Brushes with Sports Greatness, Vol. 4: Jim Bouton and Ball Four

I was enrolled in freshman English at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts in 1987.  It was spring semester and only months earlier, a baseball that found its way through Bill Buckner’s legs broke the heart of the state, and a nation:  Red Sox nation.

I had fared poorly in English my first semester partially because I hated the teacher, partially for having the sense not to brave across campus through 7:00 am snowstorms and mostly because I had recently spent three years overseas.  Although English is my native tongue, when one writes, reads and speaks another language for so long, one tends to lose the polishing touches of his first language.  It happens… or at least it did to me.

The class I took second semester was more of a one-on-one tutorial, taught by a graduate student looking to become a professor himself.  He is a big part of the reason you sit here today reading this website.

For most of that semester, instead of reading the classics from some outdated English syllabus, we focused on what I wanted to read, write and analyze.

Since he was aware of my love for all things sports, probably because I was still mourning Calvin Schiraldi’s repeated inability to elicit a third strike out of the Mets’ lineup, my professor suggested I write a critique on one of the most famous sports books ever written: Jim Bouton’s Ball Four.

Despite having two solid seasons early in his career, Bouton was an average pitcher at best, finishing 62-63 in ten seasons with the Yankees, Pilots, Astros and Braves.  He later went into broadcasting.  He wrote Ball Four in 1970, the body of work for which he is most famous.

Ball Four was the first of its kind, a tell-all book that brought the reader inside a major league clubhouse, naming names, uncovering dirt and letting us know in full detail the kind of dogs ballplayers can be when they’re on the road.

I enjoyed the book immensely yet found it funny that Bouton, who was married at the time, never chose to share in any of the indiscretions of his Yankee teammates.  They were the bad guys, Bouton was mostly portrayed as a saint.

This was the approach I would take in my analysis of Ball Four:  Bouton’s hypocrisy.

I sat in my dorm room one night, pounding away at the keys of my old Apple II+ when the phone rang.  The voice on the other end of the line asked for Chris Humpherys.

“This is he,” I replied, hoping it wasn’t a bill collector.

“I understand you’re doing a book report on Jim Bouton,” he said.

“I am.  Why?  Who’s this?”

“This is Jim Bouton.”

Bouton, you see, had worked with my mother at WCBS in New York back in the day.  She still knew him and since she also knew I was writing an essay on Ball Four, she asked that he give me a call to see if I had any questions about the book.

Bouton and I shot the shit for about twenty minutes or so, then he finished the conversation by saying he’d love to read the report when I was done.  So much for my slant on Bouton’s hypocrisy.  I obviously couldn’t write the paper slamming the guy knowing he was going to read it afterwards.

In the end, I was more star-struck than anything else.  The essay turned out mediocre at best, nothing like the in-depth analysis you regularly read now at SportsChump.

But at least it made for another good Brush with Sports Greatness.

Click here for Brushes with Sports Greatness with Doc Rivers, Steve Lowery and David Stern

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37 Replies to “Brushes with Sports Greatness, Vol. 4: Jim Bouton and Ball Four

  1. Pingback: Brushes with Sports Greatness, Vol. 4: Jim Bouton and Ball Four, MLB | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. My uncle’s got one of those as well.

    If you like, I can probably dig up a copy of that book report and send you an autographed version to sit along side it in your collection.

  3. That ‘Ball Four’ is very much a prized possession. Bouton signed it when I went to WCBS with your mom one night – still remember that.

    I’m reading a biography of Mickey Mantle right now (“The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” by Jane Leavy), and she certainly spares no gory detail about his escapades. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t graded on her work.

  4. I was at a gas station in Hackensack in 1972. It was raining hard and as I was finishing up paying for my gas, Jim Bouton came in soaked to the skin and asked me for directions. That was the closest I came to a brush with greatness regarding Bouton. I will say this. He looked smaller out of uniform.

  5. Unc…

    That Mantle book got some harsh reviews when it first came out, particularly for, as you mention, sparing no expense at letting us know about the Mick’s personal history.

    Doesn’t she talk about him being sexually molested as a child? I guess nothing is sacred.

    The Mick was obviously a little before my time but I could see where this book could leave a few readers uneasy.

  6. Chris

    Met A Rod in a strip club several times in the Miami locale . Does that count ? Isn’t that a brush with greatness in some aspects ?

    How great to know that the Wilpons are now crying foul that they too are victims in the Madoff ‘Ponzi scheme’ ? They made close to some $700 $800 million over the years and now that they’re about to go to litigation as the trustees of the victims look to recoup some of the money lost . They’re now being sued for between $300-$500 million in damages and they’re also seeking in excess of $600 million in punitive damages. I guess that’s why want to sell a stake in the Mets ? Are you up for the challenge ?

    Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt and his ex wife (Jamie) will find an amicable way of settling their estate . They’ll duly trade the players and turn the ballpark into the city’s latest garbage dump. I mean after all nothing that’s been played there over the last five years has even resembled being called baseball.

    tophatal …………

  7. Hey Chris, if you ever do a story on Joe Namath, I’ll be sure to tell you about my ultimate brush with greatness with Broadway Joe that took place 2 weeks before Super Bowl 3 and then again in 1990.

  8. As long as you didn’t feed him popcorn, Al.

    Excuse me if I don’t pay attention to anything related to Madoff, and that includes the Mets. It always cracks me up when team owners cry poor.

    With all the money out in L.A., I’m surprised we haven’t seen a conglomerate of Hollywood stars offer to take that team off the McCourts hands.

  9. I bought the book a few years ago, and still haven’t gotten to it. Maybe you’ll inspire me to read it with this post. Unfortunately I’m in the middle of Bill Simmons Book of Basketball, but when I get through those 700 pages, maybe Ball Four will be next…

  10. Chris

    I stood upwind of anything A Rod was touching ! He’s not crying poor he just doesn’t want to be sued that’s all . LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

    Anyone in Hollywood taking the Dodgers of the McCourt’s hands have to be plain stupid or Scientology members ! Is there a difference between the two by the way ? I can see it now both Cruise and Travolta forming their syndicate group to by the Dodgers . Does that mean that Matt Kemp will be able to start to hit above his own body weight now that he’s no longer involved with Rihanna ?

    I’d hit that ! Rihanna that is ……… not in the way Chris Brown did though ! But more in the way how tophatal rolls …… !

    tophatal ……….

  11. Great story, Rev.

    Ball Four, the end of the innocence. Up until reading that as a youngun circa 1980, all bios by ballplayers were G-rated. An eye opener, to say the least.

  12. Snake…

    I did actually meet Joe Namath once.

    I was a kid, sent away to baseball camp, probably around the late 1970s.

    Namath, for some reason, was sent make a celebrity appearance, even though it was a baseball camp, probably because it was somewhere in upstate New York.

    I kinda knew who he was, but was more taken aback by the scars on his knees and by the fact that he could barely walk.

  13. Chap….

    Needless to say, it’s been twenty plus years since I’ve picked up Ball Four, so in this day and age, it might be a bit out of touch.

    Here’s hoping you finish Simmons’ work in 2011. His recent posts take an entire afternoon.

    Have you picked up any Freedarko lately? I may be giving his latest out in a new contest so stay tuned.

  14. Al…

    If Travolta and Cruise buy the team, let’s hope they rename the Dodgers to something particularly space-agey.

    Old school Dodgers fans would be forced to cheering for the Padres, Angels or perhaps just resort to looking for UFOs for victories.

  15. Han…

    You’re exactly right. That’s why Ball Four broke ground, and why Bouton made so many enemies.

    Hey, my buddy asked me to join another NASCAR fantasy league. I’m holding you personally responsible to guarantee a SportsChump victory.

  16. So far, she’s just enumerated several of his wayward expeditions. It’s an odd book, and nowhere near the category of “Ball Four.”. The best baseball book I’ve read in the last few years is Dirk Hayhurst’s “Bullpen Gospels,” which is a great slice of minor league life, although most of the R and NC-17 stuff is conspicuously omitted.

  17. Well, Unc, considering we might not have a football or basketball season next year, I might have to brush up on my baseball reading.

    By the way, have you heard of the release of “Scorecasting?”

    Press Box Publicity sent me a copy to review so stay tuned on that in the near future. My understanding of the work is basically two economists mathematically break down some of the traditional assumptions in sports.

    Should be kinda groovy in a number-crunching, sorta way.

  18. Chris

    I can see it now Hollywood A Listers in the bleaches at Chavez Revine ! How’s the likes of J Lo and Aniston suppose to look good in front of those fans ?

    Anything A Rod touches doesn’t necessarily turn to gold unless his agent Scott Boras has a looksie first .

    Is it me but the world’s #1 (Lee Westwood) and 2 (Martin Kaymer) ranked golfers say that it’s necessary to have woods back and playing at his best in order for the PGA Tour to remain a success and have the fans coming out in deluge to watch ? Now whatever gave them that idea ? LOL,LOL,LOL !!! Tiger is the draw and the only draw on the Tour ! It’s not Mickelson by any stretch of the imagination and the only time there’s a real uptick in viewership much less attendance is when there’s a sighting of a sober or drunk John Daly . Need I say anymore on the matter ?

    Ochocinco says he’s happy that Marvin Lewis remained in Cincinnati . The funny thing is the Bengals’ fans aren’t too happy that Ocho’ still remains a Bengal ! I wonder why ? LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

    Kurt Rambis is said to be mulling over a decision to take a coaching position within the WNBA ? At least there the scenery and play may well be a lot better than watching the T’wolves don’t you think ? An assistant coach or some other capacity for the Lynx mightn’t be such a bad idea after all .

    tophatal ……….

  19. Haven’t heard of it, but it looks like Dungeons and Dragons for sports fans. Let me know if you become an imperial wizard or something (Oops, that’s the Klan!).

  20. Hey Chris. It was just before New Year’s Eve and I was sitting at the bar in a place in Manhattan called Ungano’s. I was with a very good friend of mine who unlike me was the school jock. He was a pitcher on the varsity baseball team and the starting point guard on the varsity basketball team that won the state championship twice. Anyway, Namath and 2 of his team mates walked in. what struck me was that it was very cold outside and snowing and Joe was wearing loafers with no socks. I thought, how cool is that? Everyone in the place looked up, instantly recognizing him, as he was the biggest name in sports in 1968. My friend Larry elbows me and says, “Why don’t you get his autograph?” I hate to ask any celeb for an autograph because I don’t like to invade their privacy, but I thought that just stopping by his table to offer my congrats for getting into the Super Bowl would be okay, so I went over and said hi and discovered that Joe was totally drunk. The cocktail waitress was just taking their drink order and he asked me to sit down and have a drink, like he knew me. Being just 21 and not a big drinker, without knowing what to order, I just said that I’d have whatever he was drinking. So he told the waitress to make it another Johnny Walker Red double on the rocks. Ugh. That was my first scotch ever. So I’m sitting there with not too much to say and I turn my head back to the bar and I see my friend Larry with his tongue hanging down to his knees with envy. After a while, I felt a little uncomfortable sitting there so I told Namath that I had to get going and I thanked him for the drink and wished him good luck in the big game. He shook my hand and then he told me to bet the farm on the Jets. He told me that he gauranteed

  21. that the Jets would win it. The next week he said the same thing in the newspapers. My next brush with Joe Namath came in 1990, but that’s another story.

  22. Al…

    I guess, on second thought, with the divorce rate in Hollywood, we should have all just taken that McCourt thing in stride.

    For some reason, Tiger still is the draw on Tour. You’re the one who still thinks he’s going to turn it around real soon. I need to see some evidence of consistency first. And I think Mickelson’s still a draw. Not as much as Tiger, but then again, who is?

    I don’t know why anyone would want to parade that same Bengals team out again this season, but then again, I don’t know why Bengals fans would expect any changes in 2011. It’s not like ownership has done anything to upset that rickety old applecart already. So why start now?

    Speaking of WNBA, maybe the Cavs can host a pickup game to end their historical losing streak.

  23. Hey Chris. This is part 2 of the Joe Namath story. Now, its 1990,and I’m living in Deerfield Beach,FL. I’m a wallpaper contractor and I got a call from a guy named Joe who wanted me to remove and rehang all the paper in his Pompano Beach home. I went over there and, no, it wasn’t Joe Namath, but the guy who bought Broadway Joe’s house on a canal near the intracoastal. He was living Namath’s life vicariously. He even had his hair cut like Namath’s. He wanted me to do the entire house except the master bedroom. When I asked why not that room too, he told me that he wanted to leave it exactly the way Namath left it. As you can imagine, it had a mirrored ceiling, platform bed and a deep shag carpet. There was nothing else in the room. The wall opposite the bed was a series of mirrored doors that held shelves and drawers and closets and a large TV. Namath may not have been the greatest NFL QB, but he was the coolest dude ever to walk the Earth. At least until he did his thing with Suzy Kolber.

  24. I’m not sure what’s creepier. That image of Namath’s bedroom or the fact that a guy wanted to walk, talk and breathe like Namath so much that he lived in his place and kept his bedroom totally intact.

    I wonder if he washed the sheets.

  25. That’s a fantastic story. Personally, I really loved the book. I think he just has a tremendous amount of insight and, despite the shortcomings that you point it, the book offers so many fascinating things. I read it for the first time when I was 9 but then read it again a couple of years ago because I really didn’t remember all that much from it.

  26. Part of what made that book stand out, CR, was that it was really the first of its kind.

    Kind of like “Juiced,” but a whole lot better, he he.

  27. Pingback: Book Review: NFL Confidential by Johnny Anonymous | Sports Chump

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