James Alan Bouton (March 8, 1939 – July 10, 2019) was a Major League Baseball player and author of the controversial baseball book Ball Four, which was a combination diary of his 1969 season and memoir of his years with the New York Yankees.
While attending high school, Bouton was nicknamed "Warm-Up Bouton" because he never got to play in a school game, serving much of his time as a benchwarmer. As a high school pitcher he didn't throw particularly hard, and got batters out by mixing conventional stuff, with the knuckleball that he'd experimented with since childhood. Unlike many Major League pitchers, Bouton could not hit at all, even as a high schooler. His career batting average in the majors was a dismal .101.
Bouton started his major league career in 1962 with the Yankees, where his tenacity earned him the nickname "Bulldog." In the subsequent two seasons the hard-throwing right-hander, known for his cap flying off at the completion of his delivery to the plate, won 21 and 18 games and appeared in the 1963 All Star Game. He was 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA in World Series play, including a tossing a six-hit shutout against the St Louis Cardinals in 1964.
Bouton's hard throwing and heavy use by the Yankees during his successful years (he led the league in starts in 1964, with 37) probably contributed to his later arm troubles.
However, in 1965, an arm injury slowed his fastball and ended his status as a pitching phenomenon. Relegated mostly to bullpen duty, Bouton began to throw the knuckleball again, in an effort to lengthen his career. By 1968, Bouton was a reliever for the minor league Seattle Angels. In October 1968, he joined a committee of American sportsmen who traveled to the 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico City, to protest the involvement of apartheid South Africa. This trip is never mentioned in Ball Four
At around the same time, sportswriter Leonard Shecter, who had befriended Bouton during his time with the Yankees, approached him with the idea of writing a season-long diary for publication. Bouton, who had taken some notes during the 1968 season after having a similar idea, readily agreed.
What Bouton came up with during the 1969 season was a frank, no-holds-barred insider's look at a professional sports team. The backdrop for the book was the Seattle Pilots' one and only operating season. Unlike previous sports tomes, Ball Four named names and made no attempt to protect the innocent or the guilty. Bouton did this by writing with almost complete honesty about the way a professional baseball team actually interacts -- not only the heroic game-winning home runs, but also the petty jealousies, the obscene jokes, the drunken tomcatting of the players, the womanizing and the routine drug use. Bouton and Shecter wrote with candor about Bouton's anxiety about his pitching role on the team. Bouton detailed his unsatisfactory relationships with teammates and management alike, his sparring sessions with Pilots manager Joe Schultz and pitching coach Sal Maglie, and the lies and minor cheating that has gone on in sports seemingly from time immemorial. Ball Four revealed publicly for the first time the degree of womanizing prevalent in the major leagues (including "beaver shooting", the spying on women from rooftops or from under the stands). Bouton also disclosed how rampant amphetamine or "greenies" usage was among players. Also revealed was the heavy drinking of Yankee legend Mickey Mantle, which had been almost entirely kept out of the press.
The fact that Bouton had a mediocre pitching year in 1969 even by his more modest recent standards is not minimized - Ball Four can also be viewed as the decline and fall of a former star pitcher. Arguing with the coaches (usually about his role with the team and his desire to throw between outings), his outspoken views on politics (and everything else) meant that many considered him a malcontent and a subversive in the clubhouse. Early in the season he was sent to Seattle's minor-league affiliate in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was later traded during the season to the Houston Astros.
Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Ball Four "detrimental to baseball." Many of Bouton's teammates never forgave him for publicly airing what he had learned in private about their flaws and foibles. The book made Bouton unpopular with many baseball players, coaches and team officials on other teams too, who felt he had betrayed the long-standing rule: `What you see here, what you say here, what you do here, let it stay here.' Many traditional sportswriters also denounced Bouton, with Dick Young leading the way, calling Bouton and Shecter "social lepers"
Bouton seemed rather pleased by the commotion his book had kicked up, and the following year described the fallout from Ball Four and his ensuing battles with Commissioner Kuhn and others in another diary, entitled I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally.
The largest measure of Ball Four's impact is that many of the athletes who seemed most offended by Bouton's candor in 1969, including Mickey Mantle, went on to write memoirs of their own which were, in some respects, just as candid as Bouton's had been.
Bouton retired midway through the 1970 season after the Astros sent him down to the minor leagues. He immediately became a local sports anchor for New York station WABC-TV, as part of Eyewitness News; he later had the same job for WCBS-TV. He appeared as an actor, playing the part of "Terry Lennox" in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), and had the lead role in the 1976 CBS television series Ball Four, which was loosely adapted from the book and was cancelled after only a few episodes. By this time the book had a cult audience of fans who saw it as an honest and comic portrayal of the ups and downs of baseball life. Bouton went on the college lecture circuit, delivering humorous talks revolving around baseball, broadcasting, and his experiences with the book.
Bouton and his first wife, Bobbie (they divorced in the '80's) had two children together, Michael and Laurie, and adopted a Korean orphan, Kyong Jo, who was renamed David at the boy's own request. Bouton's ex-wife, Bobbie, teamed up with the former wife of pitcher Mike Marshall to write a tell-all book called "Home Games." Bouton remarried in the '90's.
The urge to play baseball would not leave him. He launched his comeback bid with the Class A Portland Mavericks in 1975, compiling a 5-1 record. He skipped the 1976 season to work on the television series, but returned to the diamond in 1977 when Bill Veeck signed him to a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. Bouton was winless for a White Sox farm club; a stint in the Mexican League and a return to Portland followed.
Bouton's quest to return to the majors might have ended there; but in 1978 the anti-establishment Ted Turner signed him to a contract with the Atlanta Braves. After a successful season with the Savannah Braves (AA), he was called up to join the Atlanta rotation in September, and compiled a 1-3 record in five starts. His winding return to the majors was chronicled in a book by sportswriter Terry Pluto, entitled "The Greatest Summer." Bouton also detailed his comeback in a third book, titled Ball Five as well as adding a Ball Six, updating the stories of the players in Ball Four, for the 20th anniversary edition. These were collected (in 2000) with the original as Ball Four: The Final Pitch, along with a new coda that detailed his reconciliation with the Yankees following the death of his daughter in a road traffic accident.
After his return to the majors, Bouton continued to pitch at the semi-pro level for a Bergen County, New Jersey team called The Merchants.
After his baseball career ended a second time, Bouton was one of the inventors of "Big League Chew," a shredded bubblegum designed to resemble chewing tobacco and sold in a tobacco-like pouch. He has also co-authored Strike Zone (a baseball novel) and edited an anthology about managers, entitled I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad. His most recent book is Foul Ball (published 2003) a non-fiction account of his (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to save Wahconah Park, a historic minor league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Vindication and Reconciliation
Although Bouton had never been officially declared persona non grata by the Yankees or any other team as a result of Ball Four's revelations, he was excluded from most baseball-related functions, including Old-Timer's Games. It was rumored that Mickey Mantle himself had told the Yankees that he would never attend an Old-Timer's Game to which Bouton was invited (a charge that Mantle subsequently denied, especially during a lengthy answering-machine message to Bouton while Mantle was hospitalized shortly before his death). This changed in June 1998, when Bouton's oldest son Michael wrote an eloquent open letter to the Yankees which was published in the New York Times. In the letter, Michael described the agony of his father following the August 1997 death of Michael's sister Laurie at age 31, and begged the Yankees to give a special Father's Day present by ending his father's exile. The Yankees acceded, and in July 1998, Jim Bouton was received with thunderous applause at Yankee Stadium, both in appreciation for his candor in writing Ball Four and for weathering his personal tribulations since. Coincidentally, Bouton's first Old-Timer's Game would also be Joe DiMaggio's last - the Yankee Clipper would die seven months later.
Following this, Bouton has become a regular fixture at Yankee Old-Timer's Games.
- Ball Four has been through numerous significantly revised editions, the most recent being Ball Four: The Final Pitch, Bulldog Publishing. (April 2001), ISBN 0-9709117-0-X.
- I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally
- I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad -- edited and annotated by Bouton, compiled by Neil Offen.
- Foul Ball, Bulldog Publishing. (June 2003), ISBN 0-9709117-1-8.
- Strike Zone, Signet Books. (March 1995), ISBN 0-451-18334-7.
"You see, 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."
"This winter (1977) I'm working out every day, throwing against a wall. I'm 11-0 against the wall."