Ball Four

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Monday December 17, 2007.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton Author(s): Jim Bouton
Publisher: Wiley
ISBN: 0020306652
Amazon | Shelfari
Being the baseball fan that I am, it was difficult to watch the game and pay attention to the current climate in the game (steroids) without running into people over and over who suggested I read Ball Four.

It’s the book that changed everything about how players are seen in the eyes of the public—from how they pass the time to how they get through the difficult stretches, and even what they do on their own time.

The stories of the drinking, the greenies, the women, and best of all, the contract negotiations gave the average fan a taste of what the lives of baseball players were like. It wasn’t always easy. Probably the most telling of all the things Jim Bouton told us was how they dealt with injuries. From the way he wrote it, only pitchers ever really got hurt, and even then, they rarely told anyone. This seems to be finally changing in the game today. There are still players trying to “work through” their injuries, and it often results in a worse situation than would have happened if the player had just fessed up. I can see where it comes from now, but have a hard time believing that the situation is close to the same these days as it was in 1969.

Here is what I wrote at Shelfari:

This book has long been portrayed as the iconic look at what goes on in the life of a baseball player. Jim Bouton was ostracized for writing it, but to this fan who comes an entire generation late to the game, it’s hard to fathom. I love what Bouton told us in the book. The personal anecdotes were great. The humor was what I expected. Baseball players have a knack for coming up with intelligent and very witty insults that don’t resonate across other sports. There are plenty of those in this book.

Where the book lost me is in that it just didn’t seem all that bad. For the establishment to dislike Jim Bouton for writing the book seems ludicrous. I’ll admit, though, that the reason I think that way is that since the book was written, the stories and ways of life contained therein have been a part of the game. Most fans have come to expect the behavior that’s in the book. And to read it almost 40 years later diluted the revelations for me. It just wasn’t shocking.

In reading the 20th anniversary edition (published in 1990), I did get to take a look at Bouton after the book. His comeback in 1978 made for a good tale in the Ball Five section, and reading that he invented Big League Chew made me feel better about his plight. He always seemed to be scheming, and he finally nailed the big one with Big League Chew. Good for him and his family. He seems like a decent guy from the stories in the book, and the people that had some bone to pick with him generally were found to be frauds later in life (Pete Rose, Bowie Kuhn, Mickey Mantle), so I tend to think that Bouton really was decent.

Overall, the book was good. I got caught up in the 1969 pennant race despite knowing how it turned out, and I enjoyed the humor that I haven’t been around since doing some oft he same things with my baseball teammates years ago.

Something else occurred to me while I read it: it really makes no difference who the author of the book was. Jim Bouton was basically booted from the circles that run in baseball because he wrote the book, but there was nothing that he sai that would differ from the thousands of other ballplayers who had passed through the game. He just said it, so he became the bad guy.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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