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  • Bill Chastain

My Thoughts about Jim Bouton's Ball Four

Flash back to Tampa, summer of 1970. I’m waiting to get a crewcut (the interpretation of that particular style represented a myriad of outcomes) at Arky’s, the barbershop on Kennedy Boulevard. The place had good magazines. Not Heroes of the Bible—like the doctor’s office—or outdated copies of Readers Digest. We’re talking Sports Illustrated, Time, Life, and Playboy, upon request, for the older gentlemen.

The June 2, 1970 issue of LOOK ran an excerpt of Ball Four, Jim Bouton’s expose about life in the major leagues. Among the juicy details were stories about amphetamines—a.k.a. “greenies”—peeping toms, and sex. I certainly didn’t mind waiting to get my haircut that day.

Later that summer, I bought Ball Four. I didn’t understand everything I read, though. Like Mike Hegan’s answer to the question, “What’s the toughest thing about being a major leaguer?” Said Hegan, “Explaining to your wife why she needs a penicillin shot for your kidney infection.”

Or…

Just after the team plane landed and the players were preparing to reunite with their wives, Jim Pagliaroni blurted out. “Okay, all you guys, act horny.”

Fred Talbot’s horrible outing personified the classic’s subtle humor. Rather than argue when the manager went to the mound to give Talbot the hook, the right-hander asked, “What kept you?”

Now, Mitchell Nathanson has delivered Bouton, The Life of a Baseball Original, a project that clearly involved painstaking research and countless interviews. The end result is a well-written, consummate Bouton biography.