Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Custom cards feature Bouton with Pilots (1969), Astros (1970), Braves (1978)

If it wasn't for his iconoclastic Ball Four and a handful of other baseball books he authored, few of today's fans or collectors would remember Jim Bouton.

He came up with the Yankees in 1962 as a flamethrowing starter/reliever who often lost his cap firing to the plate.

In his second season with New York in 1963 his 21 wins were second on the team to Whitey Ford and he led the Yankees with a 2.53 ERA. He'd won 11 games by the All-Star break and pitched a perfect inning in the sixth for the AL.

In the Dodgers' World Series sweep of the Yankees, Bouton started Game 3 in L.A. In the bottom of the first he walked Jim Gilliam, who took second on a wild pitch and scored on Tommy Davis's single. It was the only run Bouton allowed in the game, giving up just four hits and losing despite a 1.29 ERA.

Bouton won 18 in 1964, then arm troubles coupled with a bad attitude as perceived by the baseball establishment relegated him to the bullpen and annual trips to the minor leagues and the trading block. From 1965 through 1970 he was 15-33 for the Yankees, Pilots and Astros.

He left Organized Baseball after the 1970 season, playing amateur ball and working as a broadcaster and actor, including a short-lived 1976 TV series based on his Ball Four book.

Bouton began a comeback at age 36 in 1975 with independent Portland in the short-season Class A Northwest League. He was 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA, but returned to broadcasting in 1976.

In 1977 he was given a shot with the White Sox' Class AA team at Knoxville, but was released after an 0-6 start. He went back to Portland and went 5-1.

Somewhere between Hollywood and bushes, Bouton caught the eye of Ted Turner, who gave him a chance with the Braves' Southern League club at Savannah. He won 11 games on a 2.82 ERA to help the S-Braves to the league championship.

With Atlanta in last place in the NL West, destined to finish 26 games out, Bouton was called up to the big club on Sept, 10, returning to the major leagues as a starting pitcher eight years after his "retirement." 

Bouton had five starts for the Braves, winning one and losing three. When the '78 season ended, Bouton left professional baseball for good.

In 1980 Bouton partnered with former Portland teammate Rob Nelson to create and market Big League Chew shredded bubblegum. A year later, Bouton founded Big League Cards, making personalized baseball cards. Both companies remain in business today.

Despite the fact that he played in three major league seasons after leaving the Yankees, Bouton was not included in any of Topps issues after 1968, though the gum company did photograph him in spring training in 1969 and 1970.

In tribute to Jim Bouton's prowess and a ballplayer and an author, I've filled in those gaps with a trio of Topps-style custom cards in the 1969 (Pilots), 1970 (Astros) and 1979 (Braves) formats.

You can find a great summary of Bouton's career in and out of baseball written by Mark Armour as part of the SABR BioProject. Bouton bio

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