Ball Four – A Book Review

The Book: Ball Four

The Author: Jim Bouton

Rating: Must Read, 5-out-of-5

Ball Four was written by former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton in 1970. It is a diary of his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots and his mid-season trade to the Houston Astros. In later editions, mine was the Twentieth Anniversary Edition, the epilogue covers the remainder of his career and life.

For Yankee fans unfamiliar with Bouton, he pitched in the ’63 and ’64 World Series. The Yankees lost both to the Dodgers and Cardinals respectively, but Bouton pitched very well in three starts. 25 by the end of the ’64 World Series, Bouton ended up hurting his arm and never fulfilled the promise he showed early in his career. In 1969 Bouton was a year away from retirement, although he did make a brief comeback with the Braves eight years later, by this time he was hanging on with the expansion Seattle Pilots, who moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers a year later. Bouton didn’t get along with most of the team’s management and was traded to the Houston Astros mid-season. Later the book recaps his comeback with Atlanta.

The book raised a bit of controversy at the time and the commissioner of Major League Baseball even asked Bouton to say that some of the stories in the book were fabricated. He refused. Bouton was also not invited back to Yankee Stadium until one of Mickey Mantle’s sons spoke up on his behalf after his father’s death.

The book is credited with changing the nature of sports books and even journalism in general. A major baseball book editor, Jeff Neuman said this of the books effects:

“It created a very different appetite among the fans for inside stories, and especially for inside dirt. It was the first book to pierce the veil of the locker room — and once Bouton started telling these stories, how could the press ignore them any longer? This, in turn, radically changed the atmosphere in locker rooms.”

Neuman also said of the book:

“On the other hand, ‘Ball Four’ is also a brilliant, wonderful, funny book.”

Part of the buzz about the book is because of the openness that Bouton spoke about players popping “greenies” specifically naming Mickey Mantle. By today’s standards though, the book is pretty tame. There are plenty of books to compare it to as well since the book has many copycats including The Bronx Zoo which I reviewed yesterday.

If you are a Yankee fan or even a fan of baseball, this book is a must read just because of the impact it has made on the sport and the books written about it alone. There is also the great story of a terrible team that would otherwise be forgotten if not for this book.

Really, Rob Neyer said it best:

“In this writer’s opinion, the lasting impact of “Ball Four,” more than anything else, is that it’s a great book, wildly entertaining and worth reading every two or three years. How many books about anything can make the same claim?”

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