, and there are no magazines to read and no carpet on the floor and no boxes of candy bars. The head is filthy and the toilet paper is institutional-thin. There’s no batrack, so the bats, symbolically enough, are stored in a garbage can. There’s no air-conditioning and no heat, and the paint on the walls is peeling off in flaky chunks and you look at all of that and you realize that the biggest jump in baseball is between the majors and Triple-A. The minor leagues are all very minor.

There’s no end to the humiliation. The kid in the clubhouse asked me what position I played.

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