Last week, Jim Bouton, ex-big-league pitcher and author of one of the most culturally significant sports books ever written, "Ball Four," died with little fanfare at the age of 80.
The truth of the matter is, if "Ball Four" were published today, in our politically correct world and era of perpetual victimhood, no major publisher would touch it with a ten-foot pole.
Bouton, in the early 1960’s, broke into the big leagues with a flourish on a Yankee team that still had the likes of Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, and Yogi Berra. At the ripe old age of 24 he was an All-Star, 20 game winner and pitching for the Bronx Bombers in the World Series.
By 1969 at the age of thirty, thanks to perpetual arm injuries, his career was in the toilet. Playing for the Seattle Pilots, an expansion team so bad they lasted only one season before moving to Milwaukee, Bouton tried to reinvigorate his career as a knuckleballer, all while keeping one major secret from his teammates. He was writing a diary that he planned to publish of what life was like in the big leagues.
"Ball Four" was bawdy, lecherous, perverted, debauched, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny. Bouton named names and wrote of players’ affairs, drunken romps, clubhouse pranks, and bullpen conversations. What gave his book heart, was Bouton had to deal with baseball’s ups and downs. He was sent to the minors, traded to another team, and he looked mortality in the face, as he grappled with the fact that his once blazing fastball was gone for good.
When "Ball Four" hit the best sellers list in 1970, Bouton simultaneously became a celebrity and baseball’s public enemy number one for sharing personal, hysterical, and unscrupulous moments of teammates who had no idea what they were saying and doing was going to be chronicled.
What "Ball Four" did was change the way people wrote and talked about athletes. Before "Ball Four," Mickey Mantle’s public persona was of an All-American Golden Boy who could do no wrong. After "Ball Four" Mantle was a player who frittered away his remarkable talent by hitting the bottle too much off the field. Bouton made the tell-all a new and successful sports genre that a half-century later is still in vogue.
If all this makes you not like Jim Bouton, at least give him credit for his crisp prose, understanding what is funny, and being original and fearless. "Ball Four" came to be baseball’s version of "Catcher in the Rye," as it hooked several generations of young male readers and became a must read for true baseball aficionados.
But of course, "Ball Four" would never be published in today’s climate by any major publisher. Today, Bouton would be labeled a misogynist and driven out of Seattle with pitchforks by the locals for daring to write about the objectifying of woman by young men. Players mentioned in the book would be sent to sensitivity training over their antics, and Mantle would have been forced to do mea culpa’s and PSA’s on the dangers of drinking. In short, today no major publisher would risk publishing it out of fear that the P.C. crowd would come after them for daring to glamorize a boys-will-be-boys attitude, in the era of the #MeToo movement.
Bouton for his part in "Ball Four" wrote the best line ever written on baseball that every baseball player understands to be true: “You spend a good deal of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
Jim Bouton RIP.
Matthew Kastel is a 25-year veteran of working as an executive in the world of sports, including professional teams, organizations, and some of the largest vendors in the industry. Matt has also written two novels and teaches and lectures at universities on the business of sports. For more information you can visit his website at thirdstrikeproductions.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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