Ball Four

From BR Bullpen

Published in 1970, Ball Four, subtitled: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues is in the form of a journal kept by Jim Bouton. During the winter of 1969-1970, Bouton and New York Times sportswriter Leonard Schecter, put his journal into book form.

Ball Four traces Bouton's 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and his trade to the Houston Astros. He recounts vivid details of life on an expansion team, hopelessness of a losing season, and the pain of realizing that your career is ending at age 31. A recurring theme in the book is the lack of communication between players and management: Pilots GM Marvin Milkes is depicted as a chronic penny-pincher whose only interest in his players' well-being is hanging around the hotel lobby to see if they respect the curfew; manager Joe Schultz is a sympathetic figure, trying to keep his players loose by using humor, but he does not communicate at all with his players about anything deeper; the coaches are even worse, uttering platitudes and fussing about useless small details. He is particularly critical of the advice of pitching coach Sal Maglie, one of his childhood heroes, which is comically useless.

The book is very humorous and presents the players in good light, even those with whom Bouton doesn't particularly get along, like Fred Talbot. There are memorable portraits of Gary Bell, Tommy Davis, Steve Hovley, Gene Brabender, Marty Pattin, Larry Dierker and Norm Miller, among the most notable, but even figures who just pass through are given their due.

Ball Four was a groundbreaking book for its time. Bouton recalled his time as a young player with the New York Yankees. He publicly stated many things that were never mentioned before, such as Mickey Mantle's alcoholism, rampant adultery on the road, and a widespread use of amphetamines by ballplayers.

Bouton turned the book into a sitcom, in which he starred and a few episodes of which ran in the fall of 1976 before it was canceled.

After the publication of Ball Four, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn asked Bouton to recant much of what he wrote. Bouton refused and was unofficially blacklisted. Remaining in print since its original printing, Ball Four was later expanded in some editions with Ball Five, which details Bouton's 1978 comeback in which he returned to the majors with the Atlanta Braves.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Mark Armour: "The revolution started here", in Mark Armour, ed.: Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, 2006, pp. 108-113.
  • Jim Bouton: Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues, Wiley Publishing Inc., New York, NY, 1990 (originally published in 1970). ISBN 0-02-030665-2
  • Robert Elias and Peter Dreier: "Ball Four at 50 and the Legacy of Jim Bouton", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 50, Number 2 (Fall 2021), pp. 22-31.

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