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The stalemate between Sammy Sosa and the Cubs reminds me of a situation that takes me back to the controversial book Ball Four written by former MLB player, Jim Bouton. Bouton also lived in my hometown of Teaneck, NJ..

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“Philosophers say it is because of tragedy that we give such importance to our games. Baseball, seemingly has always been here for us. The key to baseball’s future as America’s favorite pastime lies in its continuity between generations.”Michael Bouton, son of MLB pitcher, Jim Bouton.

In 1970, when former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton published the controversial book “Ball Four,” it swept the world with its then-salacious, insider account of the raw world of Major League Baseball. It sold millions of copies worldwide and because the secrets that were revealed shattered the code in baseball, Bouton was banished from the Yankees, the team for which he had a 20-win season. No Old-Timers game. Exile.

This also overlapped the period when Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was boycotting the Yankees because of their boisterous owner, George Steinbrenner. 

In Ball Four, Bouton referred to his daughter, Laurie Colette Bouton as “the unsinkable Molly Brown” to reflect her toughness and how at a young age she seemed to have nine lives.  Then, in tragic irony, his daughter at the age of 31, was killed in a car accident during Bouton’s banishment. This prompted his son, Michael, to write an open letter to the New York Yankees in the New York Times for Father’s Day. Nearly 30 years after Bouton’s book.

 

His wish was bigger than hoping his father would re-gain his rightful place in baseball’s legacy, it included Yogi Berra too. Not only for their sakes, but for the generations that make up the fabric of the game’s memory. He saw grudges as toxic and damaging to the vast majority of people who are invested in these relationships. The fans, in particular.

Baseball has the potential to be a healer through its connection to time. We associate this time with how it is passed down through the years, through the people. The lifeline of the game, its future, depends on the strength of these special bonds. 

When they are broken, especially between an iconic player and a home organization, it leaves a fracture. Unresolved and ever-present. And the fracture gets worse with silence.

Michael Bouton went on to note this when it came to the relationship strain he saw through Yogi Berra, Steinbrenner, his father and the Yankees. 

“It is just as petty for Yogi to spite George, as it is for George to spite my father. It does not serve the greater good for families, the fans, or the sport we supposedly love so much. It does not factor in the human equation,” wrote Bouton

But in the Bouton’s family case, it took death to see how petty some of our grudges can be. The Yankees or Jim Bouton, were not necessarily asking for forgiveness. They both felt some semblance of justification for their reactions and choices.  But when you are close to that emotion and it is still festering, you lose a sense of time. In this case, you lose nearly three decades.

Michael Bouton framed the common ground that is possible, even through the stubbornness.

“I’m hoping that a compromise on positions can take place without necessarily a compromise of principles.”

Time ticks on. 

As life teaches us, when you are not even looking for it, a door opens that can reset the discussion and deliver a new point of view. It allows us to identify a greater purpose that could be achievable under the right conditions. Everyone gained perspective through the loss of life as framed by Jim Bouton’s children. From son to father through the pain of the loss of his sister. All of a sudden, words in a book were not enough to ban someone for life, all of a sudden, priorities crystallized, all of a sudden, people communicated while they were still on Earth to work it out. Unfortunately, that is sometimes what it takes.

In the case of Sammy Sosa, I understand we are not talking about life and death in its present state. Sammy is alive and well as is the constructed wall between him and reconciliation, even if it is not a formal “ban.” Yet we should still feel a sense of urgency, especially when we think about how we lose members of the Cubs family every day. We must continue to ask, what will it take to thaw the frozen relationship between Sosa and the Cubs organization for all invested? 

 

We may not know everything. I understand some of the controversy surrounding Sammy and how he ended up on this island. I know he has been in the crosshairs of PEDs (as have been numerous mega stars), the corked bat debacle, the swirling controversy around his departure from the team during a game. Yet this is also the same Sammy that was a central figure in revitalizing interest in the game and the franchise, a star who played hard, loved the fans, and did it with a smile. Like all people, we are complicated. No one thing can sum us up. We can be heroes and villains.

After a long career in this game, I came to see my teammates as brothers, none of which were perfect. I came to accept the game’s flaws and the people who play it, myself included. Even when PEDs accelerated the decline of my career, I still find a place in my heart to let some things go, not because I do not believe in consequences, but so I can move forward.

The experience with hundreds of teammates also granted me perspective to know that all of us have made poor choices, even intentionally. In the course of a long career with big ego and high stakes, we will trip, we will be selfish. In the world of being handsomely compensated while being intensely scrutinized, we will still run, we will still fall short. In arrogantly seeking to be placed on that pedestal, we may wake up one morning and want to crawl down the emergency ladder, while everyone is still asleep. In a game where we must deny certain emotions, even injuries, we will be short-sighted and numb to others.

Like life, we learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly in baseball. Lessons about forgiveness, about flaws, greed, go with lessons about beauty, selflessness, triumph, and patience. These are all part of what this game gives to us, if we let it.

So maybe it is as simple as what was captured in Bouton’s take on what he wanted for his Dad.

“I am not asking for favors, just reconsideration. That is all. Life is short. Time is at hand.”

If nothing else, we can all sit down to talk, reconsider and learn. These are teaching points, not just for Sammy and the Cubs, but for everyone who is invested in this game. There are lessons much bigger and more lasting than the black and white between two stubborn parties, since nothing changes without seeing the gray.  

Jim Bouton is now 79 years old and struggling with a brain disease related to dementia. But well before this point, because of his son’s letter, he received the chance to play in the Old-Timers game, exile lifted. This was 20 years ago when his father could fully participate in the power of reconciliation and so could all of the fans.

 

“Your son is right. It’s time,” Bouton was told at the time by the Yankees’ event coordinator.

Sosa is one of the most significant figures in Cubs history. Is it time? All I know is we should not wait until we have a funeral to get perspective.