I hate to admit it, but I’m not a big book reader. I’ve only read a couple books, cover to cover, in the past 30 years.
Don’t get me wrong, I read all the time. I read the entire newspaper if I have a day off, or at least all the stories that interest me. I read the national and sports news on the internet every single day, and I read selected articles in magazines and the like. However, as busy as I am with the job I have, I don’t have a lot of time to read books. And if I did crack open a book late at night when my work is done, I’d be asleep in 15 minutes.
With that in mind, I’ve read “Ball Four,” by Jim Bouton, twice. It’s the only book I’ve ever read twice, and I also read his sequel, “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally” and a great book about managers he wrote titled “I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad.”
Bouton died of a brain disease at age 80 last Wednesday. It’s ironic that the brain disease got him, because that brain made me laugh time and again like few others could.
If you’ve never read “Ball Four,” I highly recommend it. It’s about the his 1969 baseball season pitching for the Seattle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) and the Houston Astros.
Bouton had been a hard throwing sensation for the Yankees in the early ’60s, but when he lost his fastball he made a comeback with the knuckleball. He pitched off and on through 1978, when he got a late season call-up with Ted Turner’s Braves. Then he continued to pitch in semi-pro leagues for years between doing work for TV and movies and writing a few more books, along with inventing “Big League Chew,” a shredded bubble gum with a baseball theme.
“Ball Four” was a book way ahead of its time. A long shot to make the expansion Pilots’ team, Bouton compiled a diary of his ’69 season. Along with the daily stories of the team he wove in stories about his days with the Yankees, once holding out for $7,500 a year after winning 21 games for the pennant winning Yanks in 1963.
The book was quite controversial, as Bouton wrote about things that previously had been kept in the locker room. He detailed Mickey Mantle’s drinking and partying by the Yankees and other stuff that was just not talked about before that time. Now, with everyone having a camera on their phone and social media, that stuff would not be a big deal.
Back in 1969, it was. The book was quite controversial and the reaction by many of the players led to bad feelings with Bouton and the sequel “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally,” with stories of how players reacted to the book.
The thing is, the book was funny and it showed a side of the players that made them human instead of robots with statistics. If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it. Even if you’re too young to remember the players he’s writing about (I’m not) it’s still filled with great stories and a real inside look at what the game was like in that era.
Bouton loved baseball, and that always showed through in everything he did in life. The last line of “Ball Four” says it all. He wrote, “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.”
Rest in peace, Jim Bouton.