July 11, 2019

"That book changed my life"/"I can tell ya as a kid at a Catholic Grade School it was the best book I read and certainly the talk of the playground"/"Not only one the most enjoyable books I ever read (in 9th grade)..."

"... but one of the most valuable, as an education in life. I hope its still passed from hand-to-hand by young teenagers across the country"/"Like all those who were in their adolescent years when this book came out, the snickers it encouraged, and the stories swapped in dugouts on little league fields were priceless gems in the trove of memories. I re-read it again a few years ago, and still got tears from the laughter at the tales both remembered and forgotten over the years. This book had ripple effects all across the journalistic spectrum. It inspired a generation of truth-seekers and truth-tellers everywhere. Plus, it was something that p*ssed off the powers that be in those days, and what's not to like about that?"/"I think I was about twelve and I thought it was hysterical and excitingly profane. I had a good eye and ear for the language (because of that reading of everything) and knew it was rather well-written, too. Thanks Jim Bouton, I'm sure you're up there somewhere, for keeping it real about baseball for us."

Just the top few of the comments at "Jim Bouton, baseball pitcher whose ‘Ball Four’ gave irreverent peek inside the game, dies at 80" (WaPo). That is one hell of a beloved book! That's a torrent of vivid memories about a book published half a century ago.

One more:
It was a great book. I remember my younger brother calling me a "SOB" for some time before it clicked on me that "S.O.B." featured prominently in the book. (ha ha). But, it opened my eyes and those of millions to the reality of what had been before pure BS about how pure and great every professional athlete was. In the end, the main reason it was so great is because it was just so well written.

“You see,” he wrote in “Ball Four,” “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.”

Doesn't get much better than that.
And:
To this day, I remember and often use the final words of Ball Four (about gripping the ball and finally realizing it was the other way all along).

The book was often profane, but also profound. For both the great read and the human insight, I am forever grateful.

RIP Mr. Bouton.
One more:
I was 13 years old when I read "Ball Four" over the course of several unbearably hot summer nights in 1971. It tore the cover off my illusions of life as a major league baseball player. And it made me realize early on that heroes aren't always golden boys. They're often just horny, drunk guys who know how to throw or hit a baseball better than most workingmen. I've re-read the book at least five times since...and I'll read it again, starting tonight. Thanks, Bulldog.
I've re-read the book at least five times since...and I'll read it again, starting tonight.

ADDED: From the Library of Congress blog:
The New York Public Library named it as one of their Books of the Century, the only sports title named. Jim thus stands shoulder to shoulder with such world figures as Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Ball Four,” the library’s editors noted, “was the first ripple of a tidal wave of ‘tell-all’ books that have become commonplace not only in sports, but also in politics, entertainment, and other realms of contemporary life.” (Jim, with typical diffidence and humor, has termed his book a “tell-some.”)

92 comments:

Aunty Trump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Baseball is a business.

Mark said...

It’s a great read, especially as an antidote to books like “The Boys of Summer,” which reek of hagiography.

MayBee said...

I love it that I have never heard of it, but it was so huge to some people. Maybe a boy v girl thing. I read the headline and thought "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret"

Ann Althouse said...

I remember hearing him trashed in the media. What I remember is the idea that many many people had these stories but they kept them to themselves. Anyone could have profited from breaking the brotherhood of silence and no one did. Then Bouton appropriated all the stories and took it all public. Betrayal and greed — that was the framework. And wasn't it terrible to ruin the idealized version of baseball for the young people!

BarrySanders20 said...

The Umpire Strikes Back by Ron Luciano was similar to Ball Four only from the umpire’s perspective. Read and liked both when I was 13-14

Temujin said...

He 'broke' Mickey Mantle for so many. He got attacked for that and much more, but the book stood on it's own and still does.

Along with Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins, who also passed away this year.

David Begley said...

It was a groundbreaking book. It completely removed the idea that sports players are heroes. OJ completely killed that idea.

tim maguire said...

I haven't read it, but maybe I should. My favorite baseball book--The Umpire Strikes Back--was written a dozen years later, but is probably not too different in style and attitude towards the game.

n.n said...

Separation of social domains.

Michael K said...

I have not read it and did not play much baseball, aside from the sandlot variety.

I did like "Bull Durham" as a nice look at minor league baseball. It was also Kevin Costner's best movie, although the recent one about Frank Hamer is good. Costner played college baseball so he does a better job at it than golf in "Tin Cup."

ndspinelli said...

Speaking truth is always courageous. Mantle was the most exposed and he laughed it off w/ good will. Tells you a lot about both Bouton and Mantle.

Clyde said...

It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Enjoyed that book all those years back.

Chuck said...

I remember wondering if "Ball Four" was as big as it was, because Bouton spent so many years as a Yankee in an era when the Red Sox, Orioles and Tigers were dominating the American League on the field. (Pre-divisions.) It really was a good book, and I think that the tell-all business distracted a bit from how well it was written and edited. Bouton had a lot of help, I think, from his editor (Leonard Schecter, a great and inventive sportswriter for the NY Post).

{#8}

Henry said...

If you like Ball Four, I can recommend two books by Jim Brosnan: The Long Season and Pennant Race. Brosnan's books are less epoch-making than Ball Four, but highly enjoyable. Brosnan has a gift for observation and the cynical aside.

tim maguire said...

Michael K said...
I did like "Bull Durham" as a nice look at minor league baseball. It was also Kevin Costner's best movie,


Bull Durham is one of my favorite baseball movies, maybe the favorite. Costner came storming out of the gate with The Untouchables and Bull Durham and then...turned to crap. He's hardly made a good movie since.

Howard said...

Didn't read Ball Four even though my two best Jr High friends read it over and over and quoted from it all the time. From that genre, I only read North Dallas Forty.

Ralph L said...

North Dallas Forty wasn't very funny IIRC.

nob490 said...

Such a great book. I read it first as a teenager, and pull it off my shelf every now and again and open to a random page and start reading again when I have a few minutes to kill.

A shame that he was left out of many Yankee reunions/Old Timers' Days because he revealed some of the less-than-heroic goings-on behind the scenes. There is a great story of a letter his son wrote to the Yankees after Bouton's daughter died, and how much it would mean to him if they invited him back. They did, in 1998, I think, and it all worked out.

I can't recommend it highly enough. Bouton always seemed like a real nice guy.

Amexpat said...

Read when it came out in the 8th grade and it was the book of the year for me. As an avid Yankee fan with a dislike of the "establishment" it was in the center of my strike zone. I enjoyed it so much that I starting rereading it right after finishing it.

Ball Four did cause me some problems when my parents had a business dinner at my house with a guy who played in the minor leagues. I asked him if he ever shot any beaver when he played ball. I knew the question was not appropriate but I felt empowered by the book to ask it.

Michael K said...

.turned to crap. He's hardly made a good movie since.

"The Bodyguard" was pretty good and the Frank Hamer one on Netflix is good. Then one Clint Eastwood directed was not bad.

rhhardin said...

I think I read it but don't particularly remember it.

I think it originated split beaver as a baseball term.

Which produced a problem for the local university's women's dorm, Beaver Hall.

Howard said...

NDF was black humor about white privilege

whitney said...

I always like to read the classic texts and this appears to be one. It's next on the list

Howard said...

Costner can't act his way out of a wet paper bag

Mike said...

Bouton was a major outcast because of this book, it was a brave act. We need more of these now in other fields. RIP

TheDopeFromHope said...

I also read it in my high school days and couldn't put it down. The only thing I later thought Bouton shouldn't have included was the Great Mickey trying weed. Otherwise, fantastic. And I then read the sequel--"I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally"--which included a breakdown of exactly how much money Bouton made off the first book.

rhhardin said...

I'm pretty sure I read it and Games People Play around the same time. An interest in stuff that's obvious but nobody notices. Eventually discovered Erving Goffman.

dreams said...

I read it at the time but I don't remember much about it except that I knew it created a lot of controversy. Also, I read “The Boys of Summer,” which I really like so I guess I liked the hagiography and Kentuckian Pee Wee Reese was a big part of the story too. The 1954 or 1955 Dodgers world Series team was my introduction to major league baseball and I became big fan.

daskol said...

Yes, Bouton was reviled within the baseball world for publicizing things--beaver-hunting, for example--that portrayed baseball players in a negative light and also probably led to some very uncomfortable conversations between players and their spouses. It was the first baseball confessional, and many insider books followed, my favorite of which is Sparky Lyle's tales of the dysfunctional Yankees of the late 70s. None of what follows holds a candle to Bouton's work, both because he was such a keen observer and talented writer and also because his own story--a former flamethrower who lost his velocity due to injury, trying to come back as a knuckleballer--is incredibly compelling. I love that book, especially the edition he published several years later that included a postscript called "Ball Five" that describes the initial negative reception from his fellow players and also how over time even most baseball people came to appreciate his book.

rcocean said...

By the time I got around to reading it in the 80s - it seemed like old hat. BB players get drunk and chase women? Wow, who would've thunk it. In the old days, idolizing BB players was something you were supposed to grow out of when you were a kid.

Boulton became popular in Hollywood, I assume because he was a liberal. It wasn't his acting talent, he was awful in the "Long Goodbye".

dreams said...

Oh yeah, now I remember the beaver-hunting.

daskol said...

beaver shooting, sorry!

daskol said...

It does seem quaint today to think that these revelations were so shocking at the time.

rcocean said...

Boys of Summer is a much better book. But then Roger Khan ruins that, with his obsession with RACISM and weird dislike of Pee Wee Reese.

daskol said...

Pshaw, there's no better baseball book.

Shouting Thomas said...

I think Bouton should have left Mickey Mantle alone.

The Chicago press left Ernie Banks alone, and that was a far better thing.

Nobody knew that Ernie was an ardent pussy hound until he died and all the exes started fighting over his estate. Even then, there were only a few stories about this side of Mr. Cub. Have any of you heard that Ernie was a carouser? Why would you need to read that?

Who is surprised that rich, famous young men indulge their appetites? Idiots?

No, you don't deserve to read the gossip in the press. Leave the kids alone. Gossip is shitty behavior by louts. The production of gossip is vicious. Find something else to occupy your time.

AMDG said...

“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.”
― Jim Bouton

Great book. What shines through is his love of the game.

I was glad that he was eventually invited back to Yankee Stadium for an old timers game.

Amexpat said...

Jim Bouton was in one of my favorite movies, The Long Goodbye. Hate to say it, but he was definitely out of his league with the other actors.

He was a good sportscaster though. Used to watch him on WABC. He was there at the same time as Howard Cosell.

Mark said...

Another great baseball book is "The Glory of Their Times" by Lawrence Ritter, which came out in 1966. It's an oral history of baseball from about 1895-1940, but mostly 1900-1920. Ritter went around the country with a portable tape recorder and talked to old-time players. It's a great look at baseball in that era, but it also touches on life in general in that time. The opening chapter, in which Richard "Rube" Marquard, at the age of 16, runs away from home and rides freight trains from his home in Cleveland to have a chance to play for a minor league team in Waterloo, Iowa, is fascinating, as are the tales of Wahoo Sam Crawford, Smoky Joe Wood, Hans Lobert and Goose Goslin, among others.

Shouting Thomas said...

You're a public figure now, Althouse.

What would you think of a writer who dug into every aspect of your life from the time your were a kid and exposed you to the national press?

Mike said...

Shouting Thomas, I'd go the other way. A book about Ernie Banks being a carouser might have kept us from idolizing him. It's in our nature to hold certain people up, but it shouldn't be baseball players.

Who is surprised that rich, famous young men indulge their appetites, as you ask? I'd say most people. We should have more wisdom about this, and more books like Ball Four.

Aunty Trump said...

Costner is at least as good as Meryl Streep! And the thing about him is the stories he picks.

Henry said...

I loved Boys of Summer when I was a teenager, but tried to reread it a few years go and found it unbearably clunky. Sometimes old writing is phrased and framed in a way that's unexpected and stimulating. Sometimes that old phrasing just seems trite. The clumsy magician reveals his tricks.

Shouting Thomas said...

A book about Ernie Banks being a carouser might have kept us from idolizing him.

If Ernie's not worth idolizing, who is?

Even when I was a kid we all knew what was going on with Cubs' players. Playing day games at Wrigley left them free to prowl the town at night. Back in the early days, the Cubs trained at Catalina Island off the shore of LA and they were Hollywood's team pre-Dodgers. If you needed the details spelled out... well...

Leo Durocher, a noted and voracious pussy hound, was the manager of the Cubs in the late 60s.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

No mention of the TV show Ball Four?

I remember watching it in the 70s. With only 2 channels I didn't have a lot of options.

At this point all I remember is Andy Travis character constantly in a whirlpool bath and the line "that's what we're playing ball for"

Never read the book, never been a sports fan. I do remember the controversy and now it sounds like I should take a look.

John Henry

stevew said...

Coincidental to his passing: the MLB All-Star game had its lowest ratings ever the other night, overall interest in baseball is steadily declining (in part because the people that actually pay attention are aging and dying and not being replaced), and there are no widely recognizable stars; no faces for the game.

It is a wonderful book. I'm old enough to have participated in the clandestine reading and sharing of its stories with my Little League pals.

RichardJohnson said...

When I read a book about sports, I don't expect to have ever personally known anyone mentioned in the book. To my surprise, of the players in Ball Four had been a student teacher for one of my high school gym classes.

etbass said...

""The Bodyguard" was pretty good and the Frank Hamer one on Netflix is good. Then one Clint Eastwood directed was not bad."

Dr. K, how did you feel about Constner in Field of Dreams?

CJinPA said...

This book had ripple effects all across the journalistic spectrum. It inspired a generation of truth-seekers and truth-tellers everywhere. Plus, it was something that p*ssed off the powers that be in those days, and what's not to like about that?"

This was probably a great book for it's time, and one that inspired a lot of tired, cliched journalism in the decades that followed.

Marcus said...

IIRC: Bouton's manager Joe Schultz's two favorite words: "shitfuck" and "fuckshit".

THEOLDMAN

Jay Vogt said...

Awwww, Crap! That's so sad to hear. He was a great story teller with a gimlet eye. I just love that book.

The enduring insight that he had that resonated with me was in how he related his trip the the mound with his inner monolog chanting to himself "please God don't let me screw up too bad in front of all these people" [paraphrasing there].

That was just liberating to me as a boy/young man, because that's a pep talk that I really could give to myself. And if it worked for him at his level, it could work for me.

RIP. Mr. Bouton

khematite said...

And then there was the 1976 Ball Four tv sit-com.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ysr3RIHl10

Lasted five episodes.

Michael K said...

LDr. K, how did you feel about Constner in Field of Dreams?<

Chickflick

Francisco D said...

Ball Four really attacked the hero worship of pro baseball players. It came out just as I was getting tired of baseball (Cubs fan in the 60's), so I was not disappointed to find out what goofs and assholes some players were.

I found the book titillating because it uncovered forbidden knowledge.

Aunty Trump said...

"Sometimes that old phrasing just seems trite.”

Like all of the cliches in Shakespeare.

Jay Vogt said...

Ball Four :: Twentieth century / Two Years Before the Mast :: Nineteenth century

reader said...

MayBee, I read what you wrote and thought of “Deenie”.

William said...

It was a good, quick read. That last line was excellent, but, as I remember, it was more an extended locker room riff than literature. The one line I remember is that when the players got back from an extended road trip, one of the players said "Here come the wives. Everyone pretend to be horny.".....Bouton was pretty good natured and joshing about the tales he told, but his teammates regarded them as acts of betrayal.... Jane Leavy wrote a fine biography of Mickey Mantle, "The Last Boy". Mickey was a bad husband, bad father, compulsive womanizer, and alcoholic. She details many sad and sordid stories about his life. One thing, though, he was always loyal to his teammates. When asked to appear at autograph shoes, he always made sure that some of his ex teammates went along too and picked up a few bucks. Horseman pass by.

William said...

Don't you just hate it, when you screw up an extended comment with a misspelled word, and you have to struggle with your inner slob about whether or not to type it over, and then the inner slob wins and you realize character is destiny so don't hope for the best. You think you're making a comment on Jim Bouton, but it's really a comment on you.

nob490 said...

William: "Here come the wives. Everyone pretend to be horny."

That's a great one. The book is filled with so many memorable quotes. One I always recall:

"To a pitcher, a base hit is a perfect example of negative feedback."

I could do this all day, but I won't.

FWBuff said...

I read "Ball Four" for the first time last year after Prof. Althouse highlighted it from a NYT story on how Jim Bouton had been snubbed by the Yankees' Oldtimers Game. Though I'm not much of a baseball fan, I thoroughly enjoyed his book and his obsessive love for baseball despite the low pay and the lack of stability with any team. I also read "Semi-Tough" this year (written by my fellow Fort Worthian Dan Jenkins who died recently) which was a similar, though fictional, takedown of the NFL from the inside. It came out only a couple of years after "Ball Four", but I thought Jenkins ripped off Bouton from the over-the-top sex and drug and party references to the first-person narrator dictating his tale into a tape recorder each night. Bouton's book was much more enjoyable, not only because it was true, but also because it was better written.

Otto said...

Pure progressive slop. Zero impact on the game, but pablum for the " repressed" youth of the day.

nob490 said...

Thanks, Otto. For a minute there I had thought I enjoyed the book. I appreciate you setting me straight.

Very progressive of you to let me know what I should like and not like, and to let me know that I was repressed. I had no idea!

That's some real valuable input there. Well done.

dreams said...

"Leo Durocher, a noted and voracious pussy hound, was the manager of the Cubs in the late 60s."

And was once married to the actress Laraine Day.

Francisco D said...

Leo Durocher, a noted and voracious pussy hound, was the manager of the Cubs in the late 60s."

After the hapless Wrigley family hired him, he was quoted as saying that the Cubbies were not a fifth place team.

He was right. They finished in last place that year.

daskol said...

My second favorite baseball book is Veeck as in Wreck, former owner of the minor league Brewer franchise, and very creative promoter/team owner, mostly known if at all today for his disco demolition night. Outstanding baseball outsider story, also from someone with a deep love of the game.

Doug said...

I read the book on a long car trip on the road with my family and my grandmother. I laughed so hard I almost wet myself. Grandma was SURE I was laughing at her and got very cranky about it.BTW, I think Dick Schaap (?) wrote that last line. I think he was the ghoster on that one.

Howard said...

Look at it this way, Thomas...
By normalizing beaver shooting, Jim Bouton paved the way for acceptance of "grab 'em by the pussy" thereby, Mickie Mantle was the human sacrifice for a Trump Presidency.

daskol said...

Finally, The Best Seat in Baseball but You Have to Stand, a 70s book by an umpire, completes the trilogy of my favorite baseball books.

CJinPA said...

William said...

Don't worry about aesthetics, your post was quite informative and added some new info.

Michael K said...

Jerry Kramer's book about the Packers was a favorite of mine.

Henry said...

Just came across this quote by Bouton talking about the attitude of other players:

“I can still remember Pete Rose, on the top step of the dugout screaming, ‘Fuck you, Shakespeare.’”

CJinPA said...

Finally, The Best Seat in Baseball but You Have to Stand, a 70s book by an umpire, completes the trilogy of my favorite baseball books.

I had an autographed copy of Pete Rose's autobiography. When reports came out recently that he once had relations with a 13 year old, my Dad told me to get rid of it. I reminded him that his mother had waited in line to get that book for her grandson and he relented.

DavidD said...

I remember reading about “the f—king war” in Baa Baa Black Sheep as a young teen; it went completely over my head at the time.

Today, it’d just be written out in clear text.

Yancey Ward said...

It is the only book about baseball I have ever read, but I can't imagine a better one ever being written.

RNB said...

"It’s prejudice, I know, but every time I hear a southern accent I think: stupid. A picture of George Wallace pops into my mind. It’s like Lenny Bruce saying he could never associate a nuclear scientist with a southern accent.” -- Jim Bouton. Uh -- yeah. Which is to say: No.

Wilbur said...

I read Ball Four between junior and senior year in high school. My friend loaned it to me and advised "You have to read this".

I enjoyed it as much as any book not written by Bill James. It was funny and fresh, revealing and good-spirited.

I reread it a couple of years ago and found him - or more properly, his character as the protagonist - far less appealing.

rhhardin said...

It made "Don't you think you were a little hard on the Beaver last night, Ward?" a classic.

Tank said...

I read it at least ten times in high school. His revelations about my favorite Mantle, made me like him more. I was exactly the right age to read it.

Jim at said...

The Umpire Strikes Back by Ron Luciano

Great book. Still read it from time to time.

Jim at said...

To each his own, but I just don't get the love for Bull Durham. I barely made it through once.

Eight Men Out is better, imo.

Aunty Trump said...

Maybe I should have read it. I never thought of baseball players as gods, but my opinion of women was way too high.

donald said...

“Let’s pound some Budweisers”.

“Local Talent”.


I use those to this day!

donald said...

The best baseball movie is Bang The Drum Slowly.

It is so damned corny that it’s awesome.

Tina Trent said...

I loved that book. Double header perfect summer read with The Bronx is Burning.

Summer of Sam, the Mets, the Seventies. I was 11 years old and my mother wanted to show us the tenement where she grew up in Bed Sty. We were driving from Poughkeepsie to Long Island. So my dad pulled the Volare stationwagon off the exit ramp into the middle of all hell broke loose. The Volare had fake wood trim and 27 factory recalls. We ducked under the seats as my father tried to find his way back to the highway with buildings on fire all around us. That was New York City.

Tina Trent said...

Bull Durham is tripe. Susan Sarandon helped free a serial killer and named her baby after him AFTER he killed again, as he said he would do if he got out.

Even Norman Mailer was appalled.

RobinGoodfellow said...


Blogger tim maguire said...
Michael K said...
I did like "Bull Durham" as a nice look at minor league baseball. It was also Kevin Costner's best movie,

Bull Durham is one of my favorite baseball movies, maybe the favorite. Costner came storming out of the gate with The Untouchables and Bull Durham and then...turned to crap. He's hardly made a good movie since.


Seriously?!

Silverado, No Way Out, Field of Dreams?

Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood, JFK?

The Bodyguard, 3000 Miles to Graceland, Open Range?

The Guardian, Draft Day (DRAFT DAY!), The Highwaymen?

Hello??

Slip said...

Meh - typical veneration of a Leftist ripping apart another American Institution. We've all been there done that. Get a life Althouse. Find something new and interesting to do.

Zach said...

It's not just a tell all book. In fact, nowadays some of the revelations come across as a little tame. Bouton has a good eye for an anecdote and a good ear for dialogue.

One of the funniest recurring scenes is the foul mouthed manager who's always telling the players to go pound some Budweisers and get 'em tomorrow. Bouton has the ear to realize that Budweiser is the key to the character -- he's a guy who thinks that having Budweiser to pound means you've really hit the big time.

Zach said...

Also, for all that Bouton is breaking down an old mythos, his description of the big leagues sounds like a lot of fun. Basically a bunch of overgrown boys horsing around and blowing off steam.

Lyle Smith said...

Everyone go watch “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”. Bouton is in it. Great story about an epic independent baseball team called the Portland Mavericks. Bouton played a roll in creating the gum Big League Chew.