sports

Remembering Jim Bouton, Yankees Pitcher and Tell-All Author of “Ball Four”


Photo courtesy of Amazon


[Editor’s note: Former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton, who was born in Newark and grew up in Rochelle Park and Ridgewood, died this week at the age of 80. Bouton, whose notorious tell-all memoir
Ball Four, published in 1970, made him a baseball outcast, spoke with New Jersey Monthly correspondent Tom Wilk in the spring of 1994 upon the publication of his first novel. Here’s that story, from our June 1994 issue.]

As a pitcher who played with four pro ball clubs, Jim Bouton knew the value of trying something new. When a sore arm robbed him of his fastball, he turned to the knuckleball to extend his career.

Now, 24 years after publication of Ball Four, his best-selling diary of the 1969 baseball season, Bouton is following that same philosophy with the release of his first novel Strike Zone, co-written with Eliot Asinof. “I never thought I could write a novel,” says Bouton, a resident of Teaneck. “But I found it more liberating than straight reporting.”

Asinof wrote the book Eight Men Out, the story of the Chicago White Sox players accused of fixing the 1919 World Series. Gambling also plays a pivotal role in Strike Zone.

The novel’s premise is an intriguing one. The Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies are tied for a playoff spot on the last day of the season. With a pitching staff wracked by injuries, the Cubs turn to Sam Ward, a journeyman knuckleballer, to get them into the playoffs. Unbeknownst to Ward, home-plate umpire Ernie Kolacka, in his final game before retiring, has agreed to fix the outcome so the Cubs lose, as a favor to a friend deep in debt.

Through the characters of Ward and Kolacka, respectively, Bouton and Asinof tell the story in alternating chapters, in a narrative propelled by the game’s increasing tension.

“We sat down and mapped out the game, batter by batter, but we wrote our chapters by ourselves,” says Bouton. “We served as each other’s editors.”

While Strike Zone is unlikely to rival Ball Four’s mammoth sales figures (5 million copies to date), Bouton felt a kinship with Sam Ward. “I saw myself as Sam Ward, if it had taken me ten years to make the majors instead of three. It was hard to sell where he left off and I began.”

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A Dream Opportunity for Golf-Loving Dads


Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City Courtesy of PGA Tour



Do you have a dad who loves golf? The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club, taking place August 6–11 in Jersey City, offers a Father’s Day gift that will lock in your status as dad’s favorite. Each competition-round ticket (Thursday–Sunday) purchased through June 21 comes with a chance to win a “Dream Foursome” experience at Liberty National. The winner will get to play on August 13—just two days after some of the world’s best players have walked the same fairways.

But even just a trip to watch the Northern Trust would be a win for dad (or any golf aficionado). In 2019, the PGA Tour contracted its playoff format from four tournaments to three, raised the purse for the FedEx Cup champion from $10 million to $15 million and doubled the bonus pool to $70 million, placing even more importance on the Northern Trust, the first of the three playoff events. A field of 125 golfers will compete; only 70 will move on to the second playoff, the BMW Championship. From there, 30 golfers will advance to the Tour Championship.

“This tournament will rival a Major,” says PGA tour senior vice president Julie Tyson, executive director of the Northern Trust. “We’ll have the top players playing at the peak of their season. Because it’s the first playoff, no one can sit it out. And the money has created a lot more pressure. We wanted this to be almost vomit-inducing when they tee it up.”

Along with defending champ Bryson DeChambeau, who won this tournament last summer at Ridgewood Country Club, fans can expect to see all of golf’s heavy hitters, including Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose. And they’ll watch these stars play on a course like no other: Situated along the Hudson River, the course is just 2,000 yards from the Statue of Liberty, and offers views of the Manhattan skyline and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Courtesy of PGA Tour

Liberty National’s compact parameters and brick-paved cart paths make for an easily walkable course and a tournament experience that is ideal for families. Children under 18 receive free entry all week when accompanied by a ticketed adult—grounds tickets are just $35 for practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday—and spectators can bring in their own food (in clear plastic bags). Concessions will include Jersey City institutions Pizza Vita and Torico Ice Cream, along with Shake Shack, Sticky’s Finger Joint and Luke’s Lobster. Visitors can also shop in stores like Nordstrom and Bonobos, or try out an on-site Top Golf simulator.

A highlight of the 7,370-yard course—designed by 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite and prominent course architect Bob Cupp—is the 150-yard, par-3 No. 14, which boasts prime views of Lady Liberty. “As you think about the competition, 14 will be a deciding hole on the golf course,” Tyson says. “And it’s also beautiful. All along the right side is the Hudson River, and on the left is all sand.”

Other interesting holes include No. 6, a 538-yard par 5 that produced 22 eagles during the 2013 Barclays (which had the same course layout as the 2019 Northern Trust); and No. 9, which was the toughest hole of the 2013 tournament. Spectators who want to get off their feet can visit the 325-yard, par 4 No. 16, which features a shaded grandstand above the drivable green. A second shaded grandstand overlooks No. 17’s green and No. 18’s tee box. Fans can also watch golfers warm up on the driving range, then keep track of their favorite players’ scores and positions on the course with the PGA Tour app.

For the duration of the tournament, Uber will be allowed to drop off riders on-site. Free shuttles will also be provided from garages at Newport Center in Jersey City.

Grounds tickets for Thursday and Friday are $60; for Saturday and Sunday, $70.A weekly grounds pass is $195; higher-level hospitality experiences begin at $160. Active-military members and military veterans also are admitted free; veterans can receive two free tickets. For tickets, visit pgatour.com or call 844-868-7465.

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Meet the Philadelphia Union’s Youngest Hometown Player


Medford’s Brenden Aaronson Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union



Most of Brenden Aaronson’s best buddies in Medford are finishing up their last days of senior year and getting ready for college in the fall. Aaronson is on a different path.

Aaronson started playing this spring with the Philadelphia Union, one of 24 Major League Soccer teams. The 18-year-old midfielder is the youngest homegrown player the Union has signed.

“From the time I was eight years old, I wanted to be a professional soccer player,” says Aaronson.

Growing up, Aaronson also played lacrosse and basketball, but soccer was different. He even loved practice. “There just was nothing like it,” he recalls.

Aaronson’s father, Rusty, who played soccer at Monmouth University, recognized Brenden’s skills early and started Real New Jersey, an all-star club team, to help develop his son’s skills. Aaronson spent a year at Shawnee High School before being selected for the Philadelphia Union Youth Academy, a program for elite players.

“We practice from 8:30 to 10:30, then go to classes until 3:30,” says Aaronson, who finished his coursework at the academy last fall.

Despite his commitment to his sport, Aaronson says he’s still the same Brenden. “My friends will tell you I am the same kid who has played all sports with them since we were little kids.”

Aaronson was recruited by Indiana University, but when the Union offered a contract, he couldn’t refuse.

“When a dream comes true,” he says, “you have to go with it.”

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“City of Champions” Honors Garfield Football Star Benny Babula


Courtesy of Freedom 365





When Hank Gola was growing up in Garfield, there was no greater legend than Benny Babula.

Babula owned a meat-distribution business in the Bergen County city. “We kids would go over to the place and marvel at how he would throw a big side of beef over his shoulders,” says Gola, a former sportswriter for the New York Post and New York Daily News.

But Babula’s legend was based on more than beef. In his high school days, Babula was the best football player in Garfield history. On one incredible Christmas day in 1939, he led Garfield High School to a 16-13 victory over Miami High at the Orange Bowl, in what was acknowledged as a national-championship game. Babula, at tailback, ran 25 times for 103 yards and a touchdown, completed 6 of 10 passes, and kicked the winning field goal.

What started as a feature for the Daily News became Gola’s passion, and ultimately a book, City of Champions (Tatra Press, 2018), which exhaustively details Babula’s heroics and Garfield’s memorable season. 

“It was a tale sent down from father to son,” says Gola, who lives in Parsippany/Troy Hills.

Gola’s book captures the struggles of Depression-era Garfield, a blue-collar hive of Italian and Polish immigrants and their families, and tracks the wartime and postwar lives of their 1939 football heroes.

“I just wanted to leave a gift to my town,” says the author.

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