View Full Version : Totally Biased Book Review: Ball Four

Baby Fisk
03-07-2006, 08:51 AM
Ball Four - by Jim Bouton (1970, reprinted in 1980, 1990, 2001, 465 pp.)

Booze, drugs, sex and personal behaviour of a most unwholesome nature. Itís the stuff of every great sports exposť.

Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle spiralling into destructive alcoholism. Jose Canseco and his teammates loading up on steroids. Wilt Chamberlin bedding 10,000 women. Chronicles about various men behaving badly far from the field of play are now a given in the publishing world.

But before all of those came Jim Bouton (who?) and Ball Four.

Bouton's major league pitching career spanned from 1962 to 1970. After a flashy start as a fireballer with the New York Yankees, his velocity fizzled and he was cut adrift. He signed with the expansion 1969 Seattle Pilots, developed a knuckleball, and began keeping a diary of his season on the margins of major league baseball.

Back then, the national pastime was still clinging to its dominance. Its stars were popularized as mythical heroes, and books about baseball were genteel, sugar-coated tributes to the great game of baseball and the honest men who played it.

When Bouton's diary was published the following year, it blew the lid off the joint.

Bouton presented himself, his teammates and his coaches not as myths, but as human beings. Frustrated and deceptive. Drunk and horny. Pill-poppers and shirkers of responsibility. Pranksters and jerks. Eccentrics and regular joes who worried about putting bread on the table.

Ball Four was an immediate sensation, and today remains one of the most revealing books about baseball. This book isn't about the Seattle Pilots and their one-year flight into oblivion, nor is it really Jim Bouton's personal memoir of a season in the majors. It's a book about life as a ballplayer. From the opening sentence, "I'm thirty years old and I have these dreams," it establishes a connection with the reader and invites you through the clubhouse door.

And itís damn funny in there. Ball Four is packed with hilarious anecdotes of internal rivalries, life on the road, and antics in the locker room. One hilarious stunt:

In the bullpen Talbot revealed and awful truth about Joe Pepitone. He has two different hairpieces. He's got a massive piece, which he wears when he's going out, and a smaller one to wear under his baseball cap. He calls it his game piece. On opening day he was wearing his game piece and hadn't put it on very well. So when he was forced to take his cap off, there it was, sitting on his head all askew. He was so embarrassed he tried to hide his head in the shoulder of the guy standing next to him. Kiss me, Joe baby.

Pepitone took to wearing the hairpieces when his hair started to get thin on top. And the hair he still has is all curly and frizzy when he lets it grow long. So he carries around all kinds of equipment in a little blue Pan Am bag. Things like a hot comb, various greases and salves, glue for the hairpiece, hair-straightener - and even a hair dryer. He carries it wherever he goes, on the buses to the park, on airplanes. You never see him without that little blue bag. At any rate, one day Fritz Peterson and I, a bit bored during a game we were winning about 6-2, went into the clubhouse and filled his hair-dryer with talcum powder. Then we cleaned it up, left it where he had and went back to watch the game. By this time it was 6-3, and then they tied it up and we lost it, 7-6, in extra innings. And one of the reasons we lost is that Pepitone struck out in a clutch situation.

So everyone was tired and angry and upset and you could hear a pin drop in the clubhouse, because after a loss that's the way it's supposed to be. After a while Pepitone came out of the shower and turned his hair-dryer on. Whoooosh! Instant white. He looked like an Italian George Washington wearing a powdered wig. There was talcum powder over everything, his hair, his eyebrows, his nose, the hair on his chest. Of course, everybody went crazy. Loss or no, they all laughed like hell. To this moment, Pepitone never knew who turned on the powder.
Naturally, revelations like that cost Bouton a lot of friendships in baseball. His career ended the same year Ball Four was published. He made a brief comeback with Atlanta in 1978, but by then had long been branded a traitor by the baseball establishment. A kook. A Judas. Fans ate it up, and still do, howling over tales of Mickey Mantle's reprobate behaviour, Bouton's ongoing mental war with pitching coach Sal Maglie, and the giddy thrills of beaver shooting (known in the modern vernacular as "chick scoping") with the fellas.

Some more wacky bits:

Norm Miller says that it has long been his ambition to sit in a laundry bag. He thinks if he did, and pulled the string tight over his head, it would be very quiet and peaceful.

In the bullpen tonight Jim Pagliaroni was telling us how Ted Williams, when he was still playing, would psyche himself up for a game during batting practice, usually early practice before the fans or reporters got there.

He'd go into the cage, wave his bat at the pitcher and start screaming at the top of his voice, "My name is Ted ****ing Williams and I'm the greatest hitter in baseball."

He'd swing and hit a line drive.

"Jesus H. Christ Himself couldn't get me out."

And he'd hit another.

Then he'd say, "Here comes Jim Bunning, Jim ****ing Bunning and that little **** slider of his."


"He doesn't really think he's gonna get me out with that ****."


"I'm Ted ****ing Williams."


Obligatory White Sox connection: before talking maverick owner Ted Turner into giving him a shot at a comeback in 1978, Bouton convinced maverick owner Bill Veeck to give him a comeback shot in 1977. Bouton signed with the White Sox and made a handful of appearances for their AA team. The Sox never called him up. He was routinely blasted off the mound and was released after a couple of months.

Jim Bouton's website: linky (http://www.jimbouton.com/)

Note: Ball Four has been reprinted every 10 years since its first publication. Each successive edition features a new concluding chapter by Bouton, updating readers about his life and times since the previous edition came out. The 1990 edition was reviewed here.

03-14-2006, 06:57 PM
Love that book. Bouton and I share a birthday.

"It's a round bat and a round ball but you gotta hit it square."

03-15-2006, 02:29 AM
After The Summer Game, Ball Four is my second-favorite baseball book.

If I may be permitted to add a quote of my own:

So I volunteered that [Hovley] was a pretty bright fellow. "Yeah, but does he have any common sense?" Talbot said.
"I know just what you mean about not having any common sense," O'Donoghue said. "He doesn't."
I asked him what he meant by that.
"Well, one time we were sitting in a restaurant," O'Donoghue said, "and Hovley was walking down the street with a ski cap pulled down over his face and he came past the restaurant and stood outside on the sidewalk peering in at us."
That one makes me laugh every time I try to picture it.

03-15-2006, 02:50 AM
i bet your thread will be edited by daver as you quoted copyrighted material. but yea biased

03-15-2006, 03:00 AM
i bet your thread will be edited by daver as you quoted copyrighted material. but yea biased

No, it is well less than 10% of the over all content, so it is not a problem. It is much easier to violate the rule with newspaper articles as they are much shorter...

03-15-2006, 03:03 AM
No, it is well less than 10% of the over all content, so it is not a problem. It is much easier to violate the rule with newspaper articles as they are much shorter...

ok. well atleast the rule is clarified for me know so i know

03-15-2006, 03:04 AM
ok. well atleast the rule is clarified for me know so i know

Read the thread at the top of the Clubhouse. It's pretty clear...