Cover the Bases Interview with Jim Bouton

by on March 4, 2010

The book Ball Four is a seminal book on the bookshelves of many baseball fans, particularly fans who are of a certain generation.  During the early to mid-seventies I became a fan of the game.  Key influences included the thousands of pickup games played with my brothers and other kids in the neighborhood, my father and mother who clocked many miles delivering us to and from organized baseball, television and  radio which delivered the sights and sounds of the games taking place in the Major Leagues, and last but not least the many baseball books I gathered that would create images in my imagination.

The Baseball Life of Sandy Koufax, Strange But True Baseball Stories, and books with titles like How To Play Baseball were devoured at every opportunity.  A time came when I needed to graduate to a more grownup level of baseball literature, and the book Ball Four took me there.  The book is published by Wiley.

It is a well known, behind the scenes memoir from author Jim Bouton, who was reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher catching on with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969.  His pull no punches personality, plus considerable arm trouble, had worn out his welcome as a New York Yankee, after having pitched in The Bronx starting as a rookie in 1962.

The book caught fire with many baseball fans as it provided a first person account inside the camaraderie, challenges, exploits, strategies, and business of a major league baseball team. It did not go over so well with some of the main characters or so-called protectors of the game.  Jim was ostracized for many years because of the perceived slights contained within the covers.

Especially with forty years worth of hindsight, the book is not a scandalous tell-all rag intent upon hurting player reputations or the game itself.  It is what it was intended to be ..  a real-life personal diary of one player’s experiences, playing the game at its highest level.

If you were following baseball during that era, and names like Gary Bell, Marty Pattin, Mike Marshall, Diego Segui, Tommy Davis, Tommy Harper and Mike Hegan mean anything to you, then this book will be a fun filled excursion through a challenging season.  If you would be interested in the last update to the book, Ball Four: The Final Pitch you can find it only at Jim’s web site Jim You can even have Jim personalize a copy for you.  Tell him Baseballisms sent you!

For this Cover the Bases podcast, I felt it unnecessary to rehash all of the old questions that he has answered for the past forty years.  No need to get into the “controversy” or how other players responded to him after publication.  I wanted to find out more about what he thinks now looking back on it, as well as what the book might have been with today’s technology.

We extend our sincere thanks to Jim for spending time with us and sharing his personal insights into baseball and life.  Also, a special thank you goes out to Shawn Collins of Affiliate Summit who has a special interest in the Seattle Pilots, and was able to connect me with Jim to arrange this podcast.

If you like hearing about the baseball books we profile on Cover the Bases, it might be time for you to pick up a Kindle from Amazon, so that you can take all the best Baseball Books with you no matter which stadiums you visit.

Let us know in the comments what you think about the Cover the Bases podcast. We would love to hear from you. Send a Tweet to @baseballisms with a quick message, send us an email or visit our Upload page with a video message.  We look forward to growing a community of fans interested in the poetry of the game of baseball

  • Shawn Collins

    I really enjoyed this episode. Jim's comments on Twitter got me thinking – maybe there is a correlation between salary and self-importance.

    While the prospect of Tweeting every mundane event doesn't appeal to him, and I'd imagine most any players from his time, it seems increasingly popular for current players.

    I think their big salaries probably lend to their narcissism and this need to broadcast when they are tying their shoelaces.

    The episode also reminds me to get my kids off the Wii and out the back door to play.

    I don't get where it all changed, because Jim's description of growing up sounds similar to mine in the 70s and 80s.

  • joemagennis

    Thanks Shawn .. I was trying to go in different directions with him since he has been talking about this book for 40 years (yikes!) .. The use of social media by professional athletes is very interesting to me. I have to believe that in the future having a well developed social network may in fact contribute to the ability to collect on a big contract (combined w/ skill level of course).

    From a sports marketing perspective, if you have two athletes of similar skill levels and one can demonstrate a well established social network that will respond to messages and branding, that player should be pursued & valued higher by management. If I were a minor leaguer today, I would be developing that loyal fan base.

    I understand Jim's point of view regarding the mundane and the more marketing savvy athletes can learn what needs to be shared to be effective.

    However … nothing like Ball Four could ever be produced in a blog format because athletes would be hesitant to be so open with details as it transpires in real time.

    I'm with you on how we grew up .. after the paper route was completed, it was time to grab that glove and ball and get to the field! Don't know when that stopped happening.

    Thanks again for getting us connected … Now, it's time to get you on to talk about your great fascination with the Seattle Pilots and the letters you wrote to the players.

    PS. did you ever notice Bouton's baseball card photo is the same in '67 & '68?

  • Shawn Collins

    I bet social media keeps the PR people for the teams up at night – while there is the added buzz, they need to worry about these guys without filters.

    Ball Four could definitely never happen these days with a blog – even the, the guys were suspicious of the paper scraps.

    I'll get my stuff to you soon as some work is cleared up here.

    Weird about the 67 and 68 cards – I guess I only have one or the other, because I never noticed.

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