Shared from the 7/11/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

JIM BOUTON: 1939-2019

‘Ball Four’ author was a pioneer

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Associated Press file photo

Jim Bouton, who pitched for the Astros in 1969-70, made a bigger impact with the pen than the baseball.

Jim Bouton, a once-promising pitcher with the New York Yankees who found greater fame as the author of “Ball Four,” an irreverent, best-selling book that angered baseball’s hierarchy and changed the way journalists and fans viewed the sports world, died Wednesday at his home in Great Barrington, Mass. He was

80.

He had a stroke in 2012 and five years later disclosed he had been diagnosed with cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a condition that causes vessels in the brain to burst under pressure. The death was confirmed by his wife, Paula Kurman.

Bouton was a hard-throwing righthander who won 21 games for the Yankees in 1963 and 18 the following season, helping lead his team to the World Series both years. He pitched for the Astros from 1969 to 1970 near the end of his career.

After suffering an arm injury in 1965, he lost his fastball and was relegated to the minor leagues before trying to revive his career as a knuckleball pitcher.

Bouton had often regaled listeners with tales of his antics in baseball, and as he sought to make the roster of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, he decided to take notes.

“Ball Four” — the title was suggested by a woman who overheard Bouton talking about his project in a bar — was published in 1970, with the editorial help of sportswriter Leonard Shecter.

It was in the form of a season-long diary and was modeled in part on “The Long Season,” a 1960 book by big-league pitcher Jim Brosnan. But no one had ever captured the humor, profanity and pathos of a major-league clubhouse with the candor that Bouton did in “Ball Four.”

“When I made it to the Yankees,” he told the New York Times in 1983, “it was like walking in this wonderland, this crazy place. … With ‘Ball Four,’ I never meant to make an investigation of a subculture. I just wanted to share the nonsense.”

When excerpts appeared in Look magazine, guardians of baseball’s traditions — including sportswriters, players and executives — were aghast. Bouton had broken baseball taboos, they fumed, revealing that players cheated on their wives, took amphetamines, drank to excess and cursed with colorful abandon.

Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn wanted “Ball Four” banned and summoned Bouton to his office, demanding that he repudiate his own book.

Bouton refused to change a word, and the publicity helped make “Ball Four” one of the best-selling sports books of all time, with more than 5.5 million copies in print.

Sports Illustrated named it the third-best book ever written on sports, after A.J. Liebling’s “The Sweet Science,” about boxing, and Roger Kahn’s elegy to the Brooklyn Dodgers, “The Boys of Summer.”

Some of Bouton’s most scandalous revelations concerned his former team, including Yankee superstar Mickey Mantle, who could be churlish and mean behind his country-boy grin.

“I’ve seen him close a bus window on kids trying to get his autograph,” Bouton wrote. He added that the oft-injured Mantle sometimes played while nursing a hangover.

James Alan Bouton was born March 8, 1939, in Newark, N.J., and grew up in New Jersey and the Chicago suburbs. He attended Western Michigan University before signing with the Yankees in 1958 for $30,000 — paid out over three years.

Bouton made the major league team in 1962 and had his finest season the following year, when he was named an All-Star, with a 21-7 record and 2.53 ERA. In 1964, he was 18-13, with a 3.02 ERA. He won two games in the 1964 World Series.

Nicknamed “Bulldog,” he pitched with such fierce determination that his cap often came off when he threw the ball.

After the Yankees gave up on him in 1968, Bouton turned to the knuckleball, a temperamental pitch he learned as a boy. He retired during the 1970 season, after struggling with the Astros.

Bouton published a second book, “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally,” in 1971 and spent five years as a television sportscaster in New York. He published several updated editions of “Ball Four” and a baseball novel, “Strike Zone” (with Eliot Asinof ), that appeared in 1994. Another book, “Foul Ball” (2003), was about his unsuccessful efforts to save a minor-league ballpark in Pittsfield, Mass.

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