Did an Umpire Use Jim Bouton to Teach George Scott a Lesson?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC/BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Jim Bouton took advantage of an umpire’s problems with Boston Red Sox rookie slugger George Scott for an easy strikeout.

This legend really brings up an interesting question – how much of a story has to be false before you consider that the story is false?

To wit, let’s say someone tells a story like “On June 3rd, 1977, I hit three home runs.” Okay, so what if it happened on June 4th? You wouldn’t consider the story false, right? Now let’s say it was on June 4th and it was just two home runs. You’re probably into false territory there, right?

Well, that’s what concerns me about Jim Bouton’s tale of umpire Ed Runge’s problems with Boston Red Sxo slugger George Scott.

Jim Bouton was an All-Star pitcher for the New York Yankees who played for New York for nearly seven seasons…

However, he is best known for a book he wrote about his days in the Big Leagues called Ball Four…

Ball Four was very controversial since it gave insight into professional baseball that people just weren’t used to when it was released in 1970. Many players did not appreciate Bouton’s candor. But overall, Bouton’s book has been accepted as a classic of sports literature.

In any event, Bouton told many anecdotes of his time in baseball.

Here’s one of them…

[Yankee catcher] Elston Howard came out to the mound and he said, ‘Don’t throw any strikes. [Umpire Ed] Runge wants to teach [Boston Red Sox slugger] George Scott a lesson.’ Scott, a rookie, had been complaining about calls.

‘Whaddya mean?’

‘Just keep the ball outside.’

Elston runs back and holds the catcher’s glove about six inches outside. I hit the glove. Strike one. George Scott shakes his head.

I think, Hey, this is going to be easy. My next pitch was about a foot outside. Strike two. I think, Holy s—, he must have done something bad.

Third pitch bounced a foot in front of home plate. Scott swung and missed. Strike three. Scott was pissed. He knew the umpire was getting back at him, and he kept his mouth shut for a long time. Runge taught both of us a lesson. He taught Scott a lesson about complaining, and he taught me what can happen if the umpire doesn’t like you.

Ed Runge was a longtime respected American League umpire for nearly 20 years, from 1954 until his retirement in 1970. Here he is with Washington Senators manager Chuck Dressen…

George Scott was a slugging first baseman for the Boston Red Sox, the first great African-American player to play for Boston…

So, as to Bouton’s story.

In Scott’s rookie year, 1966, Bouton DID face him a number of times and struck him out more than once. However, Ed Runge was not the home plate umpire for any of those games.

Runge was the second base umpire for one of those games in 1966 when Bouton struck out Scott, but also, not only was Runge not behind the plate, but neither was Elston Howard – Jake Gibbs was the catcher for New York that day.

The same went for 1967 – no day when all four men were involved in a game. Specifically, Runge was not the home plate umpire for any game involving Bouton and Scott.

Finally, in May of 1968, Scott’s third year in the Majors, Bouton finally did strike him out with Runge as the home plate umpire. However, Elston Howard was not only not catching for the Yankees, he was actually the catcher for the RED SOX that game (having been traded to the Sox in the middle of the 1967 season)!

So, let’s say that Runge DID call an erratic strike zone in that game to teach Scott a lesson (if he did, it did not make the paper, but that’s somewhat understandable, as the Red Sox won 8-1, and Bouton’s innings came in mop up duty, so it’s unlikely that a newspaper would report an erratic strike zone for a batter in mop up duty) – if so, is that enough for the story to be true?

I think enough is wrong about it (no Howard, not Scott’s rookie season) that I feel safe enough going for a false, but I understand that it is a close call (note that it might never have happened PERIOD).

The legend is…

STATUS: I’m Going With False

Thanks to Jim Bouton’s Ball Four for the quote! You should definitely read Ball Four. It’s a fun read, even if, as I show here, the stories might not always be totally accurate – what baseball auto-biography is, though?

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

One Response to “Did an Umpire Use Jim Bouton to Teach George Scott a Lesson?”

  1. Thanks – Enjoyed this article, can you make it so I receive an update sent in an email when there is a fresh update?

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