An unmarried woman, a baseball wife no more, hugs a hand between her legs. She is sitting on a sofa in a big wooden house a few minutes from the George Washington Bridge. For just an instant she seems to be hugging an old memory, too. She is talking about her ex-husband, once a pitcher for the New York Yankees.
"You know what they called the pitcher in Durango?" Bobbie Bouton says, laughing in spite of herself. Durango was the Mexican League, circa 1977, during the Big Comeback Try. There is something wistful in her voice, in her eyes. "The lancidor. I loved that. El lancidor!" She says it the way you might say "ole'" at a bullfight. But her smile loses itself almost as quickly as it came, as if to let you know, let the world know: That was when Jim Bouton and I loved each other; that was before I found out he was unfaithful.
Durango was just one more stop near the end of one family's gazetteer of minor league towns. The family isn't a family anymore, and the gazetteer is a memory. Knoxville and Savannah were at the back end of the Bouton map, too. At the front end was Yankee Stadium, the big house, with its pinstripes and cheering throngs and constant press, though that stop seems so brief in retrospect as to be almost dreamlike.
Jim Bouton, who got to the World Series in his rookie season, 1962, thought his stardom was going to last forever, or at least a very long time. And as it turned out there was barely time for a couple cups of coffee. The arm came up sore a couple seasons later, and almost all the rest of it was blue highways, the bushes. This was a career that started at the top and spiraled downward.
"I'm 30 years old and I have these dreams," Bouton wrote in 1969 in a famous book called "Ball Four." By then he was already a baseball has-been, on his way to being a celebrity author and Hollywood candidate. "I dream my knuckle ball is jumping around like a Ping-Pong ball in the wind and I pitch a two-hit shutout against my old team, the New York Yankees, single home the winning run in the ninth inning, and, when the game is over, take a big bow on the mound in Yankee Stadium with 60,000 people cheering madly. I dream my picture is on the cover of Sports Illustrated in October and they do a special 'Comeback of the Year' feature on me. I dream all these things. I really do."
Eight years later, out of baseball, he was still dreaming. Durango was the nowhere Mexican League, and Bobbie and Jim Bouton packed up their three half-grown kids and went down. It was 1977 now, and they had already been to Knoxville earlier that season. Jim Bouton had left a lucrative broadcasting job at WCBS-TV in New York to try to make it back to the bigs. Some people said he was nuts. He and Bobbie had borrowed $25,000 from a bank, had already put up for sale their 20-room Englewood house with the pool out back. Bobbie, his biggest fan and supporter, was still scissoring out every story about her husband and pasting it in scrapbooks. He believed, and so she believed. You couldn't have told her then the loyalty was misplaced.
Bouton made it back to the major leagues, all right--for four or five games with Atlanta at the end of the 1978 season.
"Yes, we were married when we moved in here," Bobbie Bouton is saying today, pouring you a cup of tea on blue china. She has just apologized for not having cookies. "But we never really lived here together. Coming to this house was a big step down, the beginning of our end, in a way. But I don't want you to think we didn't have some good years in that marriage, because we did. We had some very good years. We had about 15 good years." She says this with the smallest tinge of regret, or maybe defensiveness, or maybe something else: an old atavistic wish that it could be reversed. But it only lasts a moment.
There weren't any laundromats in Durango, she remembers, at least none that she ever found. So she did the laundry in a sink on a little tin scrub board. She still has the scrub board, too: rueful souvenir. At night she and the kids rode out to the stadium with her husband on the team bus. The name of the team was the Alacranes-Scorpios. Going out was a lot better than coming home, because then the bus smelled like some warty old sweatsock. (The locker room didn't have showers.) At the stadium things were crazy--people jammed everywhere and screaming "Bola! Bola!"
These days, Jim Bouton, out of baseball for good and maybe out of celebrity, too, is a New Jersey businessman, an entrepreneur. He lives a town or two away from his former wife and has marketed Big League Chew (shredded bubble gum) and now promotes his "authentic" big league baseball cards (50 cards for $25 and a picture of yourself and your life story on the back). He is married to a woman named Paula, whom he met on the road during his comeback try.
Michael and David, Bobbie and Jim's two sons, are in college and live with their father and his new wife; Laurie Bouton, Bobbie and Jim's 17-year-old daughter, lives here in Englewood with her mother and a couple of dogs and a roomer on the third floor.
The mother is 43 now, with two somewhat estranged sons and a daughter trying to survive the perils of adolescence. After much therapy, a bitter divorce, a new man in her life, Bobbie Bouton, who could almost pass for a Michigan farm girl, has begun to meld a new self out of that once baseball-crazy kid who grew up keeping stats for her high school team and who dreamed of falling in love one day with her very own Lancelot, her very own lancidor. It came true, all right. You can read about it in a painful book called "Home Games," which Bobbie Bouton has written with another rueful ex-baseball wife, Nancy Marshall. You might say the book effects a poetic justice. Jim Bouton wouldn't say that.
"I think it's a non-book in the sense that if it were not about well-known baseball players, no one would be interested," he says, when you call him up and tell him you are doing a story on his ex-wife. "I think it offers no insights. I think what it is is an attempt to attack an ex-ballplayer. It's like listening to one half of a very long domestic argument. It must make pretty funny reading to women who are married to coal miners. Her devil theory doesn't wash. My going back to play baseball was the final running away from my marriage, to find myself. I think she's going to make a living out of being my ex-wife."
Bobbie, of course, sees if from another side. "I just feel so good about things," she says. "Before, I felt good because I was married to Jim Bouton, the baseball player. Even a little thing like going back to school and getting my teacher's certificate--well, you have no idea how good that made me feel. It took me a long time to get over the divorce. And it still bothers me, talking about some of it."
This is a woman who has loved the game more than a lot of men, who can quote you Ty Cobb to the decimal point. Before she swore on to the Yankees, Bobbie was a Tiger fan. As a kid she changed her name to Bobbie because she didn't think a scorekeeper for a boys' team should have a name like Barbara. Once, she sat through a 17-inning, 22-hour game in Tiger Stadium.
The new man in the new woman's life is a physics professor at the State University of New York. She met Phil on a singles hike. They may marry, they may not. Money isn't easy anymore. Today, a bag of Hyper-Humus is a-sprawl on the front steps. The station wagon in the drive looks on its last legs; it has a "We Support Englewood Soccer" sticker on the bumper.
"I probably made a mistake in not telling my sons about the book ahead of time," she says. "I debated it and decided not to. I thought Jim might try to stop its publication. Then Maury Allen's column came out in the New York Post. The boys read about the book. I had to call them. They were upset. 'Well, I wanted to surprise you,' I said. Michael has gotten over it, though things in it bother him. It upset him, for instance, that I put in that Jim had taken to coloring his hair at one point. My other son, David, he's still quite upset with me. He thinks parts of it are unfair."
David is a Korean-American. The Boutons adopted him early in Jim's playing career. It was a touching baseball story, the kind the New York press loves. So was the report of Bouton's later vasectomy. Back then, when he was a star, there were tables at Toots Shor's. The autograph hounds wanted even Bobbie's signature. Jim Bouton was "the bulldog with stuff," as Mickey Mantle named him. "Yes, I've been sort of spoiled by my dreams," Jim Bouton said five or six years ago.
A minute ago, talking about infidelity, and how she had first found out that ugly word had come to roost in her own household, Bobbie Bouton's neck had blotched. It is a very elegant-looking neck, with fine lines and very fair skin.
"I remember, a couple years ago, in therapy, asking Jim point-blank one day if there were other women before Paula, and he said he didn't want to tell me because he knew the answer would hurt me. Well, you didn't have to be very smart to figure what that meant. I mean, cripes, here I had given up our super house and our savings so that my husband could go off and regain his youth, or whatever."
In a motel room in Cincinatti, according to "Home Games," Bouton announced to Bobbie he was in love with another woman, and afterward she locked herself in the bathroom and hyperventilated. The next morning, flying home with him, she tried to believe it wasn't true. But it was, and he left her. It is an ugly memory, an ugly time.
The ugliness goes on, too. There have been legal proceedings between the Boutons over money and other things at least three times, the most recent being only several weeks ago in New Jersey Superior Court. This is a divorce that has turned into hardball.
She had had twinges about the possibility of his running around all through his playing years, but she had never let herself believe it, never let herself see what was almost obvious. She recognizes now how clear the signs were. After all, hadn't Joe Pepitone once said in a Dick Young column that "Jim Bouton was the horniest bleep in baseball"? This was after "Ball Four" had come out. But she kept pushing it to the back of her mind.
"I never really called him on it. I believed him. You could get yourself in a funk too easily that way. Look, I was a baseball wife. It was my whole world. I mean, when you're married to a baseball player, and he's gone so much, all you're trying to do is keep it smooth when he gets home. And I really was happy in our marriage. I loved this guy. I thought he was happy, too.
"I was willing to buy the least positive sign. I remember him coming home and telling me stories about the other players and their Baseball Annies. He'd say, 'Geeze, Bob, pal, I can't believe so-and-so would risk his marriage this way. You should see the guy on the road. Animal.' And of course I bought that. I bought the whole damn thing. I was so gullible. I'm probably still very gullible.
"You see, he was so used to my kowtowing to him. And I was--I'll admit it--a doormat. And during the divorce, I stopped being a doormat and I think that so surprised him and, well, he just couldn't handle it. That's why the divorce got so ugly."
She almost seems ready to bite a nail now. "I've got to say it: I think baseball wives tend to perpetuate the adulation their husbands get at the stadium." She says it carefully, for she is aware it is a sweeping indictment of a lot of women she once thought of as sisters.
Will there ever be a time, she is asked, when she and her ex-husband might be friends again? She doubts it. "I still don't know how to deal with him. I'm not bitter--that would be a terrible waste of energy. But I don't know how to deal with him. If I needed something for Laurie, I think I'd ask my lawyer to handle it because I'd probably just say it all wrong."
Her brown hair, which cuts across her forehead and falls nearly to her shoulders, gets a vigorous shake. "See, I'm still growing." She hesitates. "I don't love Jim Bouton . . . but I certainly care for him. I hope he does well"