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"Ball Four" is a diary that covers the year of a baseball player, in this case Jim Bouton, who spent the 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots and then the Houston Astros. Entertaining on many levels, "Ball Four" also serves as a mirror of the times -- in the late 1960s, many established concepts and ideas, in politics, music, mass media, and sports, were being shattered. Baseball, always about five years behind the curve, was always thought of as a game that was played by wholesome, All-American men. They were our heroes. Ball Four, however, sheds new light and revealed, for the first time, that baseball players, even some of the game's superstars, are human. Bouton tells all, in, by today's standards, a tame fashion. We read about everything -- ballplayers cheating on their wives, playing with hangovers, racial problems between teammates, players taking uppers before a game, etc. Bouton is a very insightful writer and presents the material in a humorous manner, the humor, or barbs, is directed at his teammates, managers, coaches, and, in many instances, at himself. Baseball was outraged when the book first came out in 1970. Many players and baseball executives considered Bouton a turncoat. But the years have shown that Ball Four was a groundbreaking book, one that set the standard for tell-all books to come. These other books, however, have never reached the level of excellence of Bouton's "Ball Four."
As far as I'm concerned, Ball Four is easily the best baseball book out there. I've read about 45 baseball books and nothing compares to Bouton's masterpiece. I've read this book four times and it still hasn't gotten old yet. I'm sure I'll read it at least ten more times and I doubt that I will ever get tired of it. What makes Ball Four better than any other baseball book is that it allows its readers to see the game from a player's perspective. Never has a book given such an up-close, in-the-locker-room look at baseball. Of course, Bouton himself is brilliant. I love his sarcasm and his biting wit. Ball Four might have been a pretty good book even if it had been written by a poor writer; Bouton, though, is an excellent storyteller and his attitude is what shapes the book. If you consider yourself a fan of the game, you will buy Ball Four immediately. It has given me great joy time and time again.
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Jim Bouton is a very bright man who probably could have been a scientist if he didn't go into baseball. In the 1960s when he played nobody wrote colorful exposes of the behind the scenes and road trip life of major league ball players. Bouton was the first with this book. It ended many friendships with teammates and probably broke up his marriage. The book might seem tame by todays standard. Alcohol was the players drug in those days and no one was shooting up steroids back then. But the book was racy, groundbreaking and controversial in its time much like Canseco's books are today.
You will also see that it led to several other books by Jim Bouton and even one by his ex wife (another analogy to Canseco whose ex wife also wrote a book). Bouton was a great pitcher but alas for only the period from 1961-1964. 1963 was his best season but even though he pitched well in that world series the Yankees got steamrolled by the Dodger staff with Drysdale and Koufax leading the way. After retirementhe came back to pitch for the Seattle Pilots expansion team in their first year. He had developed a knuckle ball and that allowed him some limited success. Bulldog Jim wrote a book about that experience too. He had a trick when he pitched for the Yankees. He wouldd deliberately wear a very loose fitting cap that would usually fall off his head as he delivered the pitch. This was distracting for the hitters. But in his day Bouton had a good fastball and a deceptive changeup and he was part of a great pitching rotation in 1963 that included Ford, Downing and Terry.
Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" is, without a doubt, the best book ever written by a professional athlete and is arguably the greatest baseball book of all-time. Dozens of kiss-n-tell sports novels have dotted the bestseller lists since "Ball Four's" publication in 1970, but none are as funny or revealing as Bouton's expose. All however, owe their very existence to "Ball Four" which shook the moral foundation of our national pastime upon its release. Bouton forever stripped away the All-American image of the professional sports hero with his humorous -- and sometimes X-rated -- locker room tales. Many, including then Commisioner Bowie Kuhn, felt that Bouton had forever tarnished baseball's image with his less than flattering portrayals of some of the game's biggest stars.(Namely Bouton's former Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle). Jim Bouton, in 1970, was Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of the baseball establishment. Truth be told, Bouton merely humanized the professional athlete. Many players--especially Bouton himself --are portrayed as being uncertain of their abilities and fearful of losing their jobs in the highly competitive world of major league baseball.(Such insecurity is best exemplified when Bouton is traded in mid-season from Seattle to Houston and lives to tell us about it!) Overall, "Ball Four" is one heckuva book. Bouton's sense of humor is absolutely side-splitting and his sensitivity, at times, is downright moving. This is a fantastic, groundbreaking novel which no sports fan should be without. Six Stars!!
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