on 17 August 1999
As far as I'm concerned, Ball Four is easily the best baseball book out there. I've read about 45 baseball books and nothing compares to Bouton's masterpiece. I've read this book four times and it still hasn't gotten old yet. I'm sure I'll read it at least ten more times and I doubt that I will ever get tired of it.
What makes Ball Four better than any other baseball book is that it allows its readers to see the game from a player's perspective. Never has a book given such an up-close, in-the-locker-room look at baseball. Of course, Bouton himself is brilliant. I love his sarcasm and his biting wit. Ball Four might have been a pretty good book even if it had been written by a poor writer; Bouton, though, is an excellent storyteller and his attitude is what shapes the book. If you consider yourself a fan of the game, you will buy Ball Four immediately. It has given me great joy time and time again.
on 5 July 1999
Perhaps Jim Bouton himself says it best: "The books that have come after mine make BALL FOUR, as an expose, read like THE BOBBSEY TWINS GO TO THE SEASHORE."
This is because--dare I say it?--BALL FOUR is now pretty tame stuff. Oh, no doubt, it's entertaining...and Bouton IS a good writer (or Schecter a great editor). And let's never forget that WITHOUT it, we should never have had the pleasure of Dennis Rodman's name on a bestseller.
But the book is hardly shocking anymore, and I doubt the high school toughs of today have even heard of it, much less decided to read it (now, if MICHAEL JORDAN decided to write a tell-all....)
However, the diminished shock value makes BALL FOUR'S merits stand out more clearly than perhaps they could when it was new. Though I wasn't shocked by it, I often found myself laughing; Bouton has a way of sketching characters and dialogue quite entertainingly. Too, being a bit of an outsider myself, I could certainly relate to his one-rational-voice-crying-out-in-the-wilderness persona. And the 1990 edition of the book has value in that Bouton is able to look back and see the results of the changes in baseball he and others worked toward.
So, perhaps, the reader's enjoyment of BALL FOUR is in the approach. Don't expect to be shocked or enraged; that time is past. Rather, expect four or five days of solid chuckles and a good feeling when you finish.
on 8 August 1999
He writes honestly about what it is like to be the outsider. Which is why this book created such an uproar in 1970. Marginal relief pitchers can not give the public the low down on Mickey Mantle, or give the bird to Commissioner Kuhn.
Baseball needs someone today to give us the real story. I still come back to this book after 10 years. It is refreshing in its innocence. Would Sammy Sosa pop a greenie? Do the Montreal Expos go "beaver shooting" while in Toronto? Certainly there must be a manager today who tells his team to "Pound back the ol'Budweiser like Joe Schultz. Say that its so.
This book will be read by baseball fans in 2075--as much as Fred Talbot must hate to hear it.
on 19 June 1999
If you want a comparison of how life for Major Leaguer's has changed over the years, then try the following.
First, read James T Farrell's "My Baseball Diary". Here you will see that old time ball players lead sometimes difficult lives and relied upon the help and guidance of others to get by.
Second, read Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" where you will see that most ball players are really just playing for the love of the game but some get caught up in the stardom and let things go to their heads.
Third, read Mike Shropshire's "Seasons in Hell" to see how a young ball players career can bw wrecked by an impatient ownership looking to increase ticket sales. You'll also see that these Texas Ranger players were so screwed up that Billy Martin isn't even the strangest character in the book.
Fourth, realize that we may never see such books written about todays players - the legal battles would be incredible !!!
on 1 December 2014
So much to like in what is probably one of the best baseball books ever written.
The closest equivalent for a UK audience would be Eamon Dunphy's mid-70s masterpiece `Only a Game'. They were both written by professional sportsmen in an era before big money came into their sports, whose best days were behind them and at a time when the mantra `what happens in the dressing room, stays in the dressing room' was still king.
Bouton is insightful and a great storyteller. While some of the stuff he and his fellow players got up to in the 60's now looks infantile and more than a little sexist, it was of its time and should be seen through that prism. Though the original diary-style 1968-9 musings were great, what really made this book a pleasure for me were the epilogues written ten, twenty, thirty and now nearly fifty years after the original. They showed a decent, liberal man who stayed true to himself and his beliefs, who gradually accepted a life outside of the sport and who ultimately found peace, even after the truly heart-wrenching death of his daughter, Laurie. Having been born in the same year as her, Bouton's writing was particularly meaningful to this reader.
Oh, and I absolutely love the way also that he speaks for so many of us grouchy older sports fans as he mocks the OTT celebrations so commonplace in modern competition. My two favourite lines were: ` In my day, a player would hit the ball, toss his bat aside, jog around the bases, tip his cap, and sit down. A homer was a homer - not a religious experience' and `God does not care about somebody throwing a ball past a stick. Unless He's working on a knuckleball'.
A great read.
Christy Mathewson's 1912 book 'Pitching in a Pinch' was baseball's first 'inside view' of the game in which - and without attracting any criticism - Mathewson openly discussed the drinking habits of his contemporaries. On Amazon right now you can buy Jose Canseco's 'Juiced' and 'Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars...etc.' Heck, one New York Times bestseller published in 2004 was subtitled 'A season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo chasing, and Championship Baseball with...the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform'. Those kinds of exposes of the ugly underbelly of professional baseball - each more lurid than the last - are ten-a-penny now. So why should an author and former ballplayer who wrote a similar book over 30 years ago still be considered an outcast today by many within baseball?
Jim Bouton is an aesthete, an irreverent intellectual set adrift in a culture of Neanderthals and conformers. He is also a pitcher suffering from some inner doubts about his 'stuff' and perhaps facing up to the fact that he's over the hill and having to rely upon the guile of his knuckleball rather than the power of his erstwhile fastball to break back into The Show - which in this case takes the form of the fledgling Seattle Pilots team in their expansion (and indeed only) season. Ball Four is a diary which tells about his efforts to make it back to the big leagues and the personalities and ingrained prejudices he had to overcome to do so.
So why is Bouton so ostracised by many of the baseball fraternity decades after he published a book which did nothing more than give an even handed, honest and detailed account of his 1969 season? After all, as I have already explained, in the intervening years since Ball Four was published many baseball people have published their own inside stories and exposes. Indeed, even some of Jim Bouton's 'victims' have since traded on their nefarious reputations to a far greater extent than Bouton portrayed...yet still despise him for it. So why?
The answer is that, somewhere in the 90 years between Mathewson and Boomer Wells, baseball, and the perception of baseball, changed from being a game played by "shysters, con men, drunks and outright thieves" (Bill James) from which the public stayed away in their droves, to become instead increasingly big business for players, managers and, especially, owners. The paying public wanted a National Pastime which represented their ideals - fair play, clean-cut teams of wholesome athletes, heroes. And so as the game grew more lucrative, and as the importance of the sport's public image also grew, so did the impetus for the baseball establishment to perpetuate and protect that 'peanuts and crackerjack' image, and consequently all that money.
Enter Jim Bouton - Deviant, Knuckleballer and Whistleblower.
Bouton's unforgivable crime was that he was the FIRST to break baseball's greatest taboo - the mantra which sustained and upheld the Establishment's public veneer and which was actually inscribed on a board in the Pilots' club house, the gist of which ran "whatever happens [on the road/in the clubhouse/in the team] stays [on the road/in the clubhouse/in the team]." What he illustrated in his wry day-to-day observations and disarming musings in Ball Four is a shambles; an ugly catalogue of petty small mindedness, hopeless disorganisation, inconsistency and hypocrisy at al levels of the game. The old guard of coaches, owners, managers and scouts were thoughtless, inept, duplicitous and reactionary - relying upon the kind of foundless received wisdom which was exploded so brilliantly by Billy Beane in Moneyball. The players were factional, puerile, perverted and racist.
As Bouton explains very eloquently in a postscript to Ball Four, subcultures like that of professional ballplayers need a set of shared values, they need to conform, and it helps strengthen and confirm this set of values if they can identify and focus upon a 'deviant'. Bouton was already eyed with suspicion by his peers - he did not conform, did not trot out the meaningless, trite jock sayings at the appropriate times, did not go along with the juvenile, macho cliques, was capable of independent thought, was not a 'Good Ol' Boy', did not toe the line. Even worse, he wasn't coming off a 20-win season but instead was on the fringes of the bullpen and struggling with his delivery. So he was already an ideal candidate on which to hang the deviant tag. His publishing of Ball Four confirmed that all of those prejudices projected onto the pariah Jim Bouton by his teammates for their own sakes were justified...weren't they? No, because everything Bouton says in Ball Four is right, and needed saying.
OK, he wrote the diary in secret without the knowledge of most of the people whose stupidity it exposes and so maybe betrayed their trust in a way. Also, the Seattle Pilots were probably an extreme example of the state of baseball in the late 60s (Bouton was traded to the Astros during Ball Four and found them far more professional and progressive). But the picture it revealed to the fans for the first time as it peeled back that facade of the Nation's Pastime really show that not only the book's ignorant and indignant cast deserved to be shown for what they were - but Baseball (big 'B') deserved it too....even needed it!
on 4 August 1998
I could write forever about this book. I first read it when it came out in 1970 and I've gone through two or three copies by now. At one point I came across a copy Bouton had pre-autographed, and someone stole it a party. I wish I had it today. I have read this book so many times I have lost count, and it cracks me up every time. "Hiya blondie, how's the old tomato?" has got to be one of the best throwaway lines I've ever heard. Not to be missed though are the numerous human interest stories in the book, the ones that really made the book what it is. Bouton has a very keen power of observation and an unparalled knack for storytelling. I'm sure Leonard Schechter fit in the equation somewhere, but since Bouton has experienced the thrills of winning in the World Series to pitching for the now lost in time Seattle Pilots, no one is more uniquely qualified to comment like he does. Like another reviewer said, I've read this book so many times over the years I feel l! ike I know Bouton well, but I'd bet there's still more to him than we know. It would be great fun to kill a few beers with him, order take out from the bullpen phone and shoot some beaver. "Hey Gelnar, c'mere a minute. Up there near the Section 23 sign. Check the rack on that broad." "Yeah, surrrrrre."
on 14 May 2007
I must admit, the first time I read it I didn't understand the baseball speak and therefore took me a while to get into it, but as I got more into the game via Channel 5 etc the better the book got! I've read it 4 times now (normally at the beginning of each baseball season) and it just gets funnier and funnier. Bouton's wit is superb. I can pick this book up anytime, anyday, go to a random page and I know I will laugh out loud.
on 9 October 1998
I just finished Ball Four for the 25th time. I read it every year because it reminds me of why I love sports. Not for the superhumans, but for the humans who play them. There is more insight into pro sports, as well as American society, in this book than any I've ever read. It is especially poignant this year which saw Mr. Bouton finally invited to Old Timers' Day at Yankee stadium in response to his son Mike's op-ed piece in the New York Times. Jim's daughter Laurie was recently killed in an automobile accident, and I was saddened that I didn't know about it early enough to send him my condolences. Mike wrote in the Times that this year, his dad really needed this. Amazingly, the Yankees responded.They only let him pitch to one batter, (perhaps Sal Maglie convinced then he was throwing too damn much), but he wore 56, and Bulldog once again took the mound. And to celebrate I re-read the book that was my personal passage to adulthood. Jim Bouton is a true outsider, a revolutionary, and this book is a work of art and history.
on 9 June 2014
When it first came out, this was a shocking expose of baseball from within, a players-eye-view of the 1969 season in the clubhouses of the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros. Jim Bouton stands out from the rest of his teammates as an intellectual and an outsider, so it’s fair to say he was never the most popular of guys at his ball clubs, but he became even less so on publication of this book. It caused a lot of controversy at the time, although it’s pretty tame stuff now – it’s hardly a surprise to find out that players are foul-mouthed, enjoy ogling pretty girls (and occasionally going further), take the odd supplement to help their game, and are generally selfish and egotistical. I found the three afterwords at the end of the book, giving updates ten, twenty and thirty years on, became a little dragged out, and the book is starting to show it’s age a little, but it still deserves a place on the shelf of every baseball fan. Now it’s an expose of how much the sport has changed since 1969.