Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is one of the most famous books about baseball. Given my love of baseball and reading, it’s hard for me to believe I didn’t read it until now. Now that I have read Ball Four, I can see why it has been so popular for so long.
In the early 1960s Jim Bouton was a hard throwing right hander for the New York Yankees. In 1963 he won 21 games.
In 1965, Bouton tried pitching through a sore arm and lost 15 games. By 1969, he was in spring training trying to make the expansion Seattle Pilots as a knuckle ball pitcher.
Throughout the 1969 season Bouton, without the knowledge of most of his teammates, kept notes. He was writing ball four about his experiences in baseball, primarily the 1969 season.
In Ball Four, Bouton paints a very real picture of life as a ballplayer in 1969. From the drinking and womanizing through the battles with ownership over the player’s rightful share of money, Bouton covers a lot of interesting territory.
More than anything else, Bouton does a great job describing the human side of being a ballplayer. From the fear he won’t make the team, his trip to the minors, his trade to Houston, the moves his wife and children made, and the ups and downs of a player, Bouton gave a rare look into what life was like for players prior to Marvin Miller establishing an effective players union.
Since I read the last version of the book published in 2014, it was interesting to read about Bouton’s decades-long exile from the Yankees and Yankee Stadium and how many players shunned him because of Ball Four. Noe one could argue with the truths Bouton told. So, they hated him for telling them.
If Ball Four was published today, it wouldn’t sell. We know way too much about famous people today. In 1970, publishing the truth about America’s pastime and the men who play it was considered offensive. America was in denial about America even more than it is now. So, thanks to Jim Bouton for having the courage to tell stories we needed to hear at a time when telling them was met with punishment.
If you like baseball, you have most likely read Ball Four. I’m glad I finally have.