You couldn’t say that I’m “plowing through” the baseball books. No. There is remarkably little time in life right now for reading right now. Yet I continue to plug away at them in a desultory fashion, and now I have just finished Foul Ball – My life and hard times trying to save an old ballpark, by Jim Bouton, of course.
This was a different sort of book. In some ways it tries to be Ball Four – written in a diary style, practically a day by day account of the fight to save the old Wahconah ball park, in Pittsfield Massachusetts. But times have changed, and the topic is not as fun and lighthearted as the Pilots of ’69. On the surface this is the story of Bouton and his friends trying to save and rejuvenate a classic old small town minor league ball park. At it’s heart thought this is a story of money and politics, power, corruption, and the golden rule. (i.e., them with the gold, they make the rules.)
The powers that be in Pittsfield want to tear down old Wahconah park and build a new ballpark. That’s where the money is. The people of Pittsfield don’t want a new ball park, want to save the old ball park. Bouton and his partners, Chip Elitzer and Eric Margenau, love the old Waconah park, and come up with a plan to save it. It takes them awhile to realize that the powers that be have no interest in “saving” the ball park, and no interest in working with anyone wanting to save the old ballpark – no matter what the public thinks or how much popular support there is for saving the old park.
Bouton’s wry commentary does highlight some of the inherent humor in the situation – the local politicians twist and turn like eels, never saying what they think and rarely meaning what they say. Bouton and his compadres are frequently flummoxed — how can something that seems so right and proper and good be so scorned by those in power? How low will they go to sabotage the new plan? Who’s calling the shots in Pittsfield?
In the end it’s kind of a sad story. While the ball park does not get torn down, the Bouton group does not get to work their plan. There’s petty small town politics and big city greed, corporate power and just plain stupidity. It kind of brings a guy down. Bouton comes out of the experience sadder but wiser, as they say – awakened to some sad facts about Pittsfield and about life in America, it would seem. Because the fix is in, it seems. And everybody’s just going to have to live with it.
Ahh, well; let’s not end on a down note.
Good book, Jim.
Keep pitchin’ ’em in there.