Ball Four

Ball Four

The Final Pitch

Book - 2014
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The beloved baseball classic now available in paperback, with a new prologue by Jim Bouton. When Ball Four was first published in 1970, it hit the sports world like a lightning bolt. Commissioners, executives, and players were shocked. Sportswriters called author Jim Bouton a traitor and social leper. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to force him to declare the book untrue. Fans, however, loved the book. And serious critics called it an important social document. Today, Jim Bouton is still not invited to Oldtimer's Days at Yankee Stadium. But his landmark book is still being read by people who don't ordinarily follow baseball. For the updated edition of this historic book, Bouton has written a new prologue, detailing his perspective on how baseball has changed since the last edition was released.
Publisher: Nashville, TN : Turner, c2014.
ISBN: 9781630260347
Characteristics: 540 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.


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Mar 29, 2020

The original “Ball Four” was published in 1970, and edited by Leonard Shecter, whose untimely death in 1974 kept him from having any hand in the updates. At 397 pages, it is still a long book, but less intimidating than the 540 pages of this 2014 edition. It recounts the 1969 season of a 30-year-old relief pitcher who started with the expansion team Seattle Pilots, was sent down to their minor league team, the Vancouver Mounties (so there is Canadian content in this memoir), quickly found his way back to the Pilots, then was traded to the Houston Astros just as they entered an ultimately unsuccessful race for a pennant. The bare bones of the story don’t suggest it would be a great read but it certainly is.
Bouton describes a different era in major league baseball when players were paid peanuts compared to their current salaries. The team he played most of the season for, the Seattle Pilots, went bankrupt at the end of the season, the only major baseball team ever to do so, and the park they played in is now a parking lot. While they were never in contention, even at the beginning of the season, to finish in better than third place, this gives a poignancy to the book. There would never be any Old-Timers’ Day for former Seattle Pilots players.
The year 1969 saw the first lunar landing, Richard Nixon become president and the continued protests against the Vietnam War, so while mainly a sports book its backdrop is an important year in American history. Bouton is honest about his own prejudices. He said he thought white Southerners were dumb until he shared a room with Garry Bell, a white Texan. He admits that when he was younger he wouldn’t have wanted his daughter to marry a black man. He notes that while in 1969 black players were over-represented among the top players in the major leagues, they weren’t nearly as well represented in the middle and lower ranks, a clear sign of discrimination.
The raunchy humour of the book, “beaver shooting” is how Bouton’s team-mates refer to their voyeurism, appealed to me as it must have done to its many readers, but will be offensive to some people, particularly in the woke generation.
The original book is supplemented by three additional chapters that look back over the seventies, the eighties and the nineties. These chapters are more rambling than the original book, and less focused on baseball, but worth reading just the same. They give Bouton’s thoughts on how baseball has changed and how major league baseball can be reformed. (On p.506 he identifies SABR as “the Society of Baseball Research”, when it is actually the Society for American Baseball Research.)
The final sentence of the original edition of the book will strike a chord with anyone who has developed a deep attachment to any sport: “you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

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