Ballplayer uncensored and unzipped

Forty years ago today, while in Milwaukee covering the Blue Jays for the Toronto Sun, I witnessed an incident that would get Toronto outfielder Rick Bosetti fined. My story in the next day’s paper would be a turning point in my relationship with the players.  

Here, in an excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, is what happened:

Earlier in the season, I could have been mistaken for Bosetti’s press agent. In my setup story for opening day in Toronto I wrote: Bosetti is a truly free and refreshing spirit. A flamboyant dresser – the other day he was wearing a rabbit-skin fur coat and shiny knee-length boots – Bosetti seems to cheer up a room with his chatter.

But, as the season went on, I couldn’t help noticing Bosetti was a serial sleaze. We all know ballplayers play with themselves on the field, in front of thirty-thousand spectators and TV cameras. But at least most keep their privates in their pants.

Bosetti bragged that he regularly unzipped during a game, that his quest was to piss in every outfield in the American League. I was also told by a flight attendant on a Jays’ charter that Bosetti – she pointed him out – was fondling himself on the darkened DC-9 as she passed him in the aisle.

I didn’t write these stories, since I didn’t know them to be true and believed a player’s conduct out of uniform, unless criminal, was probably his own business. But that summer at County Stadium, I witnessed something shameful and wrote about it.

MILWAUKEE – Rick Bosetti proved yesterday that he can be just as rude and vulgar on the road as he can be at home.

Bosetti, who earlier this year at Exhibition Stadium cursed and made an obscene gesture at an adult, yesterday made an equally disgusting remark to a group of kids seeking autographs.

Seated in the visitors’ dugout before the Blue Jays-Milwaukee game, Bosetti was asked: “Sir, could I have your autograph please.”

Apparently unaccustomed to a polite request, Bosetti responded in his usual manner: “There ain’t no fucking sirs in here, kid.”

After word of my story got back to the team the next morning, (manager Roy) Hartsfield phoned my hotel room and said he wanted to talk to me when we got to the ballpark. I didn’t have to ask what it was about.

We had moved on to Minneapolis, billeted at the rundown Leamington hotel, which I recognized from some night shots on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

I was to meet Hartsfield in the visitors’ clubhouse at ugly old Metropolitan Stadium. But I first ran into some angry players. When I entered the locker room, and Bosetti saw me, he let loose with a stream of expletives and charged toward me. He was tackled and held back by a couple of other players, notably Roy Howell, the red-headed third baseman.

When things calmed down, Howell cornered me. “You showed some guts walking in here,” he said. “But nobody in here trusts you any more.”

The code of the clubhouse says that a writer who criticizes a player in the paper is required to stand up to that player and his teammates before the next game. I really didn’t care what Bosetti thought, but I hadn’t expected his teammates to condone his behavior. I was wrong. “You can’t take money out of a player’s pocket,” Howell went on. “You’re messing with people’s careers – their lives – when you write stuff like that.”

Hartsfield and I huddled in the tunnel between the clubhouse and the dugout. “Are you sure you got it right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I wrote exactly what he said.”

“Okay,” Hartsfield said.

“Did he get fined?” I asked.

“Yup – two-fifty,” Hartsfield said.

In 1978, the minimum salary for players was $21,000. While the Reggie Jacksons were raking in about a half-million a season, players like Bosetti were making about the same salary as a newspaper reporter.

* * *

Postscript: Bosetti, who turned 25 that August, was never much of a ballplayer. Within four years, he was out of baseball. He returned to his hometown of Redding, California, where he became a Republican politician and mayor of the small city about 200 miles north of San Francisco.  

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

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