Rich Reminisces: “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton

2019 is the 50th anniversary of what may be the most important book ever written about baseball. The tome which changed the world was “Ball Four” written by Jim Bouton and edited by Len Shecter.

Jim Bouton, who should have had Topps cards in 1969 and 1970 so we could have even better memories of that era, was as the author the key person of the book. After all, Bouton did pitch in 73 games during the 1969 season, which included two major league teams and a short minor-league stint.

Before going to the Seattle Pilots, Bouton had been a New York Yankee and was a remnant from the final days of the Yankees dynasty. While it was obvious from all his writings that he truly loved the game, the fact he looked at things differently was a cause of consternation for baseball officials. One of the things to remember is if all he had written about was how baseball players were human (young, loved to chase girls on the road, used coarse language, etc.) that would not have been so bad. Or as the story at the time goes: “If you see a word you don’t know, don’t ask your mother about those” to deal with the four letter words. This book took the inside stories which were evolving, beginning with Jerry Kramer’s book “Instant Replay” about the 1967 Green Bay Packers and Frank Beard’s book “Pro” about the golf tour.  

Bouton took these books a step further and was not nearly as family friendly as some of the other books in that process. Bill Freehan’s “Behind the Mask”, which actually pre-dated Ball Four’s release was also an inside look at a team, but without most of the non-baseball material covered in Ball Four. Of course there was a difference in Freehan playing almost every day as a position player and Bouton spending a lot of time in the bullpen, having more time to hear all those stories. Both Freehan and Bouton’s books are based on the 1969 season, so when the Seattle Pilots played the Detroit Tigers there are two different ways those games are dealt with.

The most amazing thing about these books was perhaps the self-examination needed for these diaries, as all of these athletes had seasons at or near their career peak during around that time. And in the case of Jerry Kramer, there is this memorable block of Jethro Pugh to give Bart Starr the room needed to score the winning touchdown in the 1967 Ice Bowl game  

But what really upset major league baseball was two fold:

1.) How he was able to show that the legendary Mickey Mantle was not perfect but just another person with typical male urges.
2.) He also showed how players were not properly paid, and some of the monetary troubles players had were because management had so much control.

Those issues as much as anything was what organized baseball got freaked out about after the book was published in 1970. Remember similar to today, there was a growing divide between the young athletes and those establishment types that were in charge. Today, much gets into the public because of social media use, which never used to be part of the discussion.

The other thing to remember was because of this book we were able to get a first person look at the 1969 Seattle Pilots, which were a one and done team. Since they were only in existence for that one year, the idea that we have this much information about the team is a gold mine.

Although the Pilots were an expansion team, they had several people important in baseball history. One of those players, who got traded before Spring Training even concluded was Lou Piniella. “Sweet Lou” may have had a sweet bat, but he was not always the mellowest player on the field. Piniella had what is called a “Red ***”, and more than 20 years later his temper was still well remembered.  He is the last Cincinnati Reds manager to take the team to the World Series and the only Seattle Mariners manager to lead them to the post-season.  And here is a brief part of a Sassoon ad which showed on television.

And there are plenty of other people who are remembered fondly because of their places in the day to day life of the Seattle Pilots. After all, Joe Schultz, a long-time baseball man, was the manager of the team and understood they were not going to be winning many games. Thus, one of his great pieces of advice was to “Pound the Old Bud (Weiser)” after every game.

We also have people who were almost “counter-culture heroes” at the time such as Steve Hovley and Mike Marshall:

And there is also Gary “Ding Dong” Bell:

Fred Talbot, is probably still waiting for his part of the 25,000 dollar prize since he, somehow as a pitcher, hit a grand slam in the designated inning of a fan contest. No, the money never came, but the story still lingers. There is no Topps card of him as a Pilot, so instead here’s his 1969 card of him as a Yankee.

And while I could talk about all the players and their roles in the book such as Marty Pattin‘s Donald Duck impression, the final couple of players I’ll talk about in this article is Greg Goossen. Goossen came up as a young man with the Mets and is responsible for one of the most memorable Casey Stengel lines: “This is Greg Goossen, he’s 19 years old and in 10 years he’s got a chance to be 29.

As a boxing fan, I’ve always been fascinated since Goossen is part of the boxing Goossen family, and before his passing actually was one of the corner-men in several important fights. He also became a stand-in for Gene Hackman in films, and did very well financially doing that seemingly thankless role.

And how else could I finish but by showing a card of Dooley Womack aka THAT Dooley Womack, who Bouton was traded for during the middle of the 1969 season. They had been Yankees teammates in 1966-68 before both of them began their last few seasons. This is Dooley pictured as an Houston Astro.

On a personal thought, I wonder if you could argue the eventual acceptance of Ball Four was one of the precursors to the work Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did to uncover the Watergate Scandal. By that time we had started getting used to the concept that people who had previously been protected by media members were not being treated as normal human beings. Scandals were far fewer before 1970 and Ball Four than afterwards.

  Was this book and the honest appraisal of baseball players a tipping point in journalistic history?

2 thoughts on “Rich Reminisces: “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton

  1. Pingback: Rich Reminisces: 1968 Detroit Tigers | COMC Blog

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