Jim Bouton, Author Of Influential "Ball Four," Passes Away At 80
Former MLBer JIM BOUTON, who "found greater fame later as the author of 'BALL FOUR,' an irreverent, best-selling book that angered baseball’s hierarchy and changed the way journalists and fans viewed the sports world," died yesterday at 80, according to Matt Schudel of the WASHINGTON POST. Published in '70, with the editorial help of sportswriter LEONARD SHECTER, the book "captured the humor, profanity and pathos of a major league clubhouse." Then-MLB Commissioner BOWIE KUHN "wanted 'Ball Four' banned and summoned" Bouton to his office, "demanding that he repudiate his own book." Bouton "refused to change a word, and the publicity helped make 'Ball Four' one of the best-selling sports books of all time, with more than 5.5 million copies in print" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/11). In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes, "Bouton’s tales of ballplayer byplay and bacchanalia were irresistible to readers." The book sold "millions of copies and remains in print 49 years later, and was the only sports book included" in the N.Y. Public Library’s '96 list of “Books of the Century" (N.Y. POST, 7/11).
NOT WITHOUT CONTROVERSY: In N.Y., Bruce Weber writes Bouton portrayed MLB as a "world of amusing, foible-ridden, puerile conformity." Upon the book's release, a few players "claimed Bouton was a liar," and many of an older sportswriting generation felt Bouton had "done irreparable damage to the game out of his own self-importance and desperation" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/11). Also in N.Y., Niemietz & McShane note Bouton, who played for the Yankees from '62-68, "exposed in great detail the carousing of Yankees legend MICKEY MANTLE, the widespread use of stimulants in Major League locker rooms, and the spectacularly foul mouth of Seattle Pilots manager JOE SCHULTZ." The book "caused most of his old teammates to ostracize him, and he was blackballed from Yankees events for nearly 30 years" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/11).
AHEAD OF HIS TIME: In Seattle, Larry Stone writes "Ball Four" was "ribald, it was profane, and it was light years ahead of its time in portraying ballplayers as humans, flaws and all, rather than adhering to the idolatry that had prevailed to that point in sporting literature" (SEATTLE TIMES, 7/11). On Long Island, Mark Herrmann notes the "massive readership" of the book "changed the trajectory of Bouton’s life, sending him onto a second career as a sportscaster" in N.Y. He also was the "entrepreneur of Big League, a company that produced chewing gum and baseball cards." He even "became a personality and celebrity" (NEWSDAY, 7/11). THE ATHLETIC's Jonah Keri: "The legacy he left behind is unlike any other forged by a professional athlete" (7/10).