Like half my social-media feed, I woke up to the awful news of the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, whose work I have loved going all the way back to the 1999 New Yorker piece that became Kitchen Confidential, his first book. The chef-turned-writer-turned-television-journalist had a remarkable gift for illuminating any corner of the world he wandered via A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown, bringing a rare and genuine empathy, compassion and gusto along with him. His career-changing discovery of his writing voice was among the many that inspired me as I embarked upon my own change from graphic design to writing about baseball.
Bourdain’s globe-trotting sent me on journeys I’d have never otherwise taken, both figuratively and literally. Among the latter was Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans, for the best fried chicken I’ll ever eat and the Estancia Del Puerto parrilla in Montevideo, Uruguay, for an all-you-can-eat bucket of grilled meats and entrails. (Nobody, before or since, has been able to convince me to eat kidneys or tripe.) One of my all-time favorite celebrity sightings in 23 years of living in New York City was spotting him strutting — and I mean strutting — down Avenue B in the East Village, circa 2005-06, just south of Tompkins Square Park. The 6-foot-4 Bourdain cut an unmistakable figure, a bad-ass mofo wearing a sleeveless black tank top and jeans, cigarette dangling from his lip.
From No Reservations‘ Osaka episode (Season 1, Episode 11, starts around 2:35), here he is in a sports bar, dining with rabid fans of the Hanshin Tigers and discussing their rivalry with the Yomiuri Giants:
In that same episode, he takes in the frenzy at a Hanshin Tigers game (a longer version of that starts at 36:15 in the clip above):
From No Reservations‘ Southwest episode (Season 4, Episode 15, start around 11:20), he visits Cooperstown. That’s not the central New York baseball museum but a Phoenix restaurant owned by rock star (and fellow fan) Alice Cooper and Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson. Here he chows down on a two-foot hot dog known — yes, I’m afraid so — as “The Big Unit”:
Here he’s discussing Detroit’s bygone Tiger Stadium, the Joe Torre-era Yankees and the 2001 World Series, as well as the Red Sox breaking their curse, with Cooper:
His No Reservations Cuba episode (Season 7, Episode 9) has multiple baseball scenes. In this one (beginning about 19:40), he visits “La Esquina Caliente” (“The Hot Corner”) of Havana’s Central Park, where Cuba’s official baseball fans — licensed by the government to assemble publicly — debate all manner of baseball issues. Guiding him around the park is Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman, who drops the names of Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes as potential major-league stars a few years before each would defect and fulfill that destiny:
Finally, here’s Andrew McCutchen interviewing Bourdain for the Inside Pirates TV show circa 2013:
Count me as somebody who would have killed to eat a hot dog and drink an overpriced beer at a ballgame with Bourdain. It breaks my heart that his voice has been silenced. May he rest in peace.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.