Jim Bouton

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James Alan Bouton

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Biographical Information[edit]

". . . 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." - Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton transformed himself from a fireballer to a knuckleballer midway through his career. After he retired he even made a brief comeback with the Atlanta Braves in 1978 when he was in his late 30s. Though a reasonably successful major leaguer early in his career, Bouton is better remembered today for his bestselling memoir Ball Four, a diary of his 1969 season.

Baseball career[edit]

Bouton signed his first professional baseball contract out of Western Michigan University after convincing his father that he would have the same monetary success as pursuing a more traditional career. Bouton, never having been a star in amateur ball, quickly learned how to adjust in the minor leagues and made it to the New York Yankees in 1962. Bouton's relationship with the Yankees was tumultuous as he was vocal about his salary and his salary negotiations with the press and other ballplayers.

In his youth, Bouton was a fastball pitcher who dominated hitters. Bouton won 21 games in 1963 and 18 in 1964. Although the Yankees lost both the 1963 and 1964 World Series, Bouton pitched extremely well. Interestingly, Bouton would later state in Ball Four that his goal when pitching in such important games was simply to not embarrass himself.

Around 1965 or 1966, Bouton developed a problem in his pitching arm and although he continued to pitch frequently for the Yankees, the situation continued to worsen. Within a few years, Bouton's fastball was all but gone. Instead of retiring, Bouton started to use the knuckleball that his father had taught to him when he was a child. Bouton resurfaced in the majors as a knuckleball relief pitcher in 1969 with the Seattle Pilots and later the Houston Astros. This period is well documented in Ball Four.

Although Bouton was moderately successful as a knuckleball relief pitcher, after the backlash against Ball Four (see below), Bouton disappeared from the majors. Although gone from the major leagues, Bouton continued to pitch for professional and semi-pro teams. He eventually made it back to the majors with the Atlanta Braves for five games in 1978 at the age of 39. Bouton had gone 11-9 with a 2.82 ERA with the 1978 Savannah Braves, and some had thought that team owner Ted Turner recalled Bouton largely as a way of selling tickets to some September Braves games. Bouton, however, turned peoples' heads, pitching much better than anyone expected. On September 14, he threw a three-hitter over six innings, to record a victory over the San Francisco Giants. And on September 24, he worked eight innings, giving up only two runs, in a hard-luck loss against the Cincinnati Reds at home in Atlanta. He retired from baseball after the 1978 season. That last comeback is documented in Ball Five, which was published as an addition to his more famous book.

Writing career[edit]

Bouton, despite his successful baseball career, will forever be better known for Ball Four, which consists of diary entries describing daily life in the game. It was edited by sports journalist Leonard Shecter, a long-time friend of Bouton's.

Perhaps the biggest controversy involving Bouton and his book, which was published in 1970, was his description of the habitual use of amphetamines by many major league players. Overall, in addition to the controversy surrounding amphetamines, the book was seen by some members of the baseball establishment as a blight on the game because it depicted "the nation's heroes" acting human and doing immoral - but still entirely normal - things like drinking, swearing and chasing women. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn even tried to get Bouton to sign a written apology and claim that the book's events were faked and entirely concocted by Schecter. Bouton, true to his nickname of "Bulldog", refused to cave in to pressure from Kuhn and others, and stood by his story.

A follow-up volume, I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally, was issued in 1971, and was dedicated by Bouton to his detractors. Bouton would go on to write several other books, both fiction and non-fiction, and become a fan favorite. The baseball establishment always seemed to distance itself from Bouton, although he was finally invited back to an old-timers day at Yankee Stadium in 1998.

Other activites[edit]

After his initial 1970 retirement and before his 1978 baseball comeback, Bouton was an occasional actor, appearing in the 1973 film The Long Goodbye, and starring in a short-lived 1976 sitcom version of Ball Four (which he also co-wrote). Bouton was also a sportscaster for several New York City based TV stations in the 1970s, and was the inventor of Big League Chew, a shredded bubble-gum product designed to replace chewing tobacco.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL All-Star (1963)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 2 (1963 & 1964)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 1 (1963)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1963 & 1964)
  • Won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1962 (he did not play in the World Series)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Mark Armour: "The revolution started here", in Mark Armour, ed.: Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, 2006, pp. 108-113.
  • Jim Bouton: Ball Four, Wiley Publishing Inc., New York, NY, 1990 (originally published in 1970). ISBN 0-02-030665-2
  • Jim Bouton: I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally, William Morrow & Company, New York, NY, 1971.
  • Jim Bouton: Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark, The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2003.
  • Jim Bouton: "Buses, beer and emboldened batboys", in Mark Armour, ed.: Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, 2006, pp. 114-115. (an article originally published in the Portland Oregonian in 2001, recalling his days with the minor league Portland Mavericks in the 1970s).
  • Tyler Kepner: "Jim Bouton, Author and Former Pitcher, Struggles With Brain Disease", The New York Times, July 1, 2017. [1]

Related Sites[edit]