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Not as funny as "Ball Four," but perhaps more poignant
on October 20, 2008
Like a lot of people, I read "Ball Four" when it first came out (a real eye-opener for an 11-year-old). While it was shocking to many folks at the time, it broke the mold for how a baseball book is written, and it says much that in nearly 40 years there hasn't been anything like it since.
But "Foul Ball" comes pretty close.
Instead of trying to save his career as a major league pitcher, this time Jim Bouton is trying to save a minor league ballpark. A lot of things have happened in Bouton's life since "Ball Four," and you get caught up on a lot of that. The main thrust is that his plan to save Wahconah Park and bring a new pro baseball team to Pittsfield, Massachusetts is met by terrific enthusiasm from everyone but the people who actually run Pittsfield: The government, the bankers, General Electric and the local newspaper.
Those folks want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to build a new ballpark on a site where GE may have dumped lots and lots of toxic chemicals (and coincidentally is owned by the same newspaper lobbying for the new stadium). Anyone with a sense of fair play will be infuriated by what happens to Bouton, his partners and the good people in Pittsfield...and there ARE good people there. Just none in the right places, apparently. My wife and I had bought GE stock for our retirement, but after reading this I dumped all our shares. No way could I remain invested in GE with a clear conscience after reading what they have done to people in Pittsfield.
Still, through it all, you'll smile at Bouton's observations and sense of humor in what becomes a Quixotic journey that anyone who has stood in the way of the powers that be will more than understand. "Ball Four" is a lot easier read, but "Foul Ball" is a deeper one, more challenging to the reader, but well worth reading. I highly recommend it.
NOTE: There is an initial self-published printing of "Foul Ball" (a story in itself), but it does not contain Part II, which is integral to the full story and includes later developments such as the fascinating Pittsfield Hillies vintage baseball team Bouton put together...I even bought some Hillies memorabilia (with proceeds from selling the GE stock, no less) as a way of saying thanks to Bouton and business partner Chip Elitzer for fighting the good fight.