When the book "Ball Four" first came out in 1970, it created a major sensation. For it was the first sports book that presented athletes in any light other than as the shining, pristine hero. There had been a tradition in baseball that books "written" by athletes were not to ever mention the dubious escapades of the players. "Ball Four" tore off that veneer, exposing some very questionable activity. What was amazing was that no one ever really disputed what Bouton was saying, only that he had no right to say it. In my opinion, in writing this book, Bouton did baseball and the country a great service. In "Ball Four", Bouton openly talks about Mickey Mantle's alcohol problems. The fact is that Mickey died an early death from liver disease that was a consequence of his heavy drinking. His life after baseball was largely a miserable one after he retired. In one of his last statements, Mickey said "Play like me, don't live like me." The recent and repeated scandals over extensive steroid use in major league baseball clearly demonstrate that the people who run the game still don't understand the situation. Bouton himself openly talks about getting better performance through chemicals. On page 45, he writes "Baseball players will take anything. If you had a pill that would guarantee a pitcher 20 wins but might take 5 years off his life, he'd take it." Before I read this book, I had read many sports books, both fiction and non-fiction. Unfortunately, once I read it, I understood that many of those labeled as non-fiction should have been labeled as fiction. Reading it did not turn me off on baseball; that was done by the subsequent nonsense and denials about drug use and gambling in the game. One wonders if we would even have heard about them if it were not for the "writings" of Jim Bouton.
I last read Ball Four in high school, at which point in time and my life it seemed daring, and even dirty. Reading it again now it seems surprisingly tame, but even better than I remembered. Ball Four was a breakthrough, a tell-all book about the closed locker-room behavior of big league ball players; while hardly a counter-culture epic, it scandalized the baseball establishment and won Bouton their relentless and eternal hatred. It defined, as well as any other … more
Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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