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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Bouton's Ball Four was revolutionary for fans -- and sports writers

There are two 50-year anniversaries that are approaching of considerable significance: On July 20, it will be Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, and on Aug. 15, it will be the start of the Woodstock music festival, the event that set the anything-goes standard for the crazed ‘70s that were to follow.

In between, there is also a 50-year anniversary that is significant in Twins’ history: Early on the morning of Aug. 7, 1969, manager Billy Martin decked pitcher Dave Boswell outside the Lindell AC, the bar for sporting types in downtown Detroit.

This came a couple of hours after the second game of what would be a 16-day, 15-game, five-city road trip (Detroit, Baltimore, New York, Washington, Boston) for the first-place Twins.

There will be more on this as the anniversary approaches, undoubtedly, but what has fascinated me in previous looks back at  the Twins' version of Detroit Hit Men is that it was initially covered up by reporters and TV-radio crews traveling with the team.

Apparently, there was a plea from the team to not report this event, and the silence held for three days. I was a kid covering high schools in 1969 and suspect that my reaction to such a plea would have been the same at that moment.

What I also suspect is if such a fight occurred one year later, the reporters on that trip would have dismissed out of hand a plea not to reveal the fight because it would “hurt the team.’’

That’s how much I believe Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four’’ (published in June 1970) changed the way we covered teams and any obligation felt to defend the home team in controversial situations even when that team didn't deserve the defending.

Ball Four was revolutionary. Bouton’s diary of his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros (with look backs to his World Series-winning Yankees days) gave more than enlightenment to readers on real goings-on with the occupants of clubhouses and locker rooms.

Ball Four also created an expectation from readers that sports writers were going to provide anecdotes, a smile here and there, and the truth as they knew it. In other words, if a manager had a duke-out with a pitcher, it would be a story to relish – to seize upon instantly, to rush into print, and a request for a cover-up would have been an added detail and further embarrassment to the team.

Read an excerpt from Ball Four

Ball Four changed us. We might be changing back, thanks to an internet age filled with the “home team-in-white hats’’ coverage of the pre-Bouton era, but Ball Four changed sports writing for decades.

Yes, there was great and irreverent sports writing before Bouton’s book. I mean, you read Red Smith way back to his baseball beat-writing days in Philadelphia, and there is hilarity in the finest style.

The Red passage that always comes to my mind was written before World War II. He was covering the Phillies, and believe it or not, they were playing a game at San Quentin prison on a preseason barnstorming trip, and Smith suggested this:

That the Phillies had committed more crimes in their line of work (playing baseball) than had most of the occupants of “this home for wayward boys.’’

San Quentin. A home for wayward boys. Red didn’t need Jim Bouton’s permission for irreverence. I think a lot of us did, though, and Ball Four gave it to us.

As mentioned, I still was a high school writer. My locker rooms had been Duluth East and St. Cloud State and Aldrich Arena for doubleheaders on a Saturday.

So, yeah, I might have been a sports writer, but Ball Four was an eye-opener for me as well as fans.

Example: Before Ball Four, Dick Radatz was “The Monster,’’ the side-arming, hard-throwing reliever of the Red Sox. In Ball Four, there was a Radatz tale from his days of small wages and with a family to feed, when he was paid $200 by a gent to come to a hotel room and throw a crate oranges at the pain-lover’s bare buttocks.

“And that’s when I could bring it,’’ Radatz added.

Five decades later, when coming across any reference to The Monster, two things come to mind: Harmon Killebrew saying later that Radatz was the pitcher that he most-hated to face, and the crate of oranges.

Speaking of Harmon: Ball Four includes a grand tribute to Killebrew as the American League’s most-feared slugger of the time. Turned out, he was “Brew’’ to most of the league’s players, but he was “the Fat Kid’’ to pitcher Fritz Peterson and the Yankees of the 1960s.

There was this exchange as Peterson returned to the clubhouse, where Bouton (a starting pitcher then) was hanging out in-game:

Bouton—“How’d you do, Fritz?’’

Peterson—“The Fat Kid hit a double with the bases loaded.’’

You saw that as a writer covering high schools and thought, “I want that quote. I would give $5 for that quote, and I’m broke.’’

Ball Four. It changed the way people looked at sports, and to a large degree, wrote about sports.

I’ve told this story. Probably self-serving more than anything, but here goes:

In the mid-May of 2005, I received a call at home from Glen Crevier, the Star Tribune sports editor. The Strib’s Kevin Seifert was breaking a story that Onterrio Smith, a Vikings running back, had been detained recenty at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for having a device in his possession that could hold clean urine and was devised to beat a drug test. It even had a great name: the Original Whizzinator.

Crevier explained the details of Seifert’s scoop as best he could, and said there was no column scheduled for the next morning’s edition, and would I like to produce one?

I had Crevier run through the details again and then said: “Glen, I would pay you $500 to write this column.’’

I credit Jim Bouton, who died on Wednesday at age 80, for my workaholic attitude in that situation.

Reusse: A young California dad is trying to grasp loss of 'best friend' Tyler Skaggs

Trevor Plouffe was on a run near his family’s home in Calabasas, Calif. on Monday. He had a phone in a pocket and started to receive notices of texts and calls.

The notices continued and Plouffe grabbed his phone as a call was coming in. “It was Mike Moustakas, and he was with [Ryan] Braun,’’ Plouffe said.

Moustakas and Braun are teammates with Milwaukee. The Brewers were playing in Cincinnati. Plouffe, 33, and Braun, 35, have been friends for two decades, since meeting as young star athletes in nearby areas of the San Fernando Valley. Plouffe, Braun and Moustakas worked out together in the offseason at Pepperdine University.

The massive population of Los Angeles and Orange Counties produces enormous numbers of baseball prospects and big leaguers, yet somehow these players seem to have a connection.

“That’s true,’’ Plouffe said. “It’s a huge area, but baseball shrinks it.’’

Moustakas and Braun had heard distressing news on Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, and they were going to their best source – Skaggs’ very close friend Plouffe – for confirmation.

“I answered the call and Moose said, ‘Trevor … what happened with Tyler?’ ‘’ Plouffe said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about. I said, ‘Tyler? Skaggs?’

“And Braun was in the background, and they both said, ‘Yes,’ and then told me there was a report that Tyler had died in Texas.

“I went to my knees. I looked at my phone and, by then, the Angels had announced Tyler’s death.’’

This conversation took place two days later, as Plouffe was dropping 4-year-old son Teddy at a preschool. Isla, 1½, was also in the car and there was something she was not pleased with.

“Give me a minute here,’’ Plouffe said, and the phone went quiet for a while.

He came back and said, “OK, we’re good. Isla’s happy now.’’

Plouffe turned 18 on June 15, 2004, eight days after being drafted 20th overall by the Twins. He went to Elizabethton, Tenn. to start a pro career. The Twins selected him as an infielder, although there was also his 12-2 record with an 0.86 ERA in pitching Crespi Carmelite High School to a section championship in Southern California.

The pro career that included 2,810 of his 2,933 big-league at-bats with the Twins (2010-2016) came to an end this year in late March. He was in spring training for a month as an invitee with the Phillies. On March 21, the Phillies said he wasn’t going to make the big-league club, although they had a spot for him with Class AAA Lehigh Valley.

He went home to California, instead, to be available to drop off Teddy at preschool and make Isla happy again.

“Once the Phillies let me go, several other teams called --  but always with the understanding that I’d have to start in Triple A,’’ Plouffe said. “I did the Triple A thing last year. I wasn’t interested.’’

So you’re done? “Playing?’’ Plouffe said. “Yeah, I’m done. I’m a dad and husband.’’

And a friend -- and on Monday, he found himself stupefied in the middle of a run, looking at his phone, confirming that Tyler Skaggs had died at 27.

There was an autopsy, and the official cause of death will be revealed in time, but what will continue to hurt for Plouffe is that Skaggs is gone – the first time in his life that Plouffe has lost such a close friend in his age group.

“Braun and I had the same agent in Nez Balelo,’’ Plouffe said. “I was living in Malibu and we were able to find a place to work out at Pepperdine [University]. They had an old gym with a workout room that wasn’t being used by anyone.

"We called it The Dungeon. It was tiny and only a few guys at a time could be in there. Nez was sending his clients there, and we were using the workout room in shifts. Tyler started showing up, but he was a younger guy, so we put him in the second shift.

“He was such a great kid, though. He could read a room better than anyone I know. He would walk in and get everyone pumped up ... 'This is going to be the best workout ever.’

“Braun and I finally said, ‘OK, Tyler, you’re in the first group.’ And from there, we spent more time together,’’

Plouffe and his wife Olivia had Teddy and Isla, and Skaggs married Carli during this last offseason. “Tyler’s death hurts all of us, but Carli’s the one that matters the most in this,’’ Plouffe said. “She’s such a sweetheart.’’

Phil Hughes, the former Twins pitcher, was another close friend to Skaggs. “Tyler was looking to add a cutter, and Phil knew as much about that pitch as anyone,’’ Plouffe said. “He got in touch with Phil and the friendship developed.

‘“Tyler was that way. If you met him, 10 minutes later you were friends.’’

On Monday night, I was watching the MLB Network and there were phone interviews with baseball people connected with Skaggs. One of those was Eddie Bane, who was running the draft for the Angels in 2009.

The Angels had three picks in the top 40 and Eddie did OK with those picks: outfielder Randal Grichuk at No. 24, outfielder Mike Trout at No. 25 and pitcher Skaggs at No. 40.

Grichuk was traded to St. Louis after the 2013 season and has become a solid big-leaguer. Mike Trout is Mickey Mantle, without switch-hitting. And Skaggs, traded to Arizona and then brought back to Anaheim, overcame missing the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery to become an Angels starter – with a chance to keep getting better at 27.

“We had a first-round grade on Tyler in that draft,’’ Bane said. “We had Grichuk and Trout higher, so we went with them and were excited that Tyler still was there at 40.’’

Normally, this time of a baseball season, when you hear Eddie Bane’s voice, it’s because you're calling to discuss July 4, 1973 – the night Bane, the 5-foot-9 lefthander directly out of Arizona State, filled Met Stadium for his major league debut.

This time, Bane was being asked about the death of Skaggs, a 6-foot-4 lefthander that he had brought into professional baseball 36 years later.

“Hard stuff to talk about,’’ Bane responded later in a text. “27 and a good person.’’