Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’: a book that afflicted the rich and comfortable of the baseball world

When someone writes a book that thoroughly offends and discomfits people who are well off, in positions of influence, rich, and comfortable, it should merit our attention.

That was the case when Jim Bouton, briefly a star pitcher for the New York Yankees, wrote his tell-all memoir Ball Four that centered on stories from inside the locker room of the then most successful team in Major League Baseball.

When it was published in 1970, “Ball Four,” which reported on the selfishness, dopiness, childishness and meanspiritedness of young men often lionized for playing a boy’s game very well, was viewed by many readers, either approvingly or not, as a scandalous betrayal of the so-called sanctity of the clubhouse. Source: Jim Bouton, Author of Tell-All Baseball Memoir ‘Ball Four,’ Dies at 80 – The New York Times

Bouton was thoroughly excoriated by the likes of Bowie Kuhn, commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Dick Young, baseball columnist for the New York Daily News and dean of baseball writers at the time. Young wrote:

People like this, embittered people, sit down in their time of deepest rejection and write. They write, oh hell, everybody stinks, everybody but me, and it makes them feel much better.

Not everyone was offended.

Some astute reviewers recognized the ardor and the poignant tension in Bouton’s tale; in The New Yorker, for instance, Roger Angell described “Ball Four” as “a rare view of a highly complex public profession seen from the innermost inside, along with an even more rewarding inside view of an ironic and courageous mind. And, very likely, the funniest book of the year.”

Bouton took Dick Young’s criticism and turn it, somewhat, to his advantage. After the book was published, Bouton saw Young at spring training and decided to approach him in a gentlemanly fashion. They shook hands, and Young said, “Well, I’m glad you didn’t take it personally.” Bouton took that line and used it as the title of his next book, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, which chronicled the reactions to Ball Four.

Ball Four has since risen to the level of a classic tale, named as one of the 100 best sports books of all time by Sports Illustrated in 2002 and the only sports book in the New York Public Library’s centennial exhibition in 1995.

Bouton died at the age of 80 this week. In addition to his authorship, Bouton lived an interesting and varied life that is chronicled in his New York Times obituary (Jim Bouton, Author of Tell-All Baseball Memoir ‘Ball Four,’ Dies at 80 – The New York Times).

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.
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