Jim Bouton hardly knew what to do with the envelope when it was handed to him Sunday afternoon, shortly after he pitched in a major league baseball game for the first time in eight years. Even though his debut as an Atlanta Brave resulted in an 11-5 loss to the Dodgers, he obviously was pleased with himself, and the envelope only increased his delight.
His name and "$300" were printed across it, and a wide smile spread across his face as he explained, "Wow, $300." He quickly ripped open the envelope and counted off the crips bills that representel his meal money for an 11-day road trip the club was about to take to the West Coast.
"Now I am going to have to buy a wallet. We used to get something ridiculous like $3.50 or $6.50 at Savannah. Is this to buy food or a restaurant?" he asked.
For a man who has written a best-seller, "Ball Four," appeared in a short-lived TV series of the same name and worked at a $100,000-a-year job as a sportscaster, $300 shouldn't have meant that much. However to the 39-year-old pitcher, the cash signified the climax of his improbable, even impossible, return to big league baseball.
Using an unusually slow knouckle ball as well as an equally tantalizing changeup, the former 21-game winner with the Yankees measmerized Dodger hitters for three innings Sunday afternoon in Atlanta before the defending National League champions opened up on him for five runs in the fourth inning and another in the fifth when he was lifted for a pinch hitter.
Though he got no raving reviews for holding the Dodgers hitless the first three Innings, he believes he proved he is a major league pitcher again.
"I thought I showed poise and confidence and that I belonged on the mound," Bouton said reflecting on his five innings of work. "The biggest thing I had gone for me was my guts and brains."
The Dodgers didn't necessarily agree.
Second basemen Dave Lopes, who struck out to start a game but later hit one of two home runs against Bouton, called the game "a disgrace to baseball" and said it is "obvious he is done."
While others weren't as critical of Bouton's first major league game since he pitched for the Houston Astros in 1970, no one said he was impressive either.
The general tenor of comments was that Bouton threw so slowly that the Dodgers' timing was off the first time through the batting order. But, after that, the hitters quickly adjusted to his unusual speed.
"He was much slower than anyone I've ever face," said first baseman Steve Garvey. "He got people out early but we caught up to him."
"His knuckler was like a blooper," said third baseman Ron Cey. "It was almost like every pitch was a blooper."
"I think throwing the ball slowly was an advantage," Bouton acknowledge. "But that's something that has helped out a lot of other pitchers in the past. Look at Eddie Lopat and Stu Miller. I thought I had good movement on the kunckle. I just had trouble getting it over the plate.
"I got hurt on my other pitches. They didn't hit the knuckler.
"I saw enough strikeouts, popouts and weak grounders to know I belong here. Even my one real bad inning could easily have gone the other way. I had Cey struck out but (catcher) Joe (Nolan) didn't hold the third strike (a foul tip)."
Cey then singled home the Dodgers' first run and Rick Monday later in the inning unloaded a three-run homer.
Bouton obviously enjoyed his day to the fullest. After leaving the game he called a locker room press conference to discuss his pitching while his Brave teammates were on the field trailing, 6-2, in the sixth inning. After the game, he entertained 30 friends and relatives in a private club at Atlanta Stadium before he departed on the road trip.
"The ultimate high was just walking out on the mound in a major league uniform again," he said. "After that, everything else was just a bonus. It's like the World Series.Who cares who wins or loses the series? It's getting there that really counts. And that's what I did."
Cincinnati Manager Sparky Anderson apparently cares who wins the Series.He accused the Braves of using Bouton to increase attendance even if it meant conceding a victory to the Dodgers, who are 6 1/2 games ahead of the Reds in the NL West.
Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, however, said yesterday that he found no reason for interferring with the Braves' decision to start Boubon. "I have discussed this with (NL President) Chub Feeney, who had been in contact with the Braves in advance," Kuhn said. "He was satisfied there was no basis for interferring with the Braves' rotation, based on the pitchers available and Bouton's recent record."