Twentieth-anniversary edition of a baseball classic, with a new epilogue by Jim Bouton.
When first published in 1970, Ball Four stunned the sports world. The commissioner, executives, and players were shocked. Sportswriters called author Jim Bouton a traitor and "social leper." Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to force him to declare the book untrue. Fans, however, loved the book. And serious critics called it an important social document. Today, Jim Bouton is still not invited to Oldtimer's Days at Yankee Stadium. But his landmark book is still being read by people who don't ordinarily follow baseball.
James Alan Bouton (March 8, 1939 – July 10, 2019) was an American professional baseball player. Bouton played in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a pitcher for the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves between 1962 and 1978. He was also a best-selling author, actor, activist, sportscaster and one of the creators of Big League Chew.
“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
Why you looking at me that way, BOWton?
This is probably the most controversial book and the most honest book ever written about baseball. It is interesting how the words honest and controversial seem to travel together like a Harley Davidson with a sidecar. Jim Bouton won two World Series games in 1964 with the New York Yankees, but in 1965 he developed arm troubles that turned the pitching phenom from a starter into a bullpen pitcher. When we catch up with Jim, he is with the Seattle Pilots expansion team, trying to learn how to throw a knuckleball in an attempt to resurrect and lengthen his career. Now if you haven’t heard of the Seattle Pilots, don’t feel bad because I’d never heard of them either. They only existed for one year, 1969, and then they were moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers.
Probably few would remember this organization except for the fact that Jim Bouton was with the team. He was taking notes and immortalizing most of the one year this team was in existence. This book hit baseball players/managers/owners like a psycho nun with a steel studded ruler was rapping their knuckles over and over again. I wonder how the baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, felt about the book? Ahh yes, he called Ball Four“detrimental to baseball.”
Now a normal writer can’t buy publicity like this, but Bouton was still trying to pitch in the major leagues, and the reaction certainly made things more difficult for him. The book went nuclear. Athletes, in general, who are not known for reading, were reading this book, and for the most part, they had negative reactions. Most weren’t quite as vocal about it as Pete Rose, who anytime Bouton was pitching screamed from the dugout steps: ”Fuck you! Shakespeare!”
My question is who told Pete Rose about Shakespeare?
The controversy was over Bouton revealing the everyday stupidity that sometimes colossally bored baseball players got up to. Not to mention the rampant alcohol and drug abuse, greenie anyone? Greenies were speed, and pretty much everyone on the team was using them, at least in their minds, to ramp up their abilities on the diamond. Wrapped around all this was the serial infidelity that was just considered one of the perks of being a professional ball player. One of the coaches of the Pilots would always remind the guys before letting them off the plane to go meet up with their wives…”Act Horny”.
1964 after a World Series win. Mantle and Bouton were still friends.
Now all of that was bad enough, but where Bouton stepped over the line for many baseball fans was revealing the less than stellar lifestyle of the legendary Mickey Mantle. Sportswriters have a long history of protecting athletes. Most recently, though it was common knowledge among reporters, nothing was reported on the infidelities of Tiger Woods. His image, as far as the public was concerned, was that of a brilliant athlete with the perfect wife, the perfect life. The press was well aware of Mantle’s excessive epic drinking and his infidelities, but never wrote a word about it.
Then comes along Jim Bouton.
Bouton is a rookie on the Yankees, and one of the first stories he tells about Mantle is the whole team gathering around him on the rooftop of their hotel that, by the way it is angled, gives them a bird’s eye view into hotel rooms across the way. They could watch women undress. I’m not sure, since this was a group effort, that we can even really call this Peeping Tom or Toms. The guys called it ”Beaver Shooting,” and they put a good bit of effort into finding ways to see women exposed. One player drilled holes into the connecting door of his hotel room so he could spy on whoever was in the next room. In another case a player drilled a hole through the back of the dugout wall so he could peek up the skirt of an unsuspecting fan. They had mirrors that they would slide under hotel room doors. The list goes on and on.
It was almost a pathological obsession.
It reminded me of one time when I was about fourteen, and I was hanging out at the bottom of a set of stairs at the high school waiting for a friend when several girls started down the steps. I looked up to see if it was my friend coming, and my line of sight gave me a perfect uninhibited view of the girls’ underwear. I was gobsmacked. I was turned to stone. I forced my eyes away after what felt like fifteen minutes, but was only probably a fraction over a second. I was sure they knew! They were of course oblivious, but it didn’t keep me from turning thirteen shades of red as their mingled perfumes brushed by me.
Beyond the controversy, the book provides an incredible view of what it is like to be a ballplayer. The paranoias, the insecurities, the unfairness, the pranks, and the joys when a knuckleball breaks off the plate the way it is supposed to. The constant worry about being traded or sent down to the minor leagues. ”Us battered bastards of baseball are the biggest customers of the U.S. Post Office, forwarding-address department. I’ve seen letters chasing guys for months, years even. Sometimes you walk into a clubhouse and there’s a letter on the table for a guy who was released two years ago.”
Now certainly, Bouton created more stress for himself because it wasn’t long before everyone in the clubhouse knew he was writing a book. He had a sneaking suspicion that the head office might not be all that happy to know he was keeping track of their activities, and the ball clubs antics, and the decisions that were being made behind the scenes. He had the normal ball players paranoia times ten.
You, too, can learn how to throw a knuckleball.
I have to admit it was fun coming home from work each day and spending some time with the Seattle Pilots. They might have been all too human, but they were certainly real. I have to hope that this book also had some positive impacts on professional baseball. I hope that clubs took a look at the drug use and the after hours carousing. I have a feeling a few wives had a few questions for their baseball playing husbands. Maybe even some ball players seeing themselves in this light, exposed (that would only be fair), made some changes to how they conducted themselves. This wasn’t the era of exorbitant salaries, but they were certainly making more than the average American who came to see them play. Whether they wanted to be or not, they were/are role models not only for kids, but for fans of all ages.
Now, I have to go back to work. Anyone got a greenie?
This is one of the seminal shoot-beaver-and-tell books. It opened up the field for sportswriters to come and got Bouton into a fair bit of trouble. It is a must-read for its look at the Yankees of Mantle and Maris days, showing them as the very human people they were. A classic of it's genre.
Ball Four is the perfect baseball book, the best ever written about the game. This fact gets lost among all the chatter of how ground breaking, taboo shattering, and transformative it was for sports writing. All that is true. But that is all incidental to the fact that Ball Four is the best, most perfect baseball book ever.
Ball Four has it all. Jim Bouton began his career as a fireballing young pitcher for the New York Yankees near the end of their unprecedented 18 year long (1947-1964) stretch of absolute dominance of the game. He was an exciting, rising young star on World Series teams, and counted legends like Mickey Mantel and Whitey Ford among his friends and teammates. He participated at the pinnacle of the game. That’s in Ball Four.
But Bouton blew out his arm with his fastball, and fell from baseball grace. He had to relearn how to pitch — reinvented himself pitching the tricky, unpredictable knuckleball. And instead of the Yankees dynasty, he had to make his comeback pitching for the lowly expansion team, The Seattle Pilots — a team so benighted, so doomed, that it lasted only a single baseball season. Instead of teammates legends like Mantle and Ford, he now played with guys named Gene Brabender and Jim Gosger. Instead of a brash, rising star, he had become a washed up journeyman trying desperately to hang on pitching for baseball’s worst team. That’s in Ball Four too.
From dynasty to gulag, legends to jokes, star to washout — Jim Bouton encompassed the whole gamut of baseball experience. It’s all here in this remarkable book. The uproar he caused by writing honesty about the game — the salty language, hard drinking, womanizing, pill-popping — made the book’s legend, but Bouton’s experiences and the passion and humor with which he recorded them is what makes it truly great.
Ball Four might be the greatest baseball book ever written! Correction, Ball Four might be the greatest sports book ever written. What Bouton accomplished with Ball Four was to tear the cover off of professional sports by exposing the tangled core underneath the canned responses to interviews, the hagiography of sports heroes, and the mundane existence of living out of a suitcase for six months. The haloed Yankees hated this book as it painted their hero Mickey Mantle as less than a shining light, the fans didn't care for that either. Players thought it broke the sacred bonds of The Team. But Bouton was always an iconoclast; he cared and fought for what he thought was fair pay long before the free agent era, he talked to reporters in thoughtful conversations, and he took notes. After Bouton blew out his arm for the Yankees he reinvents himself as a knuckleball pitcher and gets called up to a new franchise, the Seattle Pilots. Filled with castoffs and fringe players the Pilots are the perfect team for Bouton to chronologically capture daily life in major league baseball. Funny, wry, and reflective daily recordings from a man with one last gasp of glory left in his arm, and it's not by throwing the baseball. What Bouton deftly does is invite you in on the difficulties and the absurdity, the grind and the goofy, the stoic and the bored. This is best read as following a baseball season, one day at a time. You can relive a team's infamous one year season daily as told by a true voice from the inside.
When Jim Bouton was 24 year old pitcher for the New York Yankees in 1963 in his first full season, he went 21-7 with a 2.53 ERA and won a World Series. He then had another great year, winning 18 games and another World Series appearance. Bouton even won 2 games in the World Series that year. If you are into advanced statistics, through his age 25 year he had 8.0 Wins Above Replacement. But his fastball velocity went down and he was no longer very effective after this. For the rest his career, across seven seasons, he totaled -0.5 Wins Above Replacement. Meaning, he was a marginal player, probably not any better than someone the team could have called up from their AAA squad. Ball Four is the story of his 1969 season, where he decided to become a knuckleball pitcher to compensate for his lost velocity and attempt to resuscitate his fading baseball career.
This book is also known as the first baseball autobiography to spill the tea on what went on in the clubhouse and hotels. I’ve already read many baseball autobiographies, as by now it seems like every player writes a gossipy tell-all. So, the book didn’t really have the same shock value from the raunchiness, drinking, and silly pranks as it would have when it first came out. But I can relate – I still remember the first baseball autobiography I read, when I was about 12: Balls by Graig Nettles. I was really fascinated by all the behind the scenes craziness. The Wrong Stuff by Bill Lee was another of my favorites.
The humor in Ball Four didn’t always land with me. The stories about players being peeping toms, for instance, doesn’t age well and seems really creepy now. But it is what happened.
I did enjoy the way Bouton would skewer players and coaches that used meaningless cliches. Bouton has a questioning and analytical mind, and it was funny the way he could sometimes expose the daftness of the “conventional wisdoms” of the day. If he played in the age of advanced analytics, I would bet he would be open and curious to learning about it.
Bouton also saw through the owner’s bullshit about how they weren’t making any money and how competitive balance would be destroyed if players were granted free agency rights. In Bouton’s day, unless you were a star, the money wasn’t much better than middle class wages. This might still seem good, but given how short player careers are, along with the fact that they might be entering the “real” labor force as a 30 year old without any useful job skills, it’s not that much.
Bouton was also the first to expose how players used “greenies” (amphetamines) to boost performance. It was incredibly common; the way Bouton tells it most players used it. It is interesting that there is a lot of moralizing about players using steroids, but not many seem bothered by amphetamines.
While the book is more known for the gossipy off-field stuff, it was the baseball parts I enjoyed best. I liked getting a better understanding of what the game was like: how players thought about strategy, what they thought about during the games, how their performance was evaluated. That's what made it a worthwhile read for me.
I read it because it was most often cited as the favorite book of so many guys I knew who came of age in the '70s. Much to my surprise, I loved it. Jim Bouton is a Wit. It's a an amusing, as well instructive, narrative on the mid-20th Century psyche of the American male, which continues to influence our culture (and politics) to this day. Frankly, it gave me more useful insight into "guys" than anything I've ever read. And it makes the perfect bar mitzvah gift: totally delights the boys and terrifies the parents (in a good way) making them face the reality that, yes, indeed, "today he is a man." Similarly, I would also recommend it as sort of primer for girls and handbook for women.
This review thing asks: "What did you think?" My answer: "Jim Bouton is full of shit."
I try to refrain from using profanity in things like book reviews, but in this case, it is the only way to categorize it.
Apparently, when this book was first released, it cause a big stir in the baseball community and in the fandom of America. Mostly, I can see why: it is boring, and Bouton takes all 400+ pages to whine about money, coaches, his knuckleball, wanting to start/pitch, and he relishes every opportunity to dish on how depraved every single big league ball player is.
He also, with delight, flouted the stated motto that "what happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse" that governs baseball.
And he continually acts surprised that fellow baseball players hated the book.
Did I mention that this book is boring? The sections were divided up into days, all during the 1969 baseball season, and as each section was lifted from a diary, they were repetitive, and mostly filled with mind-numbing minutiae or strange anecdotes.
On this site, and on the book itself, I've seen this "memoir" praised as "An American Classic" and "a book deep in the American vein" and "the funniest book". Uh huh. Perhaps in 1969 when the book had some shock value, maybe. Now? The book is as washed up as Jim Bouton has been his entire career.
This book does nothing to advance the magic of baseball, or really tell about the ins and outs of baseball unless you want to believe that every player is a peeping tom that whines about money and when he gets to play next. Maybe that was baseball in 1969, but this is 2011 and this book should be forgotten.
I should really give this book 5 stars strictly for the nostalgia that it represents for me. And for the fact that the audible version is actually read incredibly sincerely by the author Jim Bouton. His feeling and intensity and occasionally his emotions come through clearly. That is genuinely a very positive part of this book.
I was surprised to find that this book was first published in 19 70 in someways it seems like a part of my childhood rather than a part of my 20s. But many of the players and the fact that the Detroit Tigers are mentioned frequently are in fact a part of my youth as I grew up a tiger and baseball fan.
This book describes baseball players in a way that is not particularly laudatory. They seem to be crude and profane and sexually promiscuous as well as sexist. There is locker room talk as was more recently made famous by another character named Mr. Trump. This book somewhat trashed the hallowed halls of baseball. And the author paid a price for that.
3/4 of this book is the original Ball Four. And the last quarter of the book or additional reflections from years later. Again, what made this book famous or maybe infamous is a better word is that it did not lionize the sports heroes of the 1960s and 1970s. You would like to think maybe that the world of sports described in this book is a thing of the past. But the only thing of the past from this book is the relatively paltry amount of money that even the sports stars earned back then.
”He has written ... a book deep in the American vein, so deep in fact that it is by no means a sports book ... As the book is deeply in the American vein, so is the reaction to it. The sportswriters are not judging the accuracy of the book, but Bouton's right to tell (that is, your right to read), which is, again, as American as apple pie ...” —David Halberstam, writing for Harper's magazine, ca. 1970.
Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is one of the all-time classic baseball books, and it only took until my mid 50s to arrive at reading it. I grew up with this book in our house—my father owned and read it when it originally came out in 1970, and now I know that I couldn't possibly have appreciated it as a kid. This is a book squarely for adults ... although one could question whether it's entirely about adults.
In the spring of 1969, Jim Bouton was a 30-year-old former New York Yankees pitcher whose best years were getting further and further behind him. His fastball was fading, and so was his sore pitching arm. He decided to document his 1969 season while he worked on a knuckle ball that he hoped might resurrect his career in the major leagues.
The book is raucously funny in the early chapters. There are a number of good stories of Bouton's years with the Yankees. It notably lifts the mask from Mickey Mantle's superhero mystique and makes him into one of the guys—which isn't really a bad thing. Yankee fans especially howled at the sacrilege, but Mantle's larger than life reputation was unharmed. (Mantle’s drinking would do far more damage to his reputation—and his life—years later.)
I've read a fair number of baseball books, some of them pretty funny, but none of them are as hilarious as this—Bouton has a comic’s sense of timing. And no other baseball book was as brutally honest as this. Bouton tells hard truths—about player behavior, drinking, drug use (greenies, aka amphetamines), chasing women, road life, and about himself, as well.
And perhaps most importantly, it's about organizational behavior and the divisions within American society. This is why David Halberstam was right to say it's not about sports. It's about people and the way they treat each other. It's about owners and managers treating their employees like dirt, making kneejerk decisions based in legacy thinking. You can learn a lot about how not to deal with employees from this book. Passive aggressive behavior abounds. Progressive ideas are actively, bitterly discouraged. Bouton and fellow pitcher Mike Marshall are ostracized as weirdos by their teammates because they're perceived as smart. There's a palpable anti-intellectual undercurrent—something that continues to persist throughout our country.
The regular season begins, and Bouton lasts only two games with the expansion Seattle Pilots before being sent to the Vancouver minor league team. After a few weeks he returns to the major league club, but the team is reluctant (to put it mildly) to use him as a starter. Bouton is continually frustrated by the team's stubbornness. The knuckle ball is just too weird for the old timers. The writing reflects Bouton's mood—we see little of the levity of the book's first quarter. He eventually appears in 57 games for the Pilots, exclusively in middle relief, with almost no innings in critical situations—his help to the club is largely off the scoresheets.
And then there's something like a miracle—Bouton is dealt to the Houston Astros, a better team that is fighting for the lead in the National League West. The team's leadership seems more open minded than the dinosaurs in Seattle, and the players are more optimistic about their future. Bouton’s mood improves, and we start to see his humor again in the last third.
The emotional high point of the book occurs when Bouton gets his first start of the season with Houston against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitches well, hangs in for ten innings, giving his team a chance at winning, only to lose the game on a seeing eye line shot in the 10th. This is the book's climax, a juxtaposition of a personal victory in the face of defeat. He was finally the warrior in the arena, something he worked all season for. For Bouton it's a triumph, the pinnacle of his season—he is elated that he pitched well, and the loss is negligible by comparison. He called his wife and his siblings to share his joy, and with this story, the book achieved the right closure.
Bouton was effectively excommunicated from the major leagues the following year, due to the revelations shared in Ball Four. It is especially telling that MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried (unsuccessfully) to bully Bouton into signing a statement disavowing the book—something that said more about Kuhn and the baseball establishment than about Jim Bouton.
Ball Four is a peek behind the curtain of the Great and Powerful Oz of major league baseball. I forget who said it, but there's an idea about the press that their job is to report things that authorities don't want told. And while I don't entirely agree with that view, Ball Four certainly makes it ring very true. It told uncomfortable truths about baseball that needed to be said. It remains one of the game's enduring works.
I'm not a baseball fan, but early this year I heard a brief interview with Jim Bouton and there was something about him that caught my attention - perhaps his voice (you can hear his smile in his voice), perhaps it was his word choice or maybe it was his humor. Regardless, something got to me and I sought out this book. I had a choice between reading it and listening and, because it was read by the author, I opted to get the audiobook.
Ball Four is only superficially a book about baseball and you don't need to understand or love baseball to get this book. Ball Four is a coming of age story ... about an adult and for an adult. Bouton is a superb storyteller and observer, but he is also philosopher, a pundit, a prankster and a child. The book at first seems like diary entries or a series of vignettes, but all of a sudden you find you are immersed and entwined in the life of a very special, yet very human, man. For me baseball was just a framework for the story of a man growing into another man over the period of 30 years. Bouton first opens his mind to the readers, and then he opens his heart - his hopes, fears, dreams, moments when he is great and moments when he is flawed. I laughed (a lot), and I cried (in a good way), and going through Jim Bouton's journey made me a little less scared and a lot more accepting of my own journey.
Jim's narration is as revealing as his writing and I encourage you to try this as an audiobook but I finished it only to run out and buy a hard copy so I could someday enjoy this book at a slower pace and linger... this is a book I will recommend to friends over and over.
Given the book is on multiple "the best lists" I can't imagine how I missed it all these years. I consider this books one of my top 100 books... a desert island book... and one I know that I will read again and again.
I love baseball like I love life, and I love this baseball book above all others. I’ve read it at least three times, and re-read parts of it many more times, and I never get tired of it. Jim Bouton deserves to be considered one of our greatest writers, in my opinion, and this one of our greatest American books.
Prior to 1970, the rule in baseball was you better not talk publicly about what the sport and its participants were really like in the clubhouse, on the field, and traveling from city to city. But then along came Jim Bouton. Once a flame-throwing, twenty-game winner and starting pitcher for the New York Yankees, Bouton lost his fastball and found himself working middle relief for the expansion Seattle Pilots, desperately trying to develop a knuckleball and taking notes about pro ball player shenanigans that would eventually be crafted into the book, Ball Four, which went on to be named one of the Greatest 100 Non-Fiction Books of All Time by Time Magazine.
When Ball Four hit the shelves in 1970, it caused an instant uproar. Players, managers, coaches, and club executives couldn’t believe that one of their own had gone public with such a behind-the-scene tale of promiscuity, carousing, illicit drugs, and general all around jackassery. A similar book released today would draw barely a raised eyebrow, but jaded 21st century readers should remember that professional baseball players use to be looked upon by the general public as demigods who could do no wrong. Back then Mickey Mantle wasn’t a loudmouthed alcoholic but rather an all American boy from Oklahoma who could knock the cover off the ball.
The baseball establishment came down hard on Bouton essentially for having the intestinal fortitude to tell the truth about pro baseball. He was quickly branded a traitor and “social leper.” With echoes of the Spanish Inquisition in the background, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Bouton into his office and tried to force him to recant the events portrayed in Ball Four, saying the publication of that nastiness was “detrimental to baseball.” No dice, Mr. Kuhn. There are some people you just can’t strong arm.
These days, would the last person who still believes ballplayers are a breed apart please turn out the lights as you leave? This is no condemnation. They are simply human beings like the rest of us, with all the flaws, foibles, and stupidity that entails.
Ball Four is presented in diary form, with Bouton providing day-by-day details of games, travel, minor-league demotions, and trades along the way. Written with real humor and skill by Bouton and accomplice, New York sportwriter Leonard Shecter, Ball Four dared to assert that players spent a large part of their time ogling women in the stands (called beaver shooting) and popping amphetamines in the clubhouse like candy.
But perhaps the real power of the book comes from Bouton’s anxiety over making the transition from a true star who threw so hard his hat fell off with every pitch to a little-used reliever trying to master the unpredictable (to both pitcher and hitter) knuckleball and hang on to a job. As a lifelong sports fan who somehow reached the age of 44 having never read Ball Four – all I can say is the wait was worth it. Make no mistake, though, this book is for anyone who appreciates a glimpse behind the curtain to places where riff raff like us aren’t often invited.
The updated version of Ball Four includes new material by Bouton tracing his move into middle age and beyond, and chronicles his comeback attempt with the Atlanta Braves, the loss of his daughter to a car wreck, the break-up of his first marriage, and an eventual acceptance of the fact that his aging body could no longer allow him to even pitch in local summer leagues for fun.
Sad to say, baseball nut that I am, this book stayed below my radar for years on end, when it finally became a known quantity in my life as a fan I viewed it as something rather like Great Expectations definitely on the reading list, just waiting for you to tackle it and be stunned.
However, rarely does the book live up to the hype. I fully expected a gripping story full of mystery and wonder, wit and grace, evocative prose reliving the highs and lows of a season on the road. And in the course of the novel Bouton certainly does have his moments of exalted eloquence, the single sentence: "sometimes I forget to tingle" alone is worth the read.
Yet, most of the book is mundane, filled with the quotidian events in a season as a ballplayer. It's 162 games, it's months and months of your life, it's tiring, exhausting, spirit-crushing work (particularly if you're anything less than the greatest player ever), and Bouton chronicles that part of the season masterfully. The locker room banter, the minor fracases and major feuds, the games they play, the haggling with owners and executives, the women--my god--the women. And while much of the book is full of inside jokes, there's enough to amuse anyone and several insightful observations about the growing sentiment of anti-intellectualism in the 1960s. (Best of all, he hates the Yankees, how can any baseball fan (other than Yankees fans) not love the book when he hates the Yankees so much.)
While I prefer my baseball literature in a more compelling, dramatic vein, I do appreciate the subtle graces and easy pleasures of a season with a washed up knuckle-ball pitcher with absurd philosophies and good dose of charm.
Whenever you want to complain about how much baseball players are making, read this book about the times during the reserve clause when owners owned the rights to players in perpetuity. Jim Bouton was a young fireballer who was used as piece of meat by the Yankees then discarded a few seasons later when he blew out his arm. "Ball Four" follows his story a few years after that, when he is desperately trying to keep his major league career going by developing a knuckleball, a pitch his old-school manager and coaches distrust. The year is 1969, the team is the failed experiment that is the Seattle Pilots, and the hero is not the guy who wins the big game, but the guy who is filling out the roster. Bouton describes the game from a different point of view than what can be gleaned from the box scores or observed from the grandstand. In the clubhouse, brains and ballplayers don't mix, management treat players more like inventory than people, and the worst thing you can do is question any of it. Suffice to say, it's the perfect analogy for corporate drudgery.
"Ball Four" is the April Baseball Book Club selection, author is Jim Bouton.
Jim Bouton played professional baseball as a pitcher from 1962 to 1970. It's unheard of to have a pitcher play for that long, because of eventual and certain damage to a throwing arm. He played with and against some of the great players of the time: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Stan Musial, Whitey Ford and lots more. The reason he lasted so long in the game was because of his one great pitch, the knuckleball. The throwing motion for this pitch does not wreak havoc on your arm the way 100 mph fastballs, curves and sliders do. His book made him a legend among fans, but a pariah among some fellow players, coaches, team owners and last but not least, the commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn.
Every day he wrote in a journal about what happened during games, in the locker room, on buses to the next game, at hotels, etc. He told stories about players partying habits and their nocturnal excursions. He wrote about salary negotiations and trades. Not being on the receiving end, I didn't see the harm. I thought the stories were hilarious.
Ball Four is written like a diary with some anecdotes and memories. The end of the book discusses his times and travels after playing. He was a sportscaster for example and entrepreneur. He met Ted Turner who gave a come back shot at playing again in th Atlanta Braves organization, and he did well pitching in his late thirties. He also discusses the aftermath of the book and how players would not speak to him. I enjoyed this part of the book best. He tells too of his personal life, divorce and the tragic loss of his beautiful 30 yr. old daughter, Laurie.
Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" is one of the most widely read books on Baseball. Any sports fan would enjoy it.
It’s impossible for me to properly rate this book, I think, because one of the lenses that impact a review is the context in which the book is released and its cultural significance. And because I am reading this book nearly fifty years after its publication, I don’t have the immediate impact of its release, although it is not hard for me to imagine. Bouton was a major league pitcher for several teams, most notably the Yankees. Ball Four is a running diary of his 1969 baseball season with the expansion Seattle Pilots (now Brewers) and Houston Astros. By this point in his career, Bouton had lost his fastball and was trying to pitch as a knuckleballer. Bouton chronicles his spring training experience, his feelings when he is sent to the minors, his joy and frustration with pitching for the Pilots in sporadic relief situations, his emotions when he is traded to the Astros, and his ongoing frustration with various aspects of professional baseball (salary negotiations, the inequity of power between owners and players, life on the road, etc). Reading this book in 2017 in the age of selfies, paparazzi, social media and me-first millennials, and all I see is another individual broadcasting the minutiae of his life to the world in a display of narcissism. While Instagram allows us today to see what a star athlete ate for dinner, when this book was released in 1970, it gave the reader an unprecedented look into private lives. Even more, while today we know all of the foibles of our athletes, in 1969, athletes were still hero worshipped and idealized. Ball Four revealed ballplayers to be drunks and adulterers and drug-users (particularly amphetamines), which stunned the sensibilities of those who considered baseball and its players sacrosanct. No wonder Bouton was blackballed from baseball for so long.
Understanding the cultural impact of this book, however, did not improve my opinion of it – which is to say, I did not enjoy reading it. First, in 1969, Bouton scribbled notes and observations throughout the day as they occurred to him, and the prose reads like it. Each sentence and paragraph was often completely disconnected from the preceding sentence or paragraph. This read very much like a running diary, which is to say, full of non-sequiturs, and too ADD for my tastes. Secondly, I side with the many players who held decades-long grudges towards Bouton for what they perceived as Bouton’s betrayal of their confidence. Bouton shares the names of players and the conversations they had with each other about hooking up with groupies, or grooving a pitch to allow another player to end the season with a .300 batting average. These private conversations between teammates is absolutely NOT something you share without their knowledge or consent – especially when it’s released so soon after such conversations actually occurred. If Bouton had written a memoir thirty years later and shared stories that would not harm his teammates so long after the incidents occurred, that’s one thing. But to share conversations about adulterous dalliances in practically real-time? Unforgivable. My feelings towards Bouton certainly affected how I felt reading through the book. Thirdly, in the version of the book I read, it included “Ball Five”, “Ball Six”, and “Ball Seven” – essentially epilogues that were included in later editions where Bouton shared more recent musings about reactions to his book and updates on the lives of the players mentioned in the book. And in much of these epilogues, Bouton uses these sections to self-righteously justify his actions. These sections only made me want to punch him in the face. I will note that in the last section in the book, Bouton shares about the impact the death of one of his daughters had on him, how he coped with it, and how it led to his invitation (finally) to a Yankees Old Timer’s Day. That section is a solid read, and if it the rest of the book had been like that, I would have rated this book 1-2 stars higher. But as it is, that section does not save the rest of this poorly-written diary.
Ball Four was a favorite book of my adolescent years. Written in 1970, it was a top selling memoir of Bouton's 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots (remember them? - I didn't) and the Houston Astros, to whom he was traded. The book exploded like a bomb, because Bouton named names and put so many in Major League Baseball - specific owners, GM's, managers, pitching coaches and players on the hot seat for their behavior.
That year, Bouton took notes on his everyday life, and the book was assembled by him and Leonard Shechter and presented in diary form, which makes for easy reading. The inside scoop on a baseball player's life is wonderfully entertaining, 1000% more so than the routine sportswriter stuff the average fan reads about his team in the paper. But I do have mixed feelings about tell-alls. I can understand the outrage of those who feel they were betrayed by Bouton. How would you feel if your personal conversations with a co-worker suddenly went into a best-selling book ?
The background is that Jim Bouton was a pretty successful pitcher who came up in the early 60's with the New York Yankees, and won two games for them in the 1964 World Series. Over time, he lost his best stuff and transitioned into a knuckleball pitcher. As we join him in 1969, he has been acquired by the first year expansion Seattle Pilots, and spends the season there and then in Houston trying to perfect the knuckleball. (I started the book on March 8th, and promptly read that that is his birthday.) In addition to the difficulty in throwing a good knuckleball, Bouton is frustrated by two daily issues. While the knuckleball is easy on the arm, it requires continuous practice and his coaches keep getting on him because they think he's throwing too much. And catchers are loathe to warm him up, because the ball floats all over the place, and has injured their throwing hands.
As a teenager, I was enthralled to learn that grown-up men were as sex-crazed as I was. You'll learn all about the major league art of beaver-shooting. My brother and I both played baseball, he to the major league tryout level. We still tell stories from the book to this day. Other adolescent-level humor includes cup checks, chin music and the all-ugly squad. Bouton uses his platform to pepper in favorite stories from his old days with the Yankees, too.
A lot of anger is directed toward THE SYSTEM, owners, GM's, managers and coaches. But of course Bouton has plenty of opinions about his teammates, too. He respects and gets along with most of them, a few are a__holes and a few are saints. The only thing that doesn't ring true to me is his assessment of major league pitching coaches as essentially useless. He quotes them using inane truisms, which I'm sure happens, but I struggle with his implication that, even for traditional pitcher teammates, they had very little help to offer with pitching mechanics.
Rereading “Ball Four” for the first time since 1970, I was struck by how today’s readers would be baffled by the impact that the book originally had on the sports world. In an era when it’s not unusual for sports figures to tweet their comments about coaches, fans, and fellow players immediately following a game, I’m not sure that today’s fan realizes what a big deal “Ball Four” once was. Pitcher Jim Bouton’s candor about his teammates (past and present), coaches, managers and Major League Baseball itself was ground-breaking and best-selling. While the book’s revelations may seem mild today, at the time they made Bouton many enemies. Part of the fun in rereading “Ball Four” is to gauge how far (some might say how low) we’ve come in tell all sports memoirs since the 1970’s. The other part is enjoying Jim Bouton’s daily struggles as he tries to remain in the majors while extending his years as a pitcher by mastering the knuckleball. Bouton candidly and humorously captured in his daily journal that exasperating year giving “Ball Four” a universal appeal that doesn’t age, even if the ballplayers (and fans) ultimately do. Recommended.
A reread. I remember loving the book 100 years ago when I 1st read it. More discerning now, I was a little disappointed to think the prose a little ordinary. My fault, I know. I shouldn't expect a man who can throw a knuckleball to also be able to write like John Updike. But I found it less interesting, too. Mine is the expended edition, called The Complete Ball Four filling in Bouton's life since baseball. I found I wasn't interested at all in Balls 5, 6, and 7.
I thought it not as sensational as my earlier, younger reading. These days I don't expect baseball players to be cleancut and morally sparkling--more like men at work, as George F. Will so insightfully saw them. So Bouton's celebrated revelations about bad behavior don't captivate or amuse a reader as they once did.
Still, these are wonderful stories of the game and the people Bouton was associated with.
3.5 stars for the original book and 5 stars for the epilogues.
I read the last version with an update by Bouton's second wife Paula Kurman. She mentioned his death in 2019 from vascular dementia and I had that polite and distant feeling ("that's too bad") about people we really don't know. With his death in mind I felt the same way after finishing the original book. The epilogues deepened the feeling to sorrow.
Set in successive 10 year periods the three epilogues, written by Bouton, depict his life after the initial publication of Ball Four and they provide a level depth and range not seen in the book. The third epilogue opens with tragic news (which is especially poignant considering the update near the end of the second epilogue) and Bouton says he's not the same man who wrote Ball Four. Sadly it's true but the resulting update is beautifully written and deeply felt. As I read the third epilogue I went back to Paula Kurman's introduction and had a better appreciation for her description of Jim Bouton and the man he became.
The book itself is very good. The quote on the cover from David Halberstam says it's not a sports book. I think he got a bit carried away there and would suggest it's more than a sports book, slightly. Written about the 1969 MLB season Bouton kept detailed notes from spring training through the end of the season and tells about his experiences on a day-by-day basis. He writes of his time with the expansion Seattle Pilots who, of course, became the...Milwaukee Brewers. (I can't be the only person that thought they would become the Seattle Mariners, right?) A lot of this material deals with the behind-the-scenes interactions of professional baseball players and team management. Probably ground breaking at the time and probably still somewhat relevant 50 years later Bouton lays bare the interrelationships between players, coaches and management; drug and alcohol use; womanizing; insecurities of players; and much more. Bouton reminds us that these great athletes are people after all and they experience the same feelings as the rest of us.
The writing is good, the editing is excellent and Bouton is an effective communicator. I think his main goal was to shine a light on the hidden wackiness in baseball and he more than succeeded. He also talks about issues of race and his own disapproval of throwing at hitters. He came across as a bright and decent guy and as the book's narrator that was a plus.
Despite the controversy in 1970, the book would probably be forgotten by now if not for humor and insight spread among the gossip. Bouton has great comic timing and he has no hint of political correctness in his descriptions of events and people. There were and are a number of critics that have applauded his revelations about what really happens inside the clubhouse, but those descriptions seem tame by today’s standards. What is still shocking is how he didn’t mind naming names of ballplayers and their foibles. I cringed a couple of times and wondered why he found it necessary to do so when the stories had entertainment value on their own. You come to conclusion that Bouton saw himself as an outsider and the book was a revenge fantasy of sorts. To his credit he gives plenty of people good marks, but he can be a little cruel at times when he exposes these unsophisticated ballplayers that were just trying to make a living in a competitive environment. Just as interesting were his updates three decades in a row where he reflects on how the book changed his life and how the characters have fared since. In that portion he makes amends with many of the people he skewered earlier. I first read a used copy of this book in the late 80s and I liked it every bit as much this time around, especially to see that Jim Bouton has grown since those days.
Billed as one of the most (if not the most) important sports book ever, Ball Four reads as a diary of Jim Bouton's struggle to stay relevant in 1969 having reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher. It's important because at the time it blew the lid off the use of "Greenies" (amphetamines) womanizing, overdrinking, and other such habits rampant in the baseball world.
Now, on its own with all of these things common knowledge, the book still reads well. There's as much in there about illegal activities as there is about his kids. Bouton keeps the story grounded and doesn't read like the average baseball player memoirs. Witty, informative, and smart, I reccomend it.
I have read dozens of baseball books before getting around to “Ball Four,” and I wish I had read Bouton’s book earlier. I really enjoyed the telling of the escapades of a major leaguer (and for a few days, a minor leaguer) over the course of a season. Bouton tells the story of his time with the Seattle Pilots and their farm club as well as his mid-season trade to the Houston Astros in 1969. I felt an affinity to Bouton and the Pilots – I started collecting baseball cards from that season and got the one year’s worth of Pilots before they moved and changed names. As a beginner baseball fan, by the next season I had quickly learned that teams were transient. I enjoyed Bouton’s diary-like description of his season. You got the impression he was stealing time away from his job and his family time to write, so you get some summaries along the way. Beyond the “boys will be boys” type of stories about his fellow players, he also includes his thoughts of baseball management throughout the book. He spends quite a bit of time analyzing the managers, and you sense Bounton feels he needs to understand his managers to their fullest in order to excel in his own craft of pitching knuckleballs. You understand he is correct by the end.
I liked the many funny stories. The humor holds up after decades. The longest sections were probably the ones about the players union. These weren’t as interesting, but Bouton had decided to act as a journalist, so he covered the serious as well as the funny stories in this season. As I mentioned, I have read many other baseball books, most written after “Ball Four” and many detailing a season with the same kinds of funny stories. Some of these other books I would say I enjoyed reading even more than “Ball Four” – they tended to be more consistently funny and outrageous (like, say Dirk Hayhurst’s first). Ah, the fate of an early classic – followers can take the best of the formula and make it even better.
I read an updated version of “Ball Four” with extra chapters describing author Bouton’s life in subsequent years. This was quite a valuable addition. The stories are of a wiser person. I was glad to see my neighborhood mentioned when talking about Bouton’s invention of Big League Chew chewing gum. The plant he mentions visiting in the book was about a mile away from where I currently live, and I’ve been told that when that plant was making Big League Chew our neighborhood smelled like bubble gum. They tore down that factory the year I moved here, so I missed it. The very last chapter detailing the loss of Bouton’s daughter is truly heartbreaking. I felt it changed the mood of the entire book from a mostly upbeat tone to a more melancholic and reflective one. By adding those extra chapters, Bouton turns a comedic book into one that reflects his entire life. After reading this, I feel more inclined to read Bouton’s other works.
Having just read Jim Bouton’s Ball Four for the first time, I’ll call it overrated. Sporting News and Goodreads each give it the #2 spot all-time for baseball books. Peter Dreier of Huffington Post puts it at #7, and Esquire rates it #14. Men’s Journal includes it in its 10 baseball “must reads.” I would not place it in my top 20. Granted, for the time (1970), critically exposing the inner workings of professional baseball was new and long past due.
In 1970, I was a 19-year-old who followed baseball (Go Twins!) and had a somewhat sheltered suburban life experience including 5 years of competitive swimming locker-room and poolside banter, including two years of college. Had I read Ball Four at that time, I would have been surprised to learn that “uppers” were commonly used. I would not have been surprised to read that professional baseball players • Overindulged in alcohol • Actively pursued “groupie” sex on road trips • Talked trash in locker rooms, buses, planes, and bullpens • Played sophomoric pranks on one another • Creatively sought “beaver shots” • Were treated badly by general managers and owners Hence, although Bouton broke the “code of silence” and was ostracized for that, Ball Four falls well short of revelatory for me.
Although Bouton admirably criticizes his pitching performances, an undercurrent of overconfidence pervades his self-analysis as well as his assessments of players, coaches, managers, and team executives. It becomes easy to understand why baseball insiders might have found the book offensive regardless of his violation of the prevailing norm, “What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.”
I read the Twentieth Anniversary Edition, which included 10-year (Ball Five) and 20-year (Ball Six) epilogues. I found these more interesting than the book.
My mom recently tried to read Bouton's baseball diary, but couldn't get past March 7. I picked it up and am rereading it yet again, enjoying it as much as ever. I've read it more than 20 times and it still means so much to me. If any book could be said to have changed my life, it would be this one.
Bouton was an iconoclast, a breed apart from most other ballplayers, and not just because he read books that didn't have pictures. He spoke up for himself, he stuck to his guns (even as he knew it was costing him professionally), and he did it with a sense of humor. And even in a working world that held different values that his and often kept him at arm's length, he still found like-minded people and made friends.
Ball Four is funny, raunchy, aggravating, heartening, and above all *real*.
Full disclosure: I once wrote Bouton a letter telling him what the book had meant to me growing up. At the end of the week he called me up and told me how much my letter had meant to him. Now how could you not appreciate a writer who takes the time to do that?