Jim Bouton

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Jim Bouton
Jim Bouton 1963.png
Bouton in 1963 with the Yankees.
Pitcher
Born: (1939-03-08) March 8, 1939 (age 75)
Newark, New Jersey
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 22, 1962 for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1978 for the Atlanta Braves
Career statistics
Win–loss record 62–63
Earned run average 3.57
Strikeouts 720
Teams
Career highlights and awards

James Alan "Jim" Bouton (/ˈbtn/; born March 8, 1939) is an American retired professional baseball player. Bouton played in Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher for the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves between 1962 and 1978.

Bouton played college baseball at Western Michigan University, before signing his first professional contract with the Yankees. He was a member of the 1962 World Series champions, and appeared in the 1963 MLB All-Star Game. Later in his career, he developed and threw a knuckleball.

Bouton authored the baseball book Ball Four, which was a combination diary of his 1969 season and memoir of his years with the Yankees, Pilots, and Astros.

Amateur and college career[edit]

Bouton was born in Newark, New Jersey. He lived with his family in Newark until he was 15, when his family relocated to Chicago Heights, Illinois. Bouton enrolled at Bloom High School, where he played for the school's baseball team.[1] Bouton was nicknamed "Warm-Up Bouton" because he never got to play in a game, serving much of his time as a benchwarmer. In summer leagues, Bouton did not throw particularly hard, but he got batters out by mixing conventional pitches with the knuckleball that he had experimented with since childhood.

Bouton attended Western Michigan University, and pitched for the Western Michigan Broncos baseball team. He earned a scholarship for his sophomore year. That summer, he played amateur baseball, catching the attention of scouts. Yankees scout Art Stewart signed Bouton for $30,000.[1]

Professional career[edit]

Bouton signed with the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1959. After playing in minor league baseball, Bouton started his major league career in 1962 with the Yankees, where his tenacity earned him the nickname "Bulldog." He also came to be known for his cap flying off his head at the completion of his delivery to the plate, as well as for his uniform number 56, a number usually assigned in spring training to players designated for the minor leagues. (Bouton later explained that he had been assigned the number in 1962 when he was promoted to the Yankees, and wanted to keep it as a reminder of how close he had come to not making the ball club. He wore number 56 throughout most of his major league career.) Bouton appeared in 36 games during the 1962 season, including 16 starts, and had a win-loss record of 7-7. He did not play in the Yankees' 1962 World Series victory over the San Francisco Giants, although he had originally been slated to start Game 7. When the game was postponed a day because of rain, Ralph Terry pitched instead. Bouton went 21-7 and 18-13 in the next two seasons, and appeared in the 1963 All Star Game. He was 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA in World Series play.

Bouton's frequent use by the Yankees during these years (he led the league with 37 starts in 1964 in addition to pitching in that year's World Series) probably contributed to his subsequent arm troubles. In 1965, an arm injury slowed his fastball and ended his status as a pitching phenomenon. Relegated mostly to bullpen duty, Bouton began to throw the knuckleball again, in an effort to lengthen his career. By 1968, Bouton was a reliever for the minor league Seattle Angels.

In October 1968, he joined a committee of American sportsmen who traveled to the 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico City, to protest the involvement of apartheid South Africa. Around the same time, sportswriter Leonard Shecter—who had befriended Bouton during his time with the Yankees—approached him with the idea of writing and publishing a season-long diary. Bouton, who had taken some notes during the 1968 season after having a similar idea, readily agreed.

This was by no means the first baseball diary. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan had written two such books, about his 1959 and 1961 seasons, called The Long Season and Pennant Race respectively. Those books were much more open than the typical G-rated and ghost-written athletes' "diaries", a literary technique dating at least as far back as Christy Mathewson. Brosnan had also encountered some resistance. Joe Garagiola made a point in his own autobiography, Baseball Is a Funny Game, to criticize Brosnan for writing them.

Ball Four followed Instant Replay, a similar year-in-the-life diary by NFL and Green Bay Packers star lineman Jerry Kramer by some 18 months.

But Bouton's effort would ultimately become much more widely known, debated and discussed.

Ball Four[edit]

Bouton chronicled his 1969 season with a frank, insider's look at a professional sports team, eventually naming his book Ball Four. The backdrop for the book was the Seattle Pilots' one and only operating season, though Bouton was traded to the Houston Astros late in the season. Unlike previous sports tomes, Ball Four named names and described a side of baseball that was previously unseen. Bouton did this by writing about the way a professional baseball team actually interacts; not only the heroic game-winning home runs, but also the petty jealousies (of which Bouton had a special knowledge), the obscene jokes, the drunken tomcatting of the players, and the routine drug use, including by Bouton himself.

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. Many of Bouton's teammates never forgave him for publicly airing what he had learned in private about their flaws and foibles. The book made Bouton unpopular with many players, coaches, and officials on other teams as well, as they felt he had betrayed the long-standing rule: "What you see here, what you say here, what you do here, let it stay here."

Although his comments on Mickey Mantle's lifestyle and excesses make up only a few pages of the text, it was those very revelations that spawned most of the book's notoriety, and provoked Bouton's eventual blacklisting from baseball. Oddly, what was forgotten in the furor is that Bouton mostly wrote of Mantle in almost reverential tones. One of the book's seminal moments occurs when Bouton describes his first win as a Yankee: when he entered the clubhouse, he found Mantle laying a "red carpet" of towels leading directly to his locker in Bouton's honor.

Retirement[edit]

Bouton retired midway through the 1970 season after the Astros sent him down to the minor leagues. He immediately became 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. Decades later, Bouton would also have a brief one-line cameo as a pitching coach in the James L. Brooks film How Do You Know.

By the mid-1970s, a cult audience saw the book Ball Four as a candid and comic portrayal of the ups and downs of baseball life. Bouton went on the college lecture circuit, delivering humorous talks on his experiences.

Return[edit]

Bouton launched his comeback bid with the Portland Mavericks of the Class A Northwest League in 1975, compiling a 5-1 record.[1] He skipped the 1976 season to work on the TV series, but he returned to the diamond in 1977 when Bill Veeck signed him to a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. Bouton was winless for a White Sox farm club; a stint in the Mexican League and a return to Portland followed.

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. Bouton also detailed his comeback in a 10th anniversary re-release of his first book, titled Ball Four Plus Ball Five, as well as adding a Ball Six, updating the stories of the players in Ball Four, for the 20th anniversary edition. All were included (in 2000) as Ball Four: The Final Pitch, along with a new coda that detailed the death of his daughter and his reconciliation with the Yankees.

After his return to the majors, Bouton continued to pitch at the semi-pro level for a Bergen County, New Jersey team called the Emerson-Westwood Merchants, among other teams in the Metropolitan Baseball League in northern New Jersey, while living in Teaneck, New Jersey.[2]

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.

Although Bouton had never been officially declared persona non grata by the Yankees or any other team as a result of Ball Four's revelations, he was excluded from most baseball-related functions, including Old-Timers' Games. It was rumored that Mickey Mantle himself had told the Yankees that he would never attend an Old-Timers' Game to which Bouton was invited (a charge Mantle subsequently denied, especially during a lengthy answering-machine message to Bouton after Mantle's son Billy had died of cancer in 1994 - Mantle was acknowledging a condolence card Bouton had sent).[citation needed]

Things changed in June 1998, when Bouton's oldest son Michael wrote an eloquent Father's Day open letter to the Yankees which was published in the New York Times, in which Michael described the agony of his father following the August 1997 death of Michael's sister Laurie at age 31. By juxtaposing the story of Yogi Berra's self-imposed exile with that of his father's de facto banishment, Michael created a scenario where not only were the Yankees placed under public pressure to invite his father back, but the article paved the road to reconciliation between Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Berra.

In July 1998, Bouton, sporting his familiar number 56, received a standing ovation when he took the mound at Yankee Stadium. He has since become a regular fixture at Yankees Old-Timers' Games.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Bouton and his first wife Bobbie had two children together, Michael and Laurie, and adopted a Korean orphan, Kyong Jo. Kyong Jo later changed his name to David. Bobbie and Bouton divorced in 1981.[3] In 1983, Bouton's ex-wife teamed up with Nancy Marshall, the former wife of pitcher Mike Marshall, to write a tell-all book called Home Games. In response to the book's publication, Bouton commented:

We all have the right to write about our lives, and she does, too. If the book is insightful, if it helps people, I may be applauding it.

I'm sure most of the things she says are true. I smoked grass, I ran around, I found excuses to stay on the road. It got so bad that I smoked grass to numb myself. It took me a year to where my brain worked again. I no longer think of grass as harmless. We were in the death throes of a marriage. She should ask herself how did she not see these things.[4]

In 1997, Laurie was killed in a car accident at age 31. Bouton is now married to Paula Kurman.[5]

Bouton promotes 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.[1]

Bouton was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention for George McGovern.[3]

Writings[edit]

  • Ball Four has been through numerous significantly revised editions, the most recent being Ball Four: The Final Pitch, Bulldog Publishing. (April 2001), ISBN 0-9709117-0-X.
  • I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally
  • I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad -- edited and annotated by Bouton, compiled by Neil Offen.
  • Foul Ball, Bulldog Publishing. (June 2003), ISBN 0-9709117-1-8.
  • Strike Zone, Signet Books. (March 1995), ISBN 0-451-18334-7 (with Eliot Asinof).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/75723b1f
  2. ^ Staff. "Bouton makes Semipros Pitch", The Palm Beach Post, August 11, 1984. Accessed July 28, 2011. "Bouton, who lives in Teaneck, perhaps 10 miles from New York City, has a 50-24 career record in the Met League and a 2.80 ERA. He pitched a three-hitter Wednesday."
  3. ^ a b Wallace, Carol (June 20, 1983). "Bobbie Bouton and Nancy Marshall Fire a Literary Strike Past the Myth of the Happy Baseball Wife". People 19 (24). Retrieved 7 September 2013. "Bouton: When Jim was a McGovern delegate [in 1972], I was asked to do some canvassing and I agreed. Jim was furious. He wanted me home when he was home." 
  4. ^ Vecsey, George (7 March 1983). "Painful Memories". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  5. ^ Jim Bouton - Biography

External links[edit]