Bouton’s ‘Ball Four,’ mystery recommendations, and Mark Twain’s delight: newsletter, July 26, 2019

July 30, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, history, journalism, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, July 26, 2019.


Three weeks ago when we extracted the honey from our beehives, the last part of the process was putting the “wet” frames back onto the hives. These are frames that contain honey, but the amounts are too small to extract. The bees will take the honey, clean up the comb, and a few days later, the beekeeper will go back in and remove the frames and boxes and keep them for next year.

Well, this year it took us three weeks — not just a few days — to get to that last part, and when we opened the hives a few days ago, we found — to our surprise and delight — that the frames we expected to remove from the hive were covered with bees. In fact, each of our three hives is so full of bees that we could not remove any boxes or frames.

All this is good news. The more bees we have in the hives now, in late July, the more likely the hives are to survive the winter when the bee population gets very low. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a good sign.

I hope that you had good signs with whatever you were up to this week.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,727 subscribers and had a 32.5 percent open rate; 3 people unsubscribed. 

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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 turned 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 a couple of weeks ago. 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).

50 great mystery/thriller recommendations by women 

If you like lists of book recommendations — especially mysteries and thrillers and especially by female authors — you will want to take a look at this: From Agatha Christie to Gillian Flynn: 50 great thrillers by women | Books | The Guardian

The Guardian asked some of the top-ranked female writers in the genre to recommend books in their genre (not their own, of course). The 50 books on the list, with short descriptions, is a good one and promises that you will find something you probably haven’t read or considered.

For instance, here are a couple of recommendations from Anne Cleeves:

Devices and Desires by PD James
Adam Dalgliesh takes on a serial killer terrorising a remote Norfolk community.

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina
Heavily pregnant DS Alex Morrow investigates the violent death of a wealthy woman in Glasgow.

Fire Sale by Sara Paretsky
The inimitable VI Warshawski takes over coaching duties of the girls’ basketball team at her former high school, and investigates the explosion of the flag manufacturing plant where one of the girl’s mothers works.

Yes, the recommendation range is widely international and includes the old and the new. Even one of Agatha Christie’s novels is there. Take a look at the list. It’s a lot of fun and have your library card or ebook store link at the ready.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Mark Twain on hearing that his book, Huckleberry Finn, had been banned

Last week’s newsletter contained a list of the American Library Association’s 2018 11 “most challenged” books — a list that often contains Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn but for some reason did not this year.

In March 1885, the library of Concord, Massachusetts, banned Huckleberry Finn, which had just been published. In a letter to Frank Nichols, the secretary of the Concord Free Trade Club, Twain responded in a manner that you might expect:

. . . a committee of the public library of your town have condemned and excommunicated my last book and doubled its sale. This generous action of theirs must necessarily benefit me in one or two additional ways. For instance, it will deter other libraries from buying the book; and you are doubtless aware that one book in a public library prevents the sale of a sure ten and a possible hundred of its mates. And, secondly, it will cause the purchasers of the book to read it, out of curiosity, instead of merely intending to do so, after the usual way of the world and library committees; and then they will discover, to my great advantage and their own indignant disappointment, that there is nothing objectionable in the book after all.

Twain’s response is pitch-perfect, heaping subtle but well-deserved contempt on those who would “protect” us from immorality by banning books.


From the archives: FDR, the editor: A day becomes a ‘date’The first typed draft of Franklin Roosevelt's "date which will live in infamy" speech was heavily edited by FDR.

On the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Franklin Roosevelt dictated a speech that would become one of the most famous in American history. Unlike more modern presidents, who employ an army of speechwriters, Roosevelt wrote much of his own speeches.

He began this one by dictating to Grace Tully, his secretary. The first draft of his first sentence was, “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a day which will live in world history . . . .”

Roosevelt was a notorious and perfecting editor, particularly of his own copy. No one knows what went through his mind when he was writing and editing this speech, but the evidence that he was giving each word much thought can be found in the image at the right. He made many changes to that draft. To Roosevelt, those first words were important, and they had to be right. They must have sounded flat, like the beginning of a dull history lesson.

Somewhere in the process, “day” became “date,” signifying a larger and more memorable moment in history than just a day. And “world history” became “infamy.” Roosevelt needed a word that would express the outrage that Americans felt about being “suddenly and deliberately attacked.” 

Infamy was the word he chose. It hadn’t come to him at first. It came only in the editing process.

And it has become an indelible part of American history.

Roosevelt had good reason to weigh his words carefully — many good reasons, in fact. For much of two years prior to the Japanese attack, the country had been through a bitter debate about what America should do about the war in Europe. A strong America First faction, led by aviator-hero Charles Lindbergh, argued that America should not be involved in Europe’s problems. People on this side recalled America’s participation in World War I — then called the Great War — and believed America had lost many lives and much treasure and had gained little for it.

On the other side of the debate were those who believed that America’s involvement in this European war was inevitable and that the sooner we committed to it, the better able we would be to end it quickly. The British, particularly Prime Minister Winston Churchill, were desperate to bring America into the war, fearing that the British would not be able to hold out against Germany. America was the place where Nazism and Fascism could be stopped, this side argued, and it was America’s moral duty to the world to fight. Roosevelt was clearly on this side of the argument, but as president, he felt that he could not lead too strongly. If war came, he would have to have a united country behind him.

The bitterness of how divided America was at that point is exemplified by the actions of both sides over the issue of a peacetime draft, which came before Congress in 1940. Proponents knew that if war came any time soon, America would be totally unprepared both with equipment and men. A peacetime draft — though America had never had one in her history — made sense, and those who opposed it, proponents argued, were endangering the country.

The opposition to a draft included many young people, Gold Star Mothers (those who had lost children in the previous war), educators, pacifists, and isolationists. As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II:

Day after day, black-veiled matrons who called themselves the Mothers of the USA march in front of the Capitol, vowing to hold a “death watch” against conscription. (p. 139)

Just about every issue through the next year became one of war or peace.

On December 7, a quiet Sunday, war came, but it wasn’t from the east in Europe.

Smoke pours from the USS Arizona, one of the battleships sunk by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.

Just after 7:30 a.m. local time, a fleet of Japanese bombers swooped into Pearl Harbor and dropped a payload of torpedo bombs on the ships anchored there. They kept coming — 189 in all — until the U.S. Navy was crippled beyond imagining.

Roosevelt was informed about 1:30 p.m. Washington time.

After conferring with aides throughout the afternoon, Roosevelt called in Grace Tully around 5 p.m and began dictating his speech. He worked on it, on and off, into the evening. (Right: Smoke pours from the USS Arizona, one of the battleships sunk by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.)

The speech was important, not just because of the history it would make but also because of the immediate situation. No one knew what would happen next. Would America be invaded by the Japanese? Japan had not only attacked Pearl Harbor that day, but it has launched coordinated attacks on the Philippines and numerous points elsewhere in the Pacific. It was not then out of the question that they could be on the shores of the West Coast within hours or days.

The nation waited on that bleak Monday to hear from Roosevelt. The speech, FDR knew, had to ignore the bitterness of the previous two years and set a direction and tone that would promote American unity.

By measuring precisely each of his words, Roosevelt did just that.


Glynn W.: Great episode (Emma Lazarus and her poetry). The Lazarus poem seems quite current with our present agendas on the homeless and refugees. 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Jim Bouton (caricature)

Best quote of the week:

To me, the great joy of writing is discovering. Most writers are told to write about what they know, but I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.” Tom Wolfe (1930-2018), American journalist, non-fiction author (including “The Right Stuff”), novelist, essayist and critic

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Summer reading, the huddled masses, ALA’s ‘most challenged’ list, and more: newsletter, July 19, 2019





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