Day 30 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Bouton, the final chapter … -30-

Author’s note: Updated 5.23.20 with new reviews posted on various media outlets:

cards1e
A ’64 Yankees Jim Bouton on a set of 10 Requena postcards, via eBay.com

“Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original”

911c8hBWIWL


The author:

Mitchell Nathanson

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
$34.95
448 pages
To be released May 1

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

It’s right in the middle of Chapter 14 – the one with the endearing heading of “Fuck You, Shakespeare.”

Mitchell Nathanson writes about how Jim Bouton and Leonard Shecter were tossing around potential titles for this new book they were writing about Bouton’s experience during the 1969 Major League Baseball season.

There were ideas like “There’s More to Baseball than the Score.” Or “Take Me out to the Ballgame,” “Hiya Baseball,” and “How’s Your Old Tomato?” There was the inspired  “Constant Replay,” a twist on the 1968 book “Instant Replay” that Dick Schaap did with the Green Bay Packers’ Jerry Kramer.

As Nathanson explains:

‘Sports books always had these upbeat titles, “Running to Daylight,” Bouton said … “You never heard of a sports book called ‘Running to Darkness.’ … But when a drunk woman at the Lion’s Head (a bar in New York) overheard Bouton and Shecter debating possible downbeat titles (the working title for the book as described in the publication agreement with World was ‘Baseball Journal’), she slurred her way to literary gold by suggesting a title that evoked failure rather than success: ‘Whyyyyy don’t you caaaaauuull it Baaaaallllll Fooooouuuuuuuuurrrrrr?’ After rejecting it out of hand, they realized she was onto something.

ca-times.brightspotcdn.com

It was a deja vu moment all over again.

The paragraph included a couple of numbered footnotes, so we flipped to the back to the notes section and found Nathanson had two references: “Hoffarth, ‘More on “Ball Four” @ 40.”

Even further into the bibliography: “Hoffarth, Tom. ‘More on “Ball Four” @ 40 … From a Drunken Women’s Title Suggestion to a Musical Number on the Roof Top of the Shoreham Hotel.’ Farther Off the Wall with Tom Hoffarth, September 20, 2010, http://www.insidesocal.com/tomhoffarth.”

We were magically dumbstruck.

First, the link to that information no longer exists. The Southern California News Group erased it all shortly after my January, 2018 layoff. That was among thousands of paragraphs of original material – much of it we couldn’t fit into a standard 800-word newspaper piece. It was perfect for this platform. All the extra stuff. But some of it even stand-alone stories we could post. We’re resigned to the fact they’re all gone now. For whatever reason.

********

(Author’s note on May 23, 2020: Thanks to those who reminded us of the “Way Back Machine” website that captures snapshots of the internet at various times and is able to save things. We have found the link to this notated September 2010 post and are thrilled to read all the material we were able to include in this).

B4.2010.No1

**********

Second, we realized as well how emotionally frayed we were about this revelation. It was somewhat profound moment of how we’ve become enormously emotionally invested in Jim Bouton, again. If this biography that we expect to read, and re-read a few times, becomes as important enough to share the same shelf as all our personally signed versions of “Ball Four,” acting as a book-end to a man who became very much a sports hero in our own journey, this best be worth it.

However we can help make this something that smokes ’em inside, outside, and all around the strike zone.

LOOK MAG
The June 2, 1970 issue of Look magazine, where the first excerpt of “Ball Four” was printed, and forced the early publishing of the book moved up from November because of the buzz created.

Nathanson, a Villanova University law professor who teaches writing at the school’s sports law center, was thankfully able to capture those nuggets of information we once posted — given to us directly from Bouton about the creation of “Ball Four” during a 2010 interview. Those notes are filed away, preserved as part of the “Ball Four” legacy. We were surprised that of all the tiems Bouton may have told that story, we had documented it and it was retrieved for this excavation.

As “Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original” was one we’ve long awaited to read, review and learn from, we also came to the realization that it gives us the capability to remember.

Why Nathanson decided to tackle this project, there’s a personal connection as well as a curiosity as to to explore more about who he felt were the most influential ballplayers of the 1960s — Bouton, Dick Allen and Curt Flood. The later had some decent biographies about him. In 2016, Nathanson took it upon himself to rectify some of that with “God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen,” for University of Pennsylvania Press. The mercurial Allen, aka Richie, had been another of our MLB childhood favorites, if only because of the one year he played in L.A. for the Dodgers drove Walter Alston to demand he be banished to Chicago, where we saw him develop into an AL MVP and punctuate a career still missing Hall of Fame recognition in Cooperstown.

But with Bouton, Nathanson writes that he “was my white whale.”

What Nathanson gained permission to do, based on discussions with Bouton a few years before his 2019 passing at age 80 after a long brain illness was compile this final chapter and do whatever it took to present the proper perspective.

Bouton’s legacy wasn’t just this literary achievements that he was celebrated for during  the last 50 years of his life. His career as a counter-culture player during a pivotal decade in New York laid the groundwork. The timing of “Ball Four” with him placed in this far-off world of Seattle, then dealt to Houston, surrounded by bunch of colorful characters, wouldn’t have happened as much if he was in corporate pinstripe New York.

doubious
In the Jan. 1971 edition of Esquire magazine, Bouton is re-created on the cover as a baseball player holding a shotglass and described as a “dugout fink” for writing “Ball Four.” That was his “dubious achievement” of 1970.

Learning about Bouton growing up in Chicago, a grinder who may have lacked the athletic talent but certainly enjoyed the game so much that he somewhat willed himself into MLB existence, makes him all the more endearing. What happened after “Ball Four” are books and articles that he published and kept that brand alive, building up on his need to stay connected with fans who grew to idolize him and admire his openness and willingness to be meet them at their levels of baseball enjoyment.

In 41 chapters here, Bouton is divided into three major parts. There’s “The Bulldog” as he grew up in Chicago.  “The Author” is pushing the envelope on the game’s unwritten rules. “The Iconoclast” that covers what drove his curiosity off the field.

In every step, those Nathanson was able to contact and flesh out more perspective, we discover things about, for example, what pushed Bouton into a career as a TV sportscaster career in New York (someone who Keith Olbermann admits was a huge influence in his approach). What would make him create a CBS sit-com based on his book. What was behind a daring mid-life crisis comeback as a knuckleball pitcher in the late 1970s. There was a divorce, the tragic loss of a daughter, that distressed him. He turned toward tinkering with ventures into repackaged chewing gum, vintage baseball games, saving an historic park, and whatever else could connect fans with the game. So much of all that makes so much sense now.

vacs
In a 1972 issue of New York magazine, Jim Bouton writes about his 1969 vasectomy.

We see Bouton is far more curious and gregarious than someone who needed to plan out his next move. He was unafraid at a time when players in the game were anxious about losing their position or their abilities. He was, to paraphrase New York Times columnist George Vecsey says, the epitome of the ’60s before the ’60s knew what it was going to be the ’60s.

5d28b866a79f9.image
In 1960, Jim Bouton, center, pitched for the Yankees’ Greensboro, N.C., minor-league team. Bouton once called the sports staff of the Greensboro News & Record one day to ask if anyone there remembered him as a player there, and wanted to know: “Did I have a girlfriend there?” Here’s how it happened.

We see a timeline that includes pieces Bouton wrote for Sport magazineand laid the the groundwork for “Ball Four.” We get more background on how the book’s publisher had no faith that it would have much of an impact, and had a backup plan to distribute a new book by the Detroit Tigers’ Bill Freehan instead.

We find out how the timing of Bouton’s 1968 season that went from the Yankees to the Angels’ Triple-A team in Seattle, which was the foundation of the players who were to create the roster of the one-and-done Seattle Pilots expansion team.

So much more that we don’t want to spoil the discovery for fans of “Ball Four” who will better connect dots and have treats of fun and adventure.

51CvbgAw42L
In 1979, Terry Pluto came out with “The Greatest Summer,” but it was without Jim Bouton’s participation. Also see Frank Deford’s account in SI of Bouton’s comeback game for Atlanta against the Dodgers.

From our vantage point, Bouton deserved some sort of wallspace in the Cooperstown shrine — but we can only imagine how that would have worked best while he was alive, able to drive frequently the two-plus hours from the glorious Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to spit-shine his own plaque, give free autographs, pose for selfies and just hang out with the patrons with impromptu soliloquies.

Rightly so, perhaps, in his only year of eligibility to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his playing days, he received 0.7 percent of the votes in 1984 — three votes among the 403 ballots cast. That dropped him from consideration with the Baseball Writers of America — which we can only imagine had few “chipmunks” and more old-guard protecting the game’s from future tarnishing.

It is interesting to note that one of the rules about the Baseball Hall is someone has to play 10 years to be considered. That brief comeback Bouton had in September, ’78 — years after he left the game following the 1970 season when “Ball Four” came out — actually gave him the proper number of years to get onto the ballot at all.

In an epilogue that ties it all together wonderfully, Nathanson quotes MLB historian John Thorn about wondering how the game might best to honor Bouton — he with a lifetime MLB record of 62-63, a 3.57 ERA, a 7.5 WAR in nine season, plus a 21- and 18-win season with the AL champion Yankees in ’63 and ’64, plus triumphs in Games 3 and 6 of the 1964 World Series:

Where is the lifetime achievement award in baseball? The Hall of Fame is not quite it. When you have figures of monumental importance in the history of the game, for whom no honor exists … For me, the cue for what ought to be the principal criterion is visible in the name of the institution — fame. Where you famous? Can the story of baseball be told without you? On that basis, Bouton’s in … and certain people who are now in are out … If not in the Hall of Fame, maybe there’s a need for a People’s Hall of Fame. It’d be nice for him to be no longer a prophet without an honor.

kippen
Jim Bouton, right, next to his wife Paula Kurman, talk to Jean Hastings Ardell and David Kipen during the 40th anniversary celebration of “Ball Four” at the Burbank Central Library in 2010. (Photo/Southern California News Group)

That Bouton was a 2001 inductee in the Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals — which many consider to be a people’s Hall based on fans/members who do the voting annually — we may have fulfilled that requirement. It’s the same Reliquary that in 2010 held an event in Burbank to bring Bouton together with Greg Goossen and Tommy Davis to celebrate what was the 40th anniversary of the “Ball Four” release. Bouton was among his most ardent admirers.

But as we are now 50 years later from “Ball Four,” Bouton’s life in baseball has its old gold standard. Nathanson’s book overwhelmingly serves as a final reflection of that.

The author Q&A

mitchpicnyc2019_(3)-smallNathanson says his classes at Villanova have been over for about a week, and he has time now to focus on the release of the book …
For as much as he’s able to do.
“It’s not a huge problem in the greater scheme of things,” he admits – and somewhat lamenting how this book was to have been featured at the upcoming SABR conference scheduled this July in Baltimore, putting him on a panel discussion with MLB historian John Thorn, Bouton’s widow Paula and a curator from the Library of Congress, where Bouton’s material for “Ball Four” is now safely available.

The 54-year-old Nathanson graciously gave us time to talk to us from his home just south of Philadelphia, where he insists he’s an 18-minute door-to-door trip to Citizens Bank Park:

A QQQQWhen Jim Bouton died last summer, there were many well-written pieces about him that tried to sum up what he meant to the game, and the literary world, in general. A piece in New Yorker magazine called him as “Baseball’s Misunderstood Evangelist.” The phrase you seem to find sums him up best is that he was “a professional iconoclast,” and someone who was so “untethered to convention.” Was that somewhat of how you would have summarized him before starting on this project?

AAAAI had that idea of him as a ballplayer, but I didn’t have that idea of him until I started doing research and talking to people and realized how everything all fit together. In retrospect, it all makes sense. There’s a straight line between who he was as a kid and then as an older man but I didn’t see that until I was delving into it. I knew the stuff up to “Ball Four,” and the sequel, but I didn’t understand the depth to which he was an iconoclast in every sense of the word. I knew he was a sportscaster, for example, but didn’t realize he was a different a sportscaster as he was a writer and ballplayer. When I talked to someone like Keith Olbermann, he said Bouton had a bigger impact on him as a sports broadcaster than even as a writer because that while “Ball Four” changed the way we look at sports books, there weren’t a lot of good books in that vein that followed, except maybe “The Bronx Zoo” (by Sparky Lyle). Television sportscasting changed for years because of what Bouton did, from Keith Olbermann’s perspective, because you can now see how ESPN “SportsCenter” and “The Big Show” with Olbermann and Dan Patrick is the grandchild of Bouton’s sportscasts in New York from the early ‘70s. That’s where it comes from.

A QQQQHaving found someone like Olbermann for that perspective is another key aspect of where you took this process to gain a wider range of Bouton’s impact. We always admired how Keith was a different sort of sportcaster with his time in Los Angeles before even going to ESPN. How did you even think of contacting him?

AAAAThe only way I learned of that connection was Bouton send me a bunch of stuff over the course of time — letters and this and that, and in one package was some Christmas cards, and there was one card from  Olbermann, and one line where Keith told Jim that he taught him everything he knew about sportscasting. So I called Keith – I never knew about that connection — and told him they had kept this card, and he was very open about how he grew up in New York watching Channel 7 news as a kid and thought Bouton was funny, and he wanted to be like him. In 1998, Olbermann was with Bouton as the Yankees’ Old-Timers Day and wrote a piece about it in Sports Illustrated and explained how very specifically Bouton influenced him.

A QQQQWho else did you glean new information about Bouton that you didn’t expect to have such a depth of connection?

AAAAJohn Thorn was great, but I knew he would be because of all the perspective he can give you and see the bigger picture. There were people who responded to a post I put on Facebook – if you ever had interaction with Jim Bouton, let me know. Some were fans and told me of their connection. Bruce Cunningham, he’s in the book, a TV reporter in Baltimore now, did minor league baseball when Bouton was doing his comeback (in the mid-‘70s) and a story about how difficult Bouton was to like even though he admired him so much. He really nailed how complex Bouton was – you wanted to embrace and love the guy, but he could also push you away a bit for whatever reason, and it was tough to deal with someone you may idolize in some respect, but they aren’t what you imagine them to be. There was a lot insight there. So there were a lot of people I didn’t know who gave me great stories. A lot of people seem to have stories about Bouton that is personal to them, which was really interesting. He really connected with people in a way that made you feel special. They felt Bouton was listening and understood them, and they would never forget that. It showed how he connected, and that’s why the book connects, right? You read it and connect it with it.

bouton pix mantle
Mickey Mantle and Jim Bouton in the Yankees locker room after they won Game 3 of the 1964 World Series against the Cardinals. Bouton was the winning pitcher and Mantle hit a ninth-inning home run to break Babe Ruth’s record for most World Series home runs.

A QQQQWhat was your connection to “Ball Four” growing up, the impact it had on your appreciation and better understanding of the game and all that it entails?

AAAAI heard of it as a kid, but didn’t read it – and I remember exactly when I did get to read it. It was during the baseball strike of 1981, and I was 15, and there was no baseball, and I knew people who read it and recommended it, so I wanted my baseball fill. And I loved it. It made me feel a connection to baseball when there wasn’t any. But I also loved it, in the middle of this strike, because when I finished it I understood why players were on strike. I didn’t know anything about labor law or how players were treated. In ’81, we already thought they were all millionaires. I could see the connection between “Ball Four” and why they players aren’t playing that summer. It all made sense through the lens of that book. That hooked me. I read that paperback copy with him shirtless on the bench and I still have it. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it – over and over – because as you get older you get different things out of it at different stages of your life.

box

A QQQQOf all the items Bouton saved from the process of writing notes and recording tapes and things from the process of making “Ball Four,” a collection that eventually went up for auction and then was purchased by the Library of Congress, what stuck with you as the most revealing and fascinating?

AAAAWhen I first met the Boutons at their home in the Berkshires, he took me into his basement and all of it was in boxes and duct-taped shut. They spent months cataloging all that. I couldn’t open them because they hadn’t been shipped out for the auction yet – an auction hadn’t been even scheduled at that point. I did see a lot of his inventions, too, and he loved showing off all that. He’d go through it, explain what this was supposed to do, and having a great time and I was having a great time looking at it. All those boxes were shipped to a temperature control warehouse in California and sat there a few years (before SPC Auctions in Laguna Niguel put them up in 2017) and I know the Boutons knew it was protected. When the Library of Congress acquired them, I was able to arrange through Paula’s help, to get early access to the boxes in Washington and none of it had been catalogued yet. I had a person from the library open boxes with me, the ones related to “Ball Four” and his writing, and the drafts, and that was really cool. It was like a treasure hunt before the archivist even could go through it. That’s where I saw everything. When I went through some of this with Bouton at his house, I was watching more his reaction to the stuff. It was amazing to watch him and get transported as he went through them.

A QQQQWhat jumped out when you could see the boxes opened at the Library of Congress?

AAAAThere were onion-skin transcription of the tapes, which is literally what he said into the tape recorder. A copy went to Bouton and a copy to Shecter, because you could see the notes he made on his copy. For Bouton, a lot of this was a stream of consciousness. Probably three- or four-times longer than the actual book. It reminded me of the Jack Kerouac “scroll” that became “On The Road,” something I saw when it made a tour around the country. It was a bunch of pages that was a stream of consciousness. Some I recognized from the book, but then it would stop and then it would be Bouton talking to (co-writer Leonard) Schecter saying, I did this today, is it a good idea? Here’s a funny thing… You could see how his mind was working and picture him in his hotel room talking into the recorder.

scroll

A QQQQKerouac is a great person to bring up. We have been trying to see if there was a favorable comparisons to Bouton, in any other aspects of historical importance in society. It almost seems like he’s a cross between a Bill Lee, George Plimpton and Hunter S. Thompson in some ways. You said you’ve found him interesting because how he draws strong opinions about him good and bad. After doing this, might you have anyone else like that in mind?

AAAAOn a bigger scale, Muhammad Ali was like that, but we don’t always remember him like that. Now he’s become a sainted figured. But back in the 1960s a lot of people loved him and a lot of people hated him. Guys who stepped out of their role, like Ali, seemed to get smacked in the head for doing it. You’re a boxer, keep your mouth shut. That’s kind of the response to Bouton in “Ball Four.” As he became more of a public figure, he was more comfortable speaking out about more things. I think people tend to want their public figures to remain in the box they put them in. Many times they step out of, and while people will love them for it and just as many revile them for it.

A QQQQWhen Jonathan Eig did his Ali biography a couple of years ago, it went more than 600 pages. There’s a new Andy Warhol bio coming out that’s just short of 1,000 pages. David McCullough did 750 pages to document the line of John Adams. Jackie Robinson’s biographer Arnold Rampersad once summed him up in 500 pages on him. With your biography, it’s 365 pages – pushed past 400 with notes and index. Was that sufficient? Do you think sometimes a person’s biography is proportional to how many pages is done to document their life, or the number of pages accurately reflect the importance of a subject? Was Bouton a “400-page guy”?

AAAA91kg72FKoxLI will say it’s tough to write a 400-page book and find a publisher who wants to publish it. It’s all about paper cost. They often want something under 300 pages because there’s a magic threshold – if the manuscript is more than 100,000 words, it costs more per page and the cost of the book goes up. My book is more than 100,000 words, and when we shopped it around, that was a lot of the push back. Could we do it under 100,000 words? The answer was no and that turned some of them off. That’s what you’re up again. I’m not sure who is a “1,000-page guy” other than maybe Lincoln? I have a hard time believing too many people are worthy of 1,000 pages. I had some publisher offers that wanted more of a reaction to “Ball Four” than his life story, and I didn’t want to do that. There was one big publisher that was on board with it, but then the marketing department, which must have been run by a 25-year-old, said: “Who’s Jim Bouton?” So the acquiring editor had to apologize and say, “I never thought that would happen.” The people at University of Nebraska Press liked the story as I had laid it out and were willing to have a longer book and very open to my vision for it. They were excited about it and they know how to promote baseball books. They’ve really done a great job with it.

So could this book have been longer? Sure. There was a lot I didn’t get in. But one thing I didn’t want this book to be was all the outtakes from “Ball Four.” I didn’t want to compete with that. You can’t compete with that. That’s a battle you’re not going to win, and there was no value in waging that. I wanted something different. So I didn’t go through all of “Ball Four” and list all the juicy stories that didn’t make it in.

A QQQQSo those outtakes and edited out stories do exist?

AAAAAll those drafts are in the Library of Congress. You can see all the drafts, and each one is shorter because of cutting and cutting and cutting. There are comments in the margins from Shector – “good” … “no” … lines through paragraphs … exclamation points. There is a ton of stuff still in there. We can go to the Library of Congress and read it all. Everything. So while it was fun to read it, I didn’t find anything I would put into my book. That wasn’t what my book was. The notes Bouton took were what was more interesting and I put that in. They go to his state of mind, not only while he’s doing this in 1969, but things he’s concerned or obsessed with, and they show up in the notes. I took pictures of all the notes and if he told me something I could go back through the 978 sheets of paper and I see here and there, oh yeah, he mentioned that and here it is in a note. The connection shows what was on his mind.  

s-l1600

A QQQQIs there a story about how the cover photo choice come about? It’s such a neat shot of him, not in a baseball uniform, in this kind of mystic blue saturated tone, barefoot?

AAAAI picked out the picture, but their art department gave it the blue tint with yellow script – which suggested the Seattle Pilots, and I never thought of that. The first mockup I could see that and I liked the Pilots’ blue and yellow. The photo is from a Look magazine excerpt of “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.” I was conscious to not have him in a uniform. In the beginning the art department suggested something of Bouton as either a Pilot or a Yankee, but I said, look, he’s an iconoclast, not an organizational guy. If you put him in a Yankee uniform, it’s a contradiction to who he was and they understood it. I like the fact you can see his bare feet. It’s like him exposed. They went with it.

A QQQQYou referred in a recent interview that you once had a reason to reach out to Bouton for a story you were doing some 20 years ago that started your connection to him. What was that about?

AAAA41ZQVRMWXFL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_I did an article — maybe kind of dopey now that I think about it – about whether the unwritten rules of baseball constituted a trade secret. It was whether Major League Baseball could have prevented Bouton – maybe not prevent, that would be prior restraint – but could have pursued legal action against him, for spilling trade secrets. I took that idea and went through trade secret law and what the parameters were. I came to the conclusion they might have been able to do that. There was nothing about Major League Baseball being an entity back then. It was a fun exercise. Bowie Kuhn could have tried that, but it’s an out-of-left-field perspective. There is a sign in every clubhouse – don’t take what you hear in here out of here. There are businesses with similar signs. It’s what makes the business “special.” If that “special” aspect is what makes the business profitable, and unique, then the dissemination of that information can cause harm to the business and you have a legal recourse of someone does that. That was the argument – it could be. But I’m just kind of fooling around with trade secret laws.
The piece ended up in a book called “Courting the Yankees: Legal Essays on the Bronx Bombers” (from 2003) … and it was fun to do. I met Jim at a talk in Jersey City and talked to him about that, and other things, and he was such a nice, engaging guy. My moment with Jim Bouton was November, 2001, right after 911, and he gave me his undivided attention, he sat there as long as would have wanted, he took me seriously even if I had dopey questions, and he charming and engaging, and he gave me honest answers. He made a connection and I remember it to this day.

A QQQQWhat are your thoughts about what Bouton might have said about your book now that it’s arrived? Could he see how it was fair and objective?

AAAAI think he would have liked it. I think it captures his spirit, and he’d recognize that. He was very cool with the whole process. Anytime there was an issue about talking to this person or that person, he always said, “Go ahead, talk to them.” He was as you would expect for a person who wrote a fully untethered baseball book.  I never got an inkling that he was anything other than pleased that I was involved with this. He was always happy to talk to me on the phone and open and offering up something new beyond what I would ask. I think he enjoyed the process of going though all this while me while he was still able to do it. …  And of the last things they said to me when I left their house the first time: Don’t make it a puff piece. As I wrote in the preface, how many times does someone get that from their subject? You gotta give him credit.
And I think Bouton would also probably still say, “Well, you know, my book’s better.” (Laughing)

army0
While at Fort Dix serving in the U.S. Army, the Associated Press captures Jim Bouton as he “works on a new pitch with a hand grenade” in December, 1962. The caption on this photo also notes that Bouton, a 23-year-old rookie, had been the winning pitcher “in the longest game on record — a seven-hour battle between the Yankees and Detroit” the previous June 24. Bouton pitched seven innings of shutout relief, facing 26 hitters, and going from from the 16th-to-22nd inning, and even was credited with a bunt single in the single in the 21st inning trying to move a runner over.  Here is the box score from that contest. And a SABR story about that game.

An excerpt

How it goes in the scorebook

An ass-backwards K.

That’s not just a good thing. It’s a great thing.

And we’re glad Nathanson didn’t take that personally:

Nathanson may have been delivering a straight-forward fastball, but we froze up and watched this knuckler dance past us, then walked back to the bench holding back tears.

Again, that’s a good thing.

Here is the correct and proper insight as to why Bouton saw the world the way he did, why he was so different than the thousands of players who came before him, and how, in the cliquey, cold, bottom line world of professional baseball, Bouton managed to be both an insider and an outsider all at once.

And maybe, again, we aren’t the best person to objectively hold this book up to celebrate what it accomplished. Thankfully, Nathanson is.

If one is enticed in these pandemic times to re-re-re-read “Ball Four,” then find the follow up, “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally” (which Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford wrote in a review: “If you enjoyed Ball Four, and particularly if you understood that Jim Bouton was trying hard to put a little joy juice in a game—excuse me, a pastime—that sorely needs it, then ‘I’m Glad’ is only more of what the doctor ordered”), you’ll find how it all holds up remarkably well, and more than shows how it was a precursor for MLB player freedom of speech and movement in the free-agency feeding that would come up in the mid-’70s and change the sport forever.

As a result, we can see better how and why Bouton as a far deeper man that the one who came up with what we feel is among the best literary lines of the time: “A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

So now, in the process of promoting this book, Nathanson posted the actual paper where those words were written. It is spine tingling to see:

Because Bouton has had a grip on us for many years, his passing last summer was worthy of deep introspection. We were able to converse with him on several levels of baseball history, going beyond our 2010 meeting to talk about the 40th anniversary of “Ball Four.”

We had the opportunity to write about it after Bouton’s passing last summer in an L.A. Times appreciation piece, expanded on our TheDrillLA.com website.

bf1
An Easton Press limited edition signed copy of “Ball Four: The Final Pitch” is up on eBay.com. What’s it worth to you?

We noted then that Bouton wanted to update “Ball Four” in a 2020 version, as he did every 10 years after its initial 1970 publication, but he wasn’t able to.

Nathanson did instead, justifying Bouton’s belief he could handle the job.

We connected not just with Bouton, but were fortunate enough to start a relationship with one of Bouton’s main characters in “Ball Four,” the inimitable Greg Goossen, and did a profile of him with our 2009 story about that Seattle Pilot year. We could then connect with Bouton to give perspective on Goossen when he passed away in the spring of 2011 with this appreciation story: “Such a sweet, sweet man. He took self-deprecation to a new level. Doesn’t it seem like this is just the sum total of all the heartbreak he had in his life – just missing here, just missing there? He was sort of on the fringe of everything – an extra, but never the star. And now, after all these years, they’re about to bestow him the highest honor for his high school, one more round of laughter, waving and thanking his family and friends … and he’s denied all that again?”

We wrote again in 2017 we wrote about how his yellow envelope of material was up for auction and ended up in the Library of Congress.

Here we have the completion of his life story, both a literary way, and a tangible, deep-hearted way. It is heartening to see how Nathanson notes at the end of his acknowledgements, after thanking the nearly 80 people he interviewed, he could say this:

I can attest to the fact that spending the last few years immersed in the life of Jim Bouton is about as much fun as a biographer can ever hope to have. Which might be the most we an expect out of anything in life.

The mother of invention: The PBBClub.com

As Nathanson says about the PBBC: “I’m able to connect with other people who have books coming out, so we can commiserate, but we also learn from each other because each of us has a different idea of what we could do. I don’t think any of us had a comprehensive plan, but when we share them, that helps all of us. I benefited from spitballing ideas, getting different perspectives from people in the same boat. It makes me feel part of a group while I’m isolated because of quarantine. That’s a huge help. I’ve read a lot of their books and really like them and this makes me feel better.”

More reviews/other things of note

== From the New York Times Summer Reading Book reviews: “When (Nathanson)  approached Bouton about writing his biography, the pitcher gave his blessing, on one condition: that Nathanson write about him with the honesty he’d tried to bring to the game of baseball. in “Bouton,” Nathanson has mostly obliged, delivering a frank if manifestly fond account of a remarkable American life.”

== In “The Jocks,” Shecter would foreshadow a year before “Ball Four” why he was a great fit to partner with Bouton on the groundbreaking project. It is a bit tragic that Shecter died of leukemia just four years after “Ball Four”s release, but he does have this gem of a book for us to still enjoy:

== John Thorn writes in 2019 about the Library of Congress obtaining the notes of “Ball Four” for OurGame.MLBBlogs.com.

1 AswAuKj2RC62f2ek3IguXQ

== The SABR link to the history of “Ball Four” as well as the SABR bio written on him by Mark Armour

== In 2013, Bouton tells SBNation.com’s Rob Neyer about his remembrances of pitching in the 1963 World Series — 50 years earlier — and losing a 1-0 game against Don Drysdale at Dodger Stadium: ” It was just a thrill. Sure, it was too bad that we lost the game, but damn, what a thrill.”

== And because we can do it: The backside of that postcard arrangement at the top of this post, awaiting your stamp of approval:

card22

1 thought on “Day 30 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Bouton, the final chapter … -30-”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s