I just heard that Jim Bouton died yesterday. Bouton was a major league baseball pitcher who played from 1962 to 1978 and he was also occasionally an actor. He played the key supporting role of Terry Lennox in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973).
What Bouton is best known for is writing a book called Ball Four. Ball Four was a memoir of the 1969 MLB season, during which Bouton pitched for both the Seattle Pilots (in their only season of existence) and the Houston Astros. Ball Four was controversial when it was first published because Bouton basically didn’t hold anything back. He wrote about popping pills. He wrote about all of the casual racism that was still present even during the civil rights era and long after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. He wrote about Mickey Mantle’s drinking and he also wrote about politics, religion, and everything that was going on in the country in 1969. (Bouton was a liberal, a nonbeliever, and an intellectual, which made him the odd man out on most baseball teams.) Bouton is also very honest about his own struggles during the season and the feeling that he was in decline as a pitcher.
It’s been a while since I read Ball Four but I remember being really impressed by it. I guess it’s time for me to dig through my collection of paperbacks and give Ball Four another read.