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|Author||Jim Bouton with Leonard Shecter|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Pages||371 (first edition)|
Ball Four is a book written by former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton in 1970. The book is a diary of Bouton's 1969 season, spent with the Seattle Pilots (during the club's only year in existence) and then the Houston Astros following a late-season trade. In it Bouton also recounts much of his baseball career, spent mainly with the New York Yankees.
Despite its controversy at the time, with baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn's attempts to discredit it and label it as detrimental to the sport, it is considered to be one of the most important sports books ever written and the only sports-themed book to make the New York Public Library's 1996 list of Books of the Century. It also is listed in Time magazine's 100 greatest non-fiction books of all time.
Bouton befriended sportswriter Leonard Shecter during his time with the Yankees. Shecter 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.
Bouton chronicled the 1969 season—the turning point year in which Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the Woodstock Festival was held, and the year of the Miracle Mets. In so doing, Bouton provided a frank, insider's look at professional sports teams. The book's context was the Seattle Pilots' only operating season, though Bouton was traded to Houston late in the year.
Ball Four described a side of baseball that was previously unseen by writing about the obscene jokes and the drunken tomcatting of the players and about the routine drug use, including by Bouton himself. Bouton wrote with candor about the anxiety he felt over his pitching and his role on the team. Bouton detailed his unsatisfactory relationships with teammates and management alike, his sparring sessions with Pilots manager Joe Schultz and pitching coach Sal Maglie, and the lies and minor cheating that has gone on in sports seemingly from time immemorial.
Ball Four revealed publicly for the first time the degree of womanizing prevalent in the major leagues (including "beaver shooting," the ogling of women anywhere, including rooftops or from under the stands).
Bouton also disclosed how rampant amphetamine or "greenies" usage was among players. Also revealed was the heavy drinking of Yankee legend Mickey Mantle, which had previously been kept almost entirely out of the press.
The fact that Bouton had a mediocre pitching year in 1969 even by his more modest recent standards is not minimized in the book. Ball Four can also be viewed as the decline and fall of a former star pitcher. Arguing with the coaches (usually about his role with the team, his opinion that he should use the knuckleball exclusively, and his desire to throw between outings) and his outspoken views on politics (and everything else) meant that many considered him a malcontent and a subversive in the clubhouse. Early in the season he was sent to Seattle's minor-league affiliate in Vancouver, British Columbia (which caused him to miss being on the sole Topps Seattle Pilots baseball team card, as the photo used was taken in his absence), and was later traded during the season to the Houston Astros for Dooley Womack, who, like Bouton, was a former Yankee "phenom" himself.
The book's title came from a female denizen of a tavern called the Lion's Head in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood. Having recently completed the manuscript, Bouton and Shecter were discussing the book at the bar, lamenting the fact that with the book ready for print they still had not arrived on an acceptable name. According to Bouton:
At that moment, this drunk lady at the bar said, 'Why don't you call it Ball Four?' We laughed about it and thought it was pretty funny, and as we're walking through the streets later, [Shecter] said, 'You know, Ball Four is not a bad name.'
Ball Four proved to be commercially successful. The first edition was published in an edition of just 5,000 copies and quickly sold out. Reprints, translations, and new editions ensued, with the book ultimately selling millions of copies worldwide, with the book gaining cachet as a baseball classic.
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 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." Pete Rose took to yelling "Fuck you, Shakespeare!" from the dugout whenever Bouton was pitching. Many of the day's sportswriters also denounced Bouton, with Dick Young leading the way, calling Bouton and Shecter "social lepers".
Although Bouton wrote about Mickey Mantle mostly in a positive light, his comments on Mantle's excesses spawned most of the book's notoriety, and provoked Bouton's essential blacklisting from baseball. Bouton tried several times to make peace with Mantle, but not until Bouton sent a condolence note after Mantle's son Billy died of cancer in 1994 did Mantle contact Bouton. The two former teammates reconciled not long before Mantle's death.
The following year Bouton described the fallout from Ball Four and his ensuing battles with Commissioner Kuhn and others in another book, entitled I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally. The title was Dick Young's response when Bouton joked with him about his "social leper" comment.
Sean Avery, former NHL player has recently stated in interviews that he patterned his new autobiography, entitled "Offside: My Life Crossing the Line" in Canada and "Ice Capades: A Memoir of Fast Living and Tough Hockey" in the United States, after Bouton's approach to the "tell all" theme related to pro sports. Avery's candor mirrors Bouton's open style outlining the dark side of major league sports, including drug use, relationships and womanizing, other players, and the business of hockey.
In 1976, Ball Four became the inspiration for an eponymous television situation comedy. Jim Bouton starred in the short-lived series as "Jim Barton" — a baseball player who was also a writer with a preoccupation with the personal lives of his teammates. The show was quickly cancelled.
- Jim Brosnan, Major League pitcher and author of a similar tell-all, The Long Season
- Rob Neyer. "'Ball Four' changed sports and books". ESPN. Retrieved 2009-03-04.
- Tyler Kepner, "Materials From Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’ Days Going Once, Going Twice..." New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017.
- "Ball Four," TV Guide.com
- Mark Armour, "Ball Four," Society for American Baseball Research, 2006.
- Kevin Baxter, "Jim Bouton's 'Ball Four' is Still Going On Strong," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 15, 2010.