Posts Tagged ‘Ball Four’

Comedian Steve Baird

May 9, 2014

Thursday May 8th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

More sad news of a comedian passing away came today, and I have had about enough already. This has been one of if not the worst years I can ever remember for losing comedians, and today it was another funny nice guy named Steve Baird – yet one more I had worked with in my day.

It’s one thing to hear someone from one’s same city or state dies. It happens every day and that is sad enough, but rare is the case where it’s somebody one knows personally. I can look through the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel obituaries – and I occasionally do – but it’s hardly ever anybody I actually knew. Even when comedians die, it’s not always someone I had ever met one on one.

This year it has been one after another, and I’ve crossed paths with them all. First it was David Brenner, then John Pinette. Then it was ventriloquist Otto Petersen of “Otto and George”, now Steve Baird. I know everyone’s number comes up eventually, but this has been way too many.

The camaraderie between comedians runs shallow and deep at the same time. We often pair up randomly when we are hired to work the same venue anywhere from a night to a weekend to the entire week. Many times we’re thrown together to share an apartment for a week, and that’s how our bonds either form or they don’t. I have always gotten along great with most other comedians.

There are a few turds in the litter box, but that percentage is amazingly low. Most road warriors have a respect for one another because we know how hard it is to hack out a living how we do it, and more often than not a mutual respect develops in a very short time. If someone happens to be the real deal, it shows almost immediately. There’s a vibe there, and a kindred soul recognizes it.

Steve Baird and I weren’t as tight as I am with a lot of comics, but I had nothing but respect for him, and thought he was a funny act. He was from Indianapolis originally, but moved to Florida in recent years and I hadn’t talked to him other than when he’d asked me about teaching his own comedy classes. I had no problem with that as he was more than competent, so I helped him out.

I’d never begrudge someone from making extra money hustling legitimately. He wasn’t taking business from me in Florida when I’m in Chicago so I sent him my lesson plans to look over and wished him well. He thanked me profusely, and I was glad to do it. I respected him as somebody who had paid dues and I liked him as a person as well. He had a dry wit and he made me laugh.

There’s a human side to comedians that the public rarely if ever sees, and I’m not sure if they’d want to. We’re painfully human like everyone else, and our lives are not a constant laugh festival where the party never ends. Quite often our lives are loaded with more problems than anybody.

Jim Bouton wrote about that human side of athletes in his book “Ball Four”, and got himself in a flaming heap of trouble for it. Mickey Mantle was moody and drank a bit. So? He was a human being, but the public wants to see their heroes as being infallible and perfect. It may be different in the internet generation, but it used to be taboo. Comedians were in that off limits category too.

Every Major League ball player isn’t famous for a lifetime, and in fact most aren’t remembered at all outside the towns they played in. Comedy is the same. There are hundreds if not thousands of comedians I’ve crossed paths with that will never be famous to the public but I think the world of as people. They chose a hard profession, and that alone earns my respect. Steve Baird was one in that group, and I am crushed to hear this news. He was funny, friendly and he’s gone too soon.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I'm very saddened to hear of his passing.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

Carson’s Clout

February 10, 2014

Friday February 7th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Jay Leno’s tenure has ended as host of The Tonight Show, but the only thing that pops into my mind is the amazing run Johnny Carson had. Nobody will ever again come close to the incredible dominance that Johnny achieved, and maintained for thirty years. Today’s world is not the same.

Just as Cy Young’s record of 522 pitching victories will never be threatened much less broken, Johnny’s impact on late night television carries the same enormous presence. Everyone after him will forever be compared, and they’ll lose – especially by those of us who watched him firsthand.

I remember sneaking out of bed as a kid when I was supposed to be sleeping and turning on the TV to see the comedians Johnny would introduce. It was a thrill to be up when I wasn’t supposed to be, and then in the summer when I could stay up I’d watch the whole show almost every night.

This took place over years, as it did with millions of other Americans. He was truly the king of late night TV, mainly because there was no real competition. Today there are not only too many actual shows competing, but that pesky little internet tosses a few ice cubes on the fire as well.

We’re all scattered more than ever, but Johnny came along at a time when the rich got richer to the point of ridiculous, and there was nobody else. Charlie Chaplin had that status in movies, but he was way before my time. Johnny is part of my childhood, and millions of others’ too. He’s the standard bearer, and even though he’s been off the air for 22 years he is still held in high esteem.

Earlier this week I finally picked up the controversial biography aptly titled “Johnny Carson” written by Johnny’s former lawyer and cohort Henry ‘Bombastic’ Bushkin. I remember Johnny talking about him in his monologues, but had no idea until way later it was based on a real guy.

I’d heard a lot about the book for a while, and was looking forward to reading it. I really liked the PBS documentary a while back about Johnny, and I thought they were fair with portraying a no holds barred picture of what he was really like. Johnny had human flaws as we all do, but he also was one of the biggest celebrities of the 20th century. He got to go where few others tread.

The book was an easy read, and I thought it was well written. Like with another book I really liked, “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton, it stepped on toes because it painted a real picture of someone the public viewed as super human. Mickey Mantle was a human just like Johnny was. Period.

I don’t look any less at Johnny Carson because of his shortcomings, and in fact that makes the whole story more fascinating. We all dream of attaining that kind of status, but it doesn’t promise a care free existence for those precious few that get there. Mickey and Johnny were both troubled to a certain degree, and fell short of where they probably could have been. It adds to their legend.

Jay Leno is completely different than Johnny. I have nothing bad to say about him, and he was absolutely ‘the man’ when it came to standup comedy in the ‘80s. He was the top banana for sure and Jerry Seinfeld was second. Then there was everyone else. That was no small feat, and neither was hosting a network talk show for 22 years. Jay has had a fabulous career, and I don’t think he is done yet. He’ll surface somewhere else, you watch. But no matter what, Johnny’s still on top.

Jay Leno hosted a successful network talk show for 22 years. That's no small accomplishment.

Jay Leno hosted a successful network television talk show for 22 years. That’s no small accomplishment.

But no matter what, to a generation of Americans Johnny Carson will always be the king.

But no matter what, to a generation of Americans Johnny Carson will always be the king. Period.

Jim Bouton’s Birthday

March 10, 2013

Friday March 8th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

Today is Jim Bouton’s birthday – a date that has always been sort of a personal holiday for me. I have been a rabid fan of his classic book ‘Ball Four’ since I first read it in high school, and I’ve reread it countless times since. It’s an annual staple right around this time of year, when baseball prepares to make a comeback. That book is entertaining on so many levels I never get sick of it.

What I love about it most is its realness. Jim writes about what it’s like to be a baseball player, warts and all. He readily admits his own faults, and voices his opinions in a well thought out and intelligent manner. I don’t always agree with his opinions, but I never was bored as I read them.

He was way ahead of his time in 1970, and took a lot of flak from the baseball hierarchy for the things he wrote. He was blackballed from baseball for years afterward, and there are still those in the game who view him as a heinous villain to this day. It took major stones to buck the system.

I always tell anyone who will listen it was ‘Ball Four’ that inspired me to start writing my own diary, and it’s true. I thought it would be fun to see if I could write one page a day for thirty days cataloging what life was like as a professional comedian. Almost seven years later, I’m still at it.

The main reason I do it now is to hopefully give aspiring comedians some in depth and honest insight they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. I’ve done what they’re looking to do, and my mistakes will hopefully help them avoid wasting the time I did so they can have an easier road.

Jim Bouton and I are both cut of the same cloth in that we’re opinionated to the point of letting it hurt us, and we’ve both suffered for it but still had the guts to stand by our thoughts. I’ve been able to piss off more than a few people with what I’ve written – even when it’s not my intention.

Jim and I write what we think, and I for one always thought that’s what the whole idea of “free speech” was supposed to be about. I’m fine if someone doesn’t agree with me, but sometimes the people who get offended take it way too personally and hard feelings grow and last for a lifetime.

I can’t speak for Jim, but I’m happy to know he’s made peace with a lot of the people who had ill feelings toward him for ‘Ball Four’. He ended up making peace with Mickey Mantle, and that meant a lot to him. He’s now a fixture at New York Yankees Old Timers games, and it all seems to be water under the bridge. He is now accepted for his accomplishments, and I’m glad he is.

I sure hope I’m able to touch people with what I write even half as much as Jim touched me at a time I was very impressionable. I wanted to be a baseball player in high school, and that book really opened my eyes and let me see the real side of life much like being an NBA ball boy did.

I saw that athletes are just people, and people have flaws. Comedians are the same, and we’ve got even more flaws than the average person. I’ve never denied that, and hopefully what I write can help someone coming up the ranks learn how to behave better so they don’t have to waste as much time as I did trying to prove myself. Thank you for the inspiration, Jim. Happy birthday!

Ball Four Time

March 23, 2010

Monday March 22nd, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

A ritual I’ve had every spring since I was in high school is to find a copy of my favorite book “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton and pass it on to someone who hasn’t read it. I love that book and never get tired of the stories and characters in it. I think it’s an absolute classic.

It’s amazing how many rabid sports fans have never read that book, even though it’s 40 years old now. It’s Jim Bouton’s diary of playing for the Seattle Pilots for the only season they existed in 1969 before they moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers, the same team I grew up watching as a kid in the ‘70s. It’s a very candid peek into life in baseball.

He talks about the politics, which aren’t all that different than the politics in comedy or any other field of endeavor. He caught a lot of grief for it when it came out, but looking at it now, it’s pretty tame. He had a lot of dead on observations and predicted correctly quite a few things that actually happened. The players of his era were not millionaire crybabies.

It’s also a lot more. 1969 was a pretty tumultuous time in our country too, and Bouton’s timing was perfect to capture it all in one book. Plus, he was traded during the season and played for the Houston Astros to finish out the season. That and his being sent down for a brief stint in the minor leagues really provided a fascinating in depth look into baseball.

I read it in high school and it really resonated with me for some reason. I love sports but it’s more than a sports book. It’s a diary of hilarious stories with strong characters and I’m always able to pick it up, turn to any page and start back up where I left off. It’s timeless.

A big reason I started writing my own diary of life as a comedian was a direct influence of Ball Four. I thought it was a treat to get to peek inside the world of baseball that so few people ever got to see. It revealed a human side to it and even though he caught hell for it at the time, Jim Bouton wasn’t disrespectful at all in my opinion. He handled it perfectly.

He was honest about how he felt, and didn’t exclude himself in his criticisms. I loved it then and continue to enjoy it year after year. That’s a mark of a true classic and there isn’t another book I can think of I’ve enjoyed as many times over the years as I have this one.

Hopefully, I can provide a similar peek into the world of what it’s like to be a comedian on the road. Jim Bouton was never a superstar and neither am I, but he did achieve a huge accomplishment by making it to the major leagues for several years. That’s no small feat.

Making a living solely from being a standup comic was no easy task either. I admit I’m not a household name, but I’m not a part time wannabe either. I’ve done it and been there and brushed up with some of the all time greats. Jim Bouton did too, and it’s interesting.

I recommend Ball Four to anyone, not just sports fans. I have an extra copy I’ll be glad to mail to anyone who asks for it, but it’s available at Jim Bouton’s website too which is http://www.ballfour.com. Hopefully my little diary will entertain people forty years from now.