Book Review: “Ball Four,” by Jim Bouton

"Ball Four," by Jim Bouton

Modern sports journalism owes everything – both good and bad – to Ball Four. Written by Jim Bouton, a World Series champion and 10-year major league pitcher, Ball Four covers his 1969 season, beginning with one-year expansion team the Seattle Pilots, then covering his brief stint with AAA Vancouver and following him to the Astros after a late-season trade.

Along the way, Bouton mixes hilarious stories and incidents from inside the clubhouse with opinions on drug use, race, salary rules and other baseball-related issues. Bouton writes with an honest, breezy, easy-going style that rips into himself as fearlessly as it does his teammates.

Ball Four was the first sports book to favor gossip, team relations and drama over statistics and strategy, and the fans have demanded that ever since. Every story now about players not getting along, conspiring to get a coach fired or getting drunk in the locker room – those stories only come out because Ball Four made them popular 50 years ago, making it a milestone in sports writing.

Red Sox fans are also sure to like Bouton’s experiments with the knuckleball. Ball Four gives the reader a look at the pitch’s earliest stages of evolution.

Jim Bouton: Pioneer

Both players and Major League Baseball widely criticized Bouton when Ball Four came out. The league has always tried to present its players as wholesome, moral, clean-cut, good ol’ American heroes. Bouton smashes that image to pieces, instead portraying baseball players as alcoholic, drug-abusing adulterers and voyeurs (or, as Bouton wonderfully calls them, “Beaver-shooters”).

And Bouton doesn’t hold his negative depictions to baseball’s no-names. Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Ted Williams – Bouton lays into all of them as badly as he does his unimportant teammates on the one-and-done Pilots.

Continue reading Book Review: “Ball Four,” by Jim Bouton