Jim Bouton dead at 80

terrynever

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SABR:
We're saddened to learn Jim Bouton, 80, has died. The former @Yankees All-Star pitcher revolutionized baseball journalism and literature as the author of "Ball Four" — named one of @nypl's best books of the 20th century. #SABR bio: sabr.org/bioproj/person…

A baseball star like no other, Jim Bouton changed modern sports with his book, Ball Four, which he wrote in bits and pieces while playing for the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969. Bouton never changed a word. Manager Joe Schultz’s use of the double epithet “shitfuck” took on mythic proportions. Mickey Mantle didn’t talk to Bouton for 20 years because the book detailed players, including Mantle, fooling around on the road.

Bouton was a pretty good pitcher for the Yankees before blowing his arm out and hanging on as a knuckleballer. He won 21 games in 1963 and 18 a year later. Good heater, big curveball.
 
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thehitcat

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Shitfuck this sucks. The book Bouton wrote and the stories he told are some of the only true views most of us will ever get into a major league clubhouse.
 

Nuf Ced

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"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."

Goodbye Bulldog. It's time to enjoy the cool of the evening.
 

terrynever

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"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."

Goodbye Bulldog. It's time to enjoy the cool of the evening.
Such a great quote. That should be Bouton’s epitaph.
 

jon abbey

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I read so many sports books growing up, and Ball Four was one of the very best and most memorable, along with Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay. RIP sir.
 
Jul 5, 2018
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SABR:
We're saddened to learn Jim Bouton, 80, has died. The former @Yankees All-Star pitcher revolutionized baseball journalism and literature as the author of "Ball Four" — named one of @nypl's best books of the 20th century. #SABR bio: sabr.org/bioproj/person…

A baseball star like no other, Jim Bouton changed modern sports with his book, Ball Four, which he wrote in bits and pieces while playing for the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969. Bouton never changed a word. Manager Joe Schultz’s use of the double epithet “shitfuck” took on mythic proportions. Mickey Mantle didn’t talk to Bouton for 20 years because the book detailed players, including Mantle, fooling around on the road.

Bouton was a pretty good pitcher for the Yankees before blowing his arm out and hanging on as a knuckleballer. He won 21 games in 1963 and 18 a year later. Good heater, big curveball.

I first read Ball Four when I was 12 and ended up reading it about 5 times. I almost felt like I knew Bouton personally. It was hilarious and insightful. One thing he wrote was that when you see a hot team, everyone is smiling and having a good time so why do people expect players on a losing team to look all pissed off and serious. It seems that people had that expectation of the Sox when they were struggling this year.

As for Mantle, I don't remember Bouton writing about him fooling around on the road. He commented on his drinking and being rude to his fans, but those were the only criticisms I remember. The other stories were about some practical jokes and how Mantle led groups of guys on roofs of hotels to hopefully see women undressing through windows.

I thought Mantle overreacted to the book and for me he came across as being a pretty good teammate.
 

JimBoSox9

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Unless one is a certain age, I think it's really hard to fully internalize the impact and importance of Ball Four. We live in a Juiced era, but back then it simply Wasn't. Done. Along with Bull Durham, for me Ball Four is the definitive artistic depiction of what it's like to live in a baseball clubhouse for six months. If it hadn't been Bouton to do it, it would have been someone else, later and less well, but it was Bouton, and he changed the game in a way only a handful can lay claim to. RIP
 

The Gray Eagle

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He really loved baseball and was a really interesting and fun guy.

Some highlights from Bouton's wikipedia page, including a lot of stuff I never knew about him:

Upon its publication, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Ball Four "detrimental to baseball", and tried to force Bouton to sign a statement saying that the book was completely fictional. Bouton, however, refused to deny any of Ball Four's revelations. Some teammates never forgave him for disclosing information given to him in confidence, and naming names. The book made Bouton unpopular with many players, coaches, and officials on other teams as well; he was informally blacklisted from baseball.

Bouton retired midway through the 1970 season... Bouton left baseball to become a local sports anchor for New York station WABC-TV, as part of Eyewitness News; he later held the same job for WCBS-TV.

Bouton also became an actor, playing the part of Terry Lennox in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), plus the lead role of Jim Barton in the 1976 CBS television series Ball Four, which was loosely adapted from the book and was canceled after five episodes.

Bouton launched his comeback bid with the Portland Mavericks of the Class A Northwest League in 1975, compiling a 5–1 record.[2]

In 1978, Ted Turner signed Bouton to a contract with the Atlanta Braves. After a successful season with the Savannah Braves of the Class AA Southern League, he was called up to join Atlanta's rotation in September, and compiled a 1–3 record in five starts.

His winding return to the majors was chronicled in a book by sportswriter Terry Pluto, The Greatest Summer.

Once his baseball career ended a second time, Bouton became one of the inventors of "Big League Chew", a shredded bubblegum designed to resemble chewing tobacco and sold in a tobacco-like pouch.

He also co-authored Strike Zone (a baseball novel) and edited an anthology about managers, entitled I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad. His most recent book is Foul Ball (published 2003), a non-fiction account of his unsuccessful attempt to save Wahconah Park, a historic minor league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

In 1997, his daughter Laurie was killed in a car accident at age 31.[7]

In 2012, Bouton suffered a stroke that did not impair him physically but damaged his memory and speaking. [9]

Bouton promoted the Vintage Base Ball Federation to form vintage clubs and leagues internationally, to codify the rules and equipment of its 19th-century origins, and to organize competitions.[2]

Bouton was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention for George McGovern.[5]
 

mwonow

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"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."

Goodbye Bulldog. It's time to enjoy the cool of the evening.
Such a great quote. That should be Bouton’s epitaph.
Great quote, and no argument. But for whatever reason (probably because I was young when I read it), the passage that stuck with me was this: the team was riding a bus from the airport to the Shoreham Hotel in Washington (and) we passed a huge government building that had a bronze plaque on the front announcing it had been ‘erected in 1929.’ And Greg Goossen said, ‘That’s quite an erection.’”
 
Jul 5, 2018
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Great quote, and no argument. But for whatever reason (probably because I was young when I read it), the passage that stuck with me was this: the team was riding a bus from the airport to the Shoreham Hotel in Washington (and) we passed a huge government building that had a bronze plaque on the front announcing it had been ‘erected in 1929.’ And Greg Goossen said, ‘That’s quite an erection.’”
Here's a famous quote by Casey Stengal about Greg Goosen that was in Ball Four:

"This is Greg Goossen,” said Old Case. “He’s 19 years old, and in 10 years, he’s got a chance to be 29.”
 

terrynever

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Bouton’s Ball Four, written collaboratively with NYC scribe Leonard Shecter, himself a piece of work, was not quite as groundbreaking as everyone seems to be saying in the wake of his death.
Truth is, Cincinnati Reds reliever Jim Brosnan wrote the template for Bouton’s book in 1959. His book was called “The Long Season.” Brosnan, nicknamed “The Professor” by his teammates, wrote his book all by himself. He went behind the scenes, too, but the Reds of 1959 were not quite as compelling as Bouton’s Yankee teammates, or the players on the 1969 Seattle Pilots.
Brosnan was at his best describing bullpen conversations with his teammates. He had a reporter’s ear for dialogue. He used the familiar greeting “Meat” for many of his teammates.
Two years later, Brosnan followed up with “The Pennant Race” that traced the Reds’ path to the World Series in 1961.
Brosnan took a more intellectual approach to his books while Bouton was more of a smart-ass. Brosnan opened the door to players’ lives but did not violate their trust. Players also knew he was taking notes. Bouton’s intentions were known only to a few.
On my short list of great baseball books, The Long Season remains first with Boys of Summer second and Ball Four third. Everyone’s list is personal.
Is there a thread for great baseball books on SOSH? Because we’re only scratching the surface here.
 

TheBoomah

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Here's a famous quote by Casey Stengal about Greg Goosen that was in Ball Four:

"This is Greg Goossen,” said Old Case. “He’s 19 years old, and in 10 years, he’s got a chance to be 29.”
From Goossen's Wiki page:

"While at the gym in 1988, his brother Joe asked him to meet with actor Gene Hackman, who was doing research for the film Split Decisions. Soon afterward the two became friends, and the actor hired Goossen to work as his stand-in. Hackman had written into his contracts that Goossen would serve as his stand-in for every film he did. Goossen appeared in 15 of Hackman's movies between 1989 and 2003, including Unforgiven, The Firm, Get Shorty and Wyatt Earp."
 

shaggydog2000

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I loved Ball Four when I read it in college, and I believe I had the version with his 20th anniversary update. It was remarkably funny and human. One of my favorite stories was the one about playing in the minors for a stretch with (I think) the Vancouver minor league team of the Pilots. They had a road game in Hawaii, and he described the amazing weather, the view from the ball park of the ocean, and eating teriyaki (or sushi maybe?) in the bullpen, and thought to himself "If I played here and got called up, I don't think I'd go."
 

Skiponzo

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I actually got to meet him later in life when he was working on preserving Wahconah Park in Pittsfield MA (my hometown). This was right around the time he wrote Foul Ball so I got him to sign mine. He was a bulldog but I found him intelligent and kind, RIP Jim. You changed baseball for the better in my opinion.
 

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Gary Bell, a decent journeyman pitcher who passed through Boston during the Impossible Dream year (and made quite an impact) was featured quite a bit in Ball Four. He was not protected by the Red Sox for the expansion draft in '68 and was promptly drafted by the Pilots. He was Bouton's first roommate at Seattle. Gary started, went nine, doubled in two runs and shutout the White Sox in the Pilots' home opener.

I had the opportunity to ask him once, "So what about 'Ball Four?' All true?"

"Every word," he told me.
 

patinorange

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He really loved baseball and was a really interesting and fun guy.

Some highlights from Bouton's wikipedia page, including a lot of stuff I never knew about him:

Upon its publication, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Ball Four "detrimental to baseball", and tried to force Bouton to sign a statement saying that the book was completely fictional. Bouton, however, refused to deny any of Ball Four's revelations. Some teammates never forgave him for disclosing information given to him in confidence, and naming names. The book made Bouton unpopular with many players, coaches, and officials on other teams as well; he was informally blacklisted from baseball.

Bouton retired midway through the 1970 season... Bouton left baseball to become a local sports anchor for New York station WABC-TV, as part of Eyewitness News; he later held the same job for WCBS-TV.

Bouton also became an actor, playing the part of Terry Lennox in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), plus the lead role of Jim Barton in the 1976 CBS television series Ball Four, which was loosely adapted from the book and was canceled after five episodes.

Bouton launched his comeback bid with the Portland Mavericks of the Class A Northwest League in 1975, compiling a 5–1 record.[2]

In 1978, Ted Turner signed Bouton to a contract with the Atlanta Braves. After a successful season with the Savannah Braves of the Class AA Southern League, he was called up to join Atlanta's rotation in September, and compiled a 1–3 record in five starts.

His winding return to the majors was chronicled in a book by sportswriter Terry Pluto, The Greatest Summer.

Once his baseball career ended a second time, Bouton became one of the inventors of "Big League Chew", a shredded bubblegum designed to resemble chewing tobacco and sold in a tobacco-like pouch.

He also co-authored Strike Zone (a baseball novel) and edited an anthology about managers, entitled I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad. His most recent book is Foul Ball (published 2003), a non-fiction account of his unsuccessful attempt to save Wahconah Park, a historic minor league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

In 1997, his daughter Laurie was killed in a car accident at age 31.[7]

In 2012, Bouton suffered a stroke that did not impair him physically but damaged his memory and speaking. [9]

Bouton promoted the Vintage Base Ball Federation to form vintage clubs and leagues internationally, to codify the rules and equipment of its 19th-century origins, and to organize competitions.[2]

Bouton was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention for George McGovern.[5]
Thanks for this post.
What an interesting life. Ball Four was a great book. Altman’s The Long Goodbye is one of my favorite films. He was very good in that movie.
RIP Mr Bouton.
 

jon abbey

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Love the out of nowhere shot there at A-Rod, I completely agree with it.

“If you were ever in a foxhole, you’d want somebody like Mickey (Mantle) in there with you to just keep going. Unlike Alex Rodriguez, who’d want to get in the other guy’s foxhole and hide.”
 

MacChimpman

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When I was a kid, Jim Bouton told me one of the greatest sports stories I had ever heard.

I was very lucky to have had lunch with him many years ago, probably around 1979. During my early teens, I worked as a batboy for Orleans of the Cape League, and Jim Bouton came to speak at a league function in Hyannis. I was fortunate that he sat at our table, as I think he was friends with our coach Tom Yankus, (also drafted by the Yankees back in the day).

Bouton told this story about Mickey Mantle, who was the best ballplayer he ever saw. He told this story out of love and admiration, but he also knew that this would especially resonate with young ballplayers, since most players share a special brand of very dark humor.

(Forgive me for forgetting a few details)
He said that Mickey rarely missed a game due to his penchant for late night carousing, but there was one game against Minnesota where Mickey showed up the next day completely hung over. Ralph Houk understood, and told him to go sleep it off in the trainer’s room, and they would put somebody else in center field. The game eventually went into extra innings, and around the 13th inning, Houk said he really hated to do this, but go wake up Mickey, since I’m going to need him to pinch hit.

They went back to the trainer’s room and woke Mickey up and helped him into his uniform and pushed him down the tunnel. He couldn’t really see that well, never mind walk straight, and he said it was a good thing Mickey was a pinch hitter, since he could hit from whatever side of the plate he landed on. He staggered up to the plate, his eyes squinting from the light. He took one practice swing, and hit the first pitch 450 feet into the centerfield stands. Game over. The crowd went crazy. Mickey staggers around the bases, and even misses touching home plate, they push him back to touch it. Mickey looks up at the crowd and says “Those people have no idea how hard that really was.”

For a kid to hear this first hand- an insider’s eyewitness account of Mickey Mantle’s superhuman athletic ability was awe inspiring. To me, it made Mickey Mantle even more great.

Working for a baseball team for three seasons made such a strong impression on me which remains to this day. As a 14 year old, I learned so much about the universe, baseball, girls, physics, practical jokes, and snappin’ yellow hammers from hanging out with a bunch of accomplished older guys. I also came to know first hand how truly hilarious and sick baseball players are. Stories that cannot be told in polite company. Some cannot be told anywhere.

Ball Four is such a deeply important book. It is the only work of literature or film which, to my mind, accurately portrays the real baseball I knew, especially capturing the amazing and perverse humor and sick camaraderie which players share. (Imagine learning in 1970 that pitcher Marty Pattin had a killer impression of Donald Duck reaching orgasm.) I cannot imagine a world in which these stories are not told.

You were a great piece of work, Mr. Bouton. Rest in Peace
 
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Brand Name

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Not much more to say, but that was an absolutely tremendous post. Thank you for that. It is stories like those that connect the game and its legends to us to make this place as amazing as it is. So, so good.

As for the game itself for those curious, Mantle only had one PH walkoff homer in his career, of 13 overall, so I’m inclined to believe this is the game described above.
 

terrynever

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Great post indeed! And nice research, Jess.
My favorite Mantle pinch-hit homer was not a walkoff. But what drama. Mick broke a foot in June 1963, twisting it in the cyclone fence at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Out two months. Yanks playing a doubleheader on Aug. 4. Mick is close to returning. Second game, Orioles lead 10-9 in the seventh when Houk sends Mantle up to pinch-hit against lefty George Brunet. Of course, he homers to left to tie the game. At that point in his career, it seemed like Mantle would hit over .400 for full seasons against lefty pitchers. That was his best side. Bernie Williams was that way, too. (Update: Mantle hit .330 against lefties for his career, .403 in 1963.)
Anyway, great stories about Mick. He wasn’t always hung over, even though history seems to paint him that way, in retrospect.

 
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terrynever

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This is pretty good. Fangraphs checks veracity of Bouton’s stories. Most were true or had elements of truth. They think the hungover homer story is the 1963 homer off Brunet. Bouton said left field in the book.

 
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MacChimpman

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Wow, great research Jess. I always wondered about that. I retold it here just how Bouton told it to me, but I noticed in another place where he might have described it as IN Minnesota, which wouldn't account for the crowd going crazy. Another point I left out was that Bouton made the point that Mickey was never in the practice of missing games due to hang over, and this game was a bit of a fluke.

For the heck of it, I looked it up in Ball Four and found this:

I remember one time he’d been injured and didn’t expect to play, and I guess he got himself smashed. The next day he looked hung over out of his mind and was sent up to pinch-hit. He could hardly see. So he staggered up to the plate and hit a tremendous drive to left field for a home run. When he came back into the dugout everybody shook his hand and leaped all over him, and all the time he was getting a standing ovation from the crowd. He squinted out at the stands and said, “Those people don’t know how tough that really was.”
Bouton, Jim. Ball Four (RosettaBooks Sports Classics) (p. 30). Kindle Edition.

On a personal note, my wife is a super-brainy British nerd scientist. Before she was my wife, she broke her back in three places, and I nursed her back to health by reading a lot of books to her, one of which was Ball Four. She didn't know much about baseball, but ever the consummate gamer, she gave it a go. To my great surprise, she loved the book, and became something of a baseball fan after that, a huge debt I shall always owe to one Jim Bouton. She correctly learned that a baseball season is a long epic opera made up of many individual pains and triumphs, human pettiness and disappointment and quiet desperation. If you ever can imagine a bespectacled blonde lady with a posh British Dame Maggie Smith accent shouting "Come on, Mo, hit a dong!", that would be my wife.

Luckily for me, the depth of her sense of humor (and patience) is profound. A day after getting a massive cortisone injection into my hip and while in a pain-killer haze, I rolled off of her after having sex and was moved to quote The Mick himself “Those people don’t know how tough that really was.” We are still married.
 
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maufman

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My Dad dug up his copy of Ball Four for me when I was 11 or 12. I think he had forgotten how raunchy it was. Anyway, I’ve read it three or four times, and it’s probably part of why I’ve always been a baseball fan despite having little to no aptitude for or interest in actually playing the game. RIP.
 

jon abbey

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If you ever can imagine a bespectacled blonde lady with a posh British Dame Maggie Smith accent shouting "Come on, Mo, hit a dong!", that would be my wife.

Luckily for me, the depth of her sense of humor (and patience) is profound. A day after getting a massive cortisone injection into my hip and while in a pain-killer haze, I rolled off of her after having sex and was moved to quote The Mick himself “Those people don’t know how tough that really was.” We are still married.
This is amazing stuff, make more posts!! (not just in this thread)
 

Al Zarilla

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There is a bit in Ball Four in which Bouton talks about Yogi Berra. He was beloved by all Yankee fans and not even hated (as far as Yankees go) much by non-Yankee fans. However, Bouton wrote something like if you’d seen him naked in the clubhouse after a game, leaning as far as he could across the spread, well, you wouldn’t be eating any of the food closest to him which had touched his dangling parts. That’s the part I always remember most about Ball Four.
 

twibnotes

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Bouton was such an interesting guy. My in laws live in the Berkshires, and I always hoped I’d run into him.

Obviously “Ball Four” was amazing and super impactful, but I also really loved “Foul Ball” about his efforts to save Wahconah Park in Pittsfield. Great read for any baseball lover and you get a sense for sense for how principled Bouton could be and how much he loved the game.
 

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Bouton was such an interesting guy. My in laws live in the Berkshires, and I always hoped I’d run into him.

Obviously “Ball Four” was amazing and super impactful, but I also really loved “Foul Ball” about his efforts to save Wahconah Park in Pittsfield. Great read for any baseball lover and you get a sense for sense for how principled Bouton could be and how much he loved the game.
After the initial publication of Foul Ball, political changes in Pittsfield resulted in Bouton and his partners being invited back and asked to revive their plan to purchase the Berkshire Black Bears and renovate Wahconah Park. Part of the revised plan was to open up ownership of the team to the public, which is how I came to be a (relatively minor) investor in the partnership.

Of course, the second go round ended in a fashion similar to the initial effort, with local political forces/power brokers working behind the scenes to use their bureaucratic muscle to kill the project if they couldn't ensure that they would receive their cut. It was still quite an experience to be a very small part of it and watch from a distance.

Jim Bouton has been a hero of mine since I first read Ball Four as an eleven year old back in 1973. The world is a bit less interesting without him in it.
 

Humphrey

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Another great Goossen story was him yelling "first base!" from the catching position to an infielder on a bunt attempt. The fielder incorrectly threw the ball elsewhere. Bouton shouted out to a pissed off Goossen:. "Goose, he considered the source!"
 

CoolPapaBellhorn

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Truth is, Cincinnati Reds reliever Jim Brosnan wrote the template for Bouton’s book in 1959. His book was called “The Long Season.”
Two years later, Brosnan followed up with “The Pennant Race” that traced the Reds’ path to the World Series in 1961.
Thanks for this - I’ll have to check these out.

I usually don’t get too worked up over celebrity deaths, as these are people that I never really knew, but this one bums me out. My fantasy baseball team name was the Beaver Shooters for many years, and every once in a while something will remind me of the lyrics from “Proud To Be An Astro” and I’ll sing it to myself and chuckle for a few minutes. And of course there’s - in the words of Howard Bryant - the immortal Joe Schultz.

There was a conversation about death in “Ball Four” between Bouton and his adopted son David that also hits home now. Just a delightful, poignant book.
 

jacklamabe65

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1973, not long after Ball Four was published, and I am in Coach Jack Lamabe's office before fall practice one day. Lamabe, who played in the Big Leagues from 1962-69, was leafing through some baseball books when I asked him, "Coach, I loved Ball Four. How much of that was true?"

He smiled, put his fingers to his lip in a "shhh" mode, and then said, "All of it."
 

terrynever

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Thanks for this - I’ll have to check these out.

I usually don’t get too worked up over celebrity deaths, as these are people that I never really knew, but this one bums me out. My fantasy baseball team name was the Beaver Shooters for many years, and every once in a while something will remind me of the lyrics from “Proud To Be An Astro” and I’ll sing it to myself and chuckle for a few minutes. And of course there’s - in the words of Howard Bryant - the immortal Joe Schultz.

There was a conversation about death in “Ball Four” between Bouton and his adopted son David that also hits home now. Just a delightful, poignant book.
I was just looking over Brosnan’s Pennant Race this morning. The bullpen conversations are as realistic as anything written ever since. Funny that the two best baseball books of that era would be written by smart guys who spent most of their time in the bullpen. I bet it’s still true that the best baseball conversations are held in the bullpen. Most of management is in the dugout. It’s like playing hooky from school out there.

And I love the respect and love we have seen for Jim Bouton in this thread. I did not realize he was viewed so kindly by baseball fans.
 

MacChimpman

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And I love the respect and love we have seen for Jim Bouton in this thread. I did not realize he was viewed so kindly by baseball fans.
I couldn't agree more.
His death has really gutted me, as I always imagined I would contact him again to tell him how truly great his book is, and how much it meant to me personally.
However, I am not surprised he is viewed so kindly by baseball fans, as he is also held in very high esteem by non-fiction fans, social scientists, linguists, American studies professors, sports fans, librarians, teachers of reluctant readers, and so on. Ball Four is included on Time Magazine’s list of 100 all time best nonfiction books as well as the New York Library’s 100 Books of the Century, sharing that latter list with authors such as Hemingway, Galbraith, Kipling, and E.B. White.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”, asked my wife recently.
No, goddamnit, I do not.
I am no literary critic, but it is clear that Ball Four has great value on many different levels. As a work of non-fiction, literary journalism or memoir, he has managed to honestly and accurately record a vital slice of the lives of the members of a truly rarified closed society in a way that had never been done before, (and not very much since.) To his credit, he has done so with a lens of warm admiration (arguably there is no bigger baseball fan than Jim Bouton), with an especially keen eye and appreciation for the often extreme humor, language, and camaraderie of these men. The actual chunk of history that he has recorded yielded a deeply American book, contrasting the culture’s century-old love and worship for these men and their institution, with the intensely personal and human realities that are behind the facade.

This came at a pretty steep price for him, as he pretty much had to commit professional suicide to do so. (Pete Rose: “Fuck you, Shakespeare!”) In 1970, Baseball was still very much “The National Pastime", and its players were held up as national heroes and honorable role models. His book exposed many of these public athletes as amphetamine-popping, skirt-chasing, hard drinking, profanely hilarious, overgrown boys. In other words, regular human beings. To the book's credit, the love he had for these men and their game has long stood the test of time. The initial shock of learning that Mickey Mantle was a flawed human being was quickly replaced with Bouton’s intended message: his awestruck appreciation of Mickey Mantle’s amazing athletic talent, which he teaches us, is actually far greater than his fans ever could have imagined. Ted Williams was almost correct: To hit a round ball with a round bat squarely, while hung over, is TRULY the hardest feat in sport.

For me, the greatest gift of Ball Four was that it forever recorded and celebrated the amazing and hilarious inside truths, customs, humor, and language of what it meant to be part of a baseball team. I will always cherish it for that reason.

An perfect example: when one considers Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, it is easy to be clouded by his tiresome and often inane TV color commentating career. You would be more lucky if you could remember the Big Red Machine Joe Morgan, who won MVP’s and terrified me as a kid with his menacing stare and arm twitching batting stance. (He absolutely killed the Sox in the '75 World Series). But all of that aside, don’t you feel a whole lot warmer about Joe Morgan after reading the September 1, 1969 passage about him from Ball Four?

Norm Miller was doing the broadcast bit in the fourth inning when Joe Morgan came back to the dugout after missing a big curve ball for strike three.
“Joe, Joe Morgan, may I have a word with you?”
“Sure, Norm, how’s it going?”
“Fine, Joe, fine. We wanted to ask you about that pitch you missed. What was it?”
“Norm, that was a motherfucking curve.”
“Can you tell our listeners, Joe, what’s the difference between a regular curve and a motherfucking curve?”
“Well, Norm, your regular curve has a lot of spin on it and you can recognize it real early. It breaks down a little bit, and out. Now, your motherfucker, that’s different. It comes in harder, looks like a fastball. Then all of a sudden it rolls off the top of the table and before you know it, it’s motherfucking strike three.”
“Thank you very much, Joe Morgan.”


To this day, this still makes me laugh and I can hear Joe Morgan saying this in his monotone voice. This is exactly what real baseball players are like. When I first read this as a kid, I not only laughed my ass off, but it made me like Joe Morgan just a little bit more. And it reminded me of many insane and hilarious things I'd seen in the dugout as a bat boy.

What a great and useful book.
 

terrynever

Member
SoSH Member
Aug 25, 2005
15,039
pawtucket
Correct. Which seems amazing to me considering the things I've read in the thread about it. Not sure how I never came across it before.
The book itself is nearly 50 years old. It was a sensation for a few years and then fell out of focus as movies and other media got out front in the 1980s. The Bull Durham movie incorporated the same ribald players’ humor as Bouton unearthed in Ball Four. The Big League movies tapped into the same vein. Everyone on this thread seems to agree: Ball Four stands the test of time.
 

terrynever

Member
SoSH Member
Aug 25, 2005
15,039
pawtucket
I couldn't agree more.
His death has really gutted me, as I always imagined I would contact him again to tell him how truly great his book is, and how much it meant to me personally.
However, I am not surprised he is viewed so kindly by baseball fans, as he is also held in very high esteem by non-fiction fans, social scientists, linguists, American studies professors, sports fans, librarians, teachers of reluctant readers, and so on. Ball Four is included on Time Magazine’s list of 100 all time best nonfiction books as well as the New York Library’s 100 Books of the Century, sharing that latter list with authors such as Hemingway, Galbraith, Kipling, and E.B. White.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”, asked my wife recently.
No, goddamnit, I do not.
I am no literary critic, but it is clear that Ball Four has great value on many different levels. As a work of non-fiction, literary journalism or memoir, he has managed to honestly and accurately record a vital slice of the lives of the members of a truly rarified closed society in a way that had never been done before, (and not very much since.) To his credit, he has done so with a lens of warm admiration (arguably there is no bigger baseball fan than Jim Bouton), with an especially keen eye and appreciation for the often extreme humor, language, and camaraderie of these men. The actual chunk of history that he has recorded yielded a deeply American book, contrasting the culture’s century-old love and worship for these men and their institution, with the intensely personal and human realities that are behind the facade.

This came at a pretty steep price for him, as he pretty much had to commit professional suicide to do so. (Pete Rose: “Fuck you, Shakespeare!”) In 1970, Baseball was still very much “The National Pastime", and its players were held up as national heroes and honorable role models. His book exposed many of these public athletes as amphetamine-popping, skirt-chasing, hard drinking, profanely hilarious, overgrown boys. In other words, regular human beings. To the book's credit, the love he had for these men and their game has long stood the test of time. The initial shock of learning that Mickey Mantle was a flawed human being was quickly replaced with Bouton’s intended message: his awestruck appreciation of Mickey Mantle’s amazing athletic talent, which he teaches us, is actually far greater than his fans ever could have imagined. Ted Williams was almost correct: To hit a round ball with a round bat squarely, while hung over, is TRULY the hardest feat in sport.

For me, the greatest gift of Ball Four was that it forever recorded and celebrated the amazing and hilarious inside truths, customs, humor, and language of what it meant to be part of a baseball team. I will always cherish it for that reason.

An perfect example: when one considers Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, it is easy to be clouded by his tiresome and often inane TV color commentating career. You would be more lucky if you could remember the Big Red Machine Joe Morgan, who won MVP’s and terrified me as a kid with his menacing stare and arm twitching batting stance. (He absolutely killed the Sox in the '75 World Series). But all of that aside, don’t you feel a whole lot warmer about Joe Morgan after reading the September 1, 1969 passage about him from Ball Four?

Norm Miller was doing the broadcast bit in the fourth inning when Joe Morgan came back to the dugout after missing a big curve ball for strike three.
“Joe, Joe Morgan, may I have a word with you?”
“Sure, Norm, how’s it going?”
“Fine, Joe, fine. We wanted to ask you about that pitch you missed. What was it?”
“Norm, that was a motherfucking curve.”
“Can you tell our listeners, Joe, what’s the difference between a regular curve and a motherfucking curve?”
“Well, Norm, your regular curve has a lot of spin on it and you can recognize it real early. It breaks down a little bit, and out. Now, your motherfucker, that’s different. It comes in harder, looks like a fastball. Then all of a sudden it rolls off the top of the table and before you know it, it’s motherfucking strike three.”
“Thank you very much, Joe Morgan.”


To this day, this still makes me laugh and I can hear Joe Morgan saying this in his monotone voice. This is exactly what real baseball players are like. When I first read this as a kid, I not only laughed my ass off, but it made me like Joe Morgan just a little bit more. And it reminded me of many insane and hilarious things I'd seen in the dugout as a bat boy.

What a great and useful book.
Thanks again for your passionate posts about Jim Bouton and his books. He was a non-conformist from his early days as a Yankee. Bouton had trouble in the first inning of games in 1962 and decided to warm up twice in the bullpen before each start, which was revolutionary thinking back in those days. It worked. He won 39 games total in 1963-64 before the heavy innings workload took away his velocity.
Jon Abbey mailed me a modern baseball book this week called “The MVP Machine,” some of which focuses on Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, another non-conformist who reminds me of Bouton.
You mention professional suicide. I am not sure. Even before Ball Four, Bouton did not move easily among his Yankee teammates. The veterans especially were not buying Bouton, or other young guys like Joe Pepitone and Phil Linz. Those three brought change with them. The dynasty was dying and the new guys became scapegoats.
Bouton’s arm blew out in 1965. He went down to the minors in 1966-67 in search of a new way to get hitters out. By 1969, he was on an expansion team and one step from oblivion. Leonard Shecter pitched the idea of a book. Bouton had to know his daily journal reports would be explosive, but he was not a man who planned to go into coaching.
The book’s success sent him on an amazing life journey, from sportscaster to actor and back to baseball as a knuckle-balling sideshow, still in love with baseball. His final 40 years were filled with unique experiences, some documented in this thread by SOSH folks. I can see why people who knew him, even briefly, would be impacted by his life and his death.