On Friday night I had the pleasure of talking with Jim Bouton, a former pitcher for the New York Yankees. Regular readers will remember that I am a Yankees fan, a Daoist Yankees fan at that. So, it was quite fun to be able to sit and talk with a guy who played with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and had some very successful years in his own right (he went 21-7 in 1963 and won two World Series games in 1964). I should add that Bouton was in town for the Williamstown Film Festival, which screened the new movie, "Knuckleball," that Bouton discussed for the crowd afterward. It was a fun night (thanks Sandra!).
I had to think a bit about what questions to ask Bouton. Fawning queries about what it was like to play with Mantle seemed rather juvenile. So I did a bit of research and, when the chance emerged, asked him: what happened to the Yankees in 1965?
Baseball fans know that the Yanks were a powerful team in the 1950s-early 1960s. From 1950-1959 they played in eight of the ten World Series, winning six of them. From 1960-1964, they played in all five World Series, winning two, in 1961 and 1962. But then it all came to a crashing end in 1965. That yes, their regular season record fell to 77-85 for a lowly sixth place in the American League. A disaster.
Bouton joined the team in 1962, just in time for what would turn out to be their last World Series victory for fifteen years (1977 was the next). For several years, he was a stalwart of the regular rotation. He was arguably the best pitcher in the 1964 Series (his ERA was 1.56; Bob Gibson's was 3.00). And then he was there for the 1965 meltdown.
His answer to my question - what happened to team in 1965; why did they fall so far? - was simple and direct:
We all got old at the same time.
There is an obvious truth there - both in general and in particular. In partiuclar, the 1965 Yankees were plagued by injuries. Mantle and Maris and Howard were all out for prolonged periods. Whitey Ford, and Bouton himself, had arm problems. There were other issues as well. After the 1964 season they fired the manager, Yogi Berra, and the team ownership changed hands.
But Bouton did not explicitly raise these particulars, things he knows so well. What he said, of course, is a much larger statement: we are all getting older simultaneously always. That is what time and age are all about. We often don't notice the gradual transformations that accompany the ineluctable movement of time. Yet there are moments when the accumlated changes suddenly add up to a qualitative shift: we are not now what we were then. It is at moments like those that it is also good to remember that what we are now is not what we will be.
1965 was one of those moments for the New York Yankees. They had been a dominant team, a team for the ages, but then, all of a sudden, but not really, they were something else again. It is reminiscent of the Yi Jing, hexagram 55, "Abundance," the Judgment of which is:
Abudnace has success. The King attains abudance. Be not sad. Be like the sun at midday.
It is describing a moment of accomplishment and power, of fullness, rather like the 1964 Yankees. But then is says: "Be not sad." Why would one be sad at the very moment of maximum gain? Because it cannot last. It must decline, like the sun at midday. One of the commentaries on this hexgram goes on:
When the sun stands at midday, it begins to set; when the moon is full, it begins to wane. The fullness and emptiness of heaven and earth wane and wax in the course of time. How much truer is this of men, or of spirits and gods!
Jonathan Spence quotes this passage in a discussion of the great Chinese emperor Qianlong (101-102). And it seems to capture what Bouton experienced in 1965. We all get old at the same time and, before you know it, the moment of our greatest triumph has slipped away.
I wonder if Bouton has ever consulted the Yi Jing?