Home > The Book Club > Ball Four – A home run rather than a no hitter

Ball Four – A home run rather than a no hitter

Ball Four is Jim Bouton’s account from inside the locker room of his 1969 season in Major League Baseball. Bouton gives an irreverent look into ‘America’s game’ in a book that was massively controversial when published in 1970. Bouton’s career is on the decline in ’69 having been released by the New York Yankees where he won the 1962 World Series. He ‘pitches’ up in Seattle with the days of his fastball behind them and he tries to redefine himself as a pitcher with just one pitch, his knuckleball.

The book is described as more than a baseball book and, maybe similar to Eamon Dunphy’s 1974 book ‘Only a Game?’, it certainly is that. Like football, baseball has changed immensely since both books were written with the owners no longer having the control over players wages and contracts that they had back then. Bouton’s descriptions of haggling over wages and contracts are very detailed and highly amusing with the amount of money nowhere near the multi-million dollar contracts that are in baseball or football in 2011.

The book traces the Bouton’s journey during the season as a relief pitcher travelling across America with the Pilots in their only season in the Major Leagues. The drink, the women and the drugs (not recreational but the “greenies” used as performance enhancing) are all covered as well as the politics of the dressing room where Bouton was an outsider due to his liberal views; liberal for 1970 that is.

The twentieth anniversary edition which I read included updated chapters – ball five and ball six – covering Bouton’s career in TV, as an inventor and the fascinating section on his return to Major League Baseball with the Atlanta Braves at age 39. It is a pity that this section isn’t covered in more detail.

Ball Four is no Moneyball – another book not really about baseball – as you do need some knowledge of the game to follow Bouton’s story but it is an absorbing behind the scenes look into life on the road as professional baseball player.

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