Ball Four is a book written by former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton in . The book talks about Bouton's career with the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros, and primarily his season with the Seattle Pilots (the club's only year in existence). Despite its controversy at the time, with baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn's attempts to discredit it and charging it detrimental to the sport, it is considered to be one of the most important sports books ever written.
Bouton had befriended sportswriter Leonard Shecter during his time with the Yankees. Shecter approached him with the idea of writing and publishing a season-long diary. Bouton, who had taken some notes during the season after having a similar idea, readily agreed.
What Bouton chronicled during his season was a frank, no-holds-barred insider's look at a professional sports team. The backdrop for the book was the Seattle Pilots' one and only operating season. Unlike previous sports tomes, Ball Four named names and made no attempt to protect the innocent or the guilty. Bouton did this by writing about the way a professional baseball team actually interacts; not only the heroic game-winning home runs, but also the petty jealousies (of which Bouton had a special knowledge), the obscene jokes, the drunken tomcatting of the players, and the routine drug use, which Bouton himself was party to. In fact, in a 1979 article written by Bouton and appearing in SI, Bouton laments the lack of drinking partners he finds in the minor leagues while trying to revamp his career with the Braves. He speaks frankly of smoking marijuana with several of his younger teammates who had, according to Bouton, taken to treating him as a "guru on all things". Bouton and Shecter wrote with candor about Bouton's anxiety about his pitching role on the team. Bouton detailed his unsatisfactory relationships with teammates and management alike, his sparring sessions with Pilots manager Joe Schultz and pitching coach Sal Maglie, and the lies and minor cheating that has gone on in sports seemingly from time immemorial. Ball Four revealed publicly for the first time the degree of womanizing prevalent in the major leagues (including "beaver shooting," the spying on women from rooftops or from under the stands). Bouton also disclosed how rampant amphetamine or "greenies" usage was among players. Also revealed was the heavy drinking of Yankee legend Mickey Mantle, which had, for good reasons, been almost entirely kept out of the press.
The fact that Bouton had a mediocre pitching year in 1969 even by his more modest recent standards is not minimized. Ball Four can also be viewed as the decline and fall of a former star pitcher. Arguing with the coaches (usually about his role with the team, his opinion that he should use the knuckleball exclusively, and his desire to throw between outings) and his outspoken views on politics (and everything else) meant that many considered him a malcontent and a subversive in the clubhouse. Early in the season he was sent to Seattle's minor-league affiliate in Vancouver, British Columbia (which caused him to miss being on the sole Topps Seattle Pilots baseball team card, as the photo used was taken in his absence), and was later traded during the season to the Houston Astros for Dooley Womack, who, like Bouton, was a former Yankee "phenom" himself.
Although his comments on Mickey Mantle's lifestyle and excesses make up only a few pages of the text, it was those very revelations that spawned most of the book's notoriety, and provoked Bouton's essential blacklisting from baseball. Oddly, what was forgotten in the furor is that Bouton mostly wrote of Mantle in almost reverential tones. One of the book's seminal moments is when Bouton describes his first win as a Yankee: when he entered the clubhouse, he found Mantle laying a "red carpet" of towels leading directly to his locker in Bouton's honor.
Bouton made several attempts to make peace with Mantle, but not until Bouton sent a condolence note after Mantle's son Billy died of cancer in 1994 did Mantle contact Bouton. The two former teammates settled their differences not long before Mantle's death.
Bouton seemed rather pleased by the commotion his book had kicked up, which was far more interesting than anything he'd ever done on a baseball diamond, and the following year described the fallout from Ball Four and his ensuing battles with Commissioner Kuhn and others in another diary, entitled I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally (the title was actually Dick Young's response when Bouton personally made reference to his "social leper" comment).
The largest measure of Ball Four's impact is its "opening of the floodgates" for other players, who were no longer inhibited to chronicle their playing careers openly. The irony is that many of the athletes who seemed most offended by Bouton's candor in 1969, including Mickey Mantle, were the ones that went on to write memoirs of their own which were, in some respects, just as candid as Bouton's had been. Of course there is a distinct difference in someone telling their story and having someone do it for them without either their knowledge or permission. In the long run, Bouton's book gave him the fame he so craved and was willing to do anything for. It only cost him his place in the game and many friends who never forgave him. The full impact on the game is something that will be debated for years to come. One thing seems certain though, and that is that Bouton will be remembered. Not for his talent, his ability, or his determination, but for taking advantage of his situation and cashing in on what he'd learned in confidence.