While the rest of the world was worrying about the escalating war in Vietnam, social unrest on the campuses and a pivotal presidential election between Tricky Dicky and HHH, Bouton is worrying about whether he can resurect his major league baseball career. For those who aren't familar with Jim Bouton, he of the hated "evil empire" NY Yankees, 1968 was a crossroads year for him. Just 5 years earlier he was the top pitcher on the top team winning just another one of their endless stream of pennants.
Then in 1965 it all came crashing down for both Bouton and his team. The NY Yankees went from the pinnacle of sports to the poorhouse...overnight. Bouton went from being a strong armed fireballer to a sore armed firestorm. Just like that it can go away. There are hundreds of pitchers in major league history who have lost it over night like Jimbo did. His story is more compelling because he is the poster boy for the crumbling Yankee dynasty, since his decline paralled the franchises. Couple that with his anti-establishment views and he is the perfect player to point the finger out. Surely the Yankee "declinesty" didn't occur because Bouton's arm went south and 18 wins turned into 4. Add those 14 wins back into the equation and the Yankees still finish 11 games behind the pennant winning Twins. The true culprit was Yankee management. For years they were able to sign as many players as they wanted, so they didn't invest in scouting or in aggressive minor league training procedures. If one guy went down, there would be 2 behind him to take his place. By 1965 the farm had dried up and the Free Agent entry draft prevented them from signing anyone and everyone. Added to the mix was the fact that father time and injuries caught up to the great Mantle, Maris and Elston Howard. For all intents and purposes Mantle, at age 33, was done...finished...caput.
I know old time Yankee fans have a tough time coming to grips with this, but their hero (Mantle) was completely finished at a point in his career where he should have still been in his prime. Injuries coupled with his reckless lifestyle led to his fast decline. Maris on the other hand played through a ton of injuries, but became the popular whipping boy for both the media and management, not to mention the fans who still resented him for 1961. In fact the local tabloid, who were fed stories by the Yankee brass, accused Maris of "jaking it". As it turned out his wrist injury did rob him of his power, but the poor guy was still treated pittifully by the Yanks, the media and NY fans.
Bouton's best line in the intro was: "I believe that as foolish as it is, Stan Musial has more influence with American kids than any geography teacher and Mickey Mantle is more admired than our scientests". Almost 40 years ago Bouton nailed it dead on: Athletes are role models, whether they like it or not.