James Alan Bouton (born March 8, 1939 in Newark, New Jersey) was a Major League Baseball player and author of the controversial baseball book Ball Four, which was a combination diary of his 1969 season and memoir of his years with the New York Yankees.
While attending high school, Bouton was nicknamed "Warm-Up Bouton" because he never got to play in a school game, serving much of his time as a benchwarmer. As a high school pitcher he didn't throw particularly hard, and got batters out by mixing conventional stuff, with the knuckleball that he'd experimented with since childhood. Unlike many Major League pitchers, Bouton could not hit at all, even as a high schooler. His career batting average in the majors was a dismal .101.
Bouton started his major league career in 1962 with the Yankees, where his tenacity earned him the nickname "Bulldog". In the subsequent two seasons the hard-throwing right-hander, known for his cap flying off at the completion of his delivery to the plate, won 21 and 18 games and appeared in the 1963 All Star Game. He was 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA in World Series play, including a tossing a six-hit shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. However, in 1965], an arm injury slowed his fastball and ended his status as a pitching phenomenon. Relegated mostly to bullpen duty, Bouton began to throw the knuckleball again, in an effort to lengthen his career. By 1968, Bouton was a reliever for the minor league Seattle Pilots. In October 1968, he joined a committee of American sportsmen who traveled to the 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico City, to protest the involvement of apartheid South Africa. At around the same time, sportswriter Leonard Shecter, who had befriended Bouton during his time with the Yankees, approached him with the idea of writing a season-long diary for publication. Bouton, who had taken some notes in 1968 season after having a similar idea, readily agreed.
The Pilots became a major league expansion team in 1969, and Bouton's diary, Ball Four (edited by Shecter), described the events of that season. Throughout, Bouton struggles to pitch with the knuckleball effectively, and records his experiences with an expansion team that would never gain a foothold in Seattle and would relocate the following year. Bouton commented upon unsympathetic coaches (particularly manager Joe Schultz and pitching coach Sal Maglie), being sent to the minors for a stint, and being traded late in the season to the Houston Astros, and the disruptions to his personal life that all these moves entailed. In contrast to the usual baseball books of the time - ghostwritten accounts of a championship season by star athletes - Bouton's tale was of a marginal player who was literally hanging on to his career by his fingertips. (The only previous book similar in tone to Bouton's was Jim Brosnan's The Long Season, perhaps not coincidentally penned by another relief pitcher who spent a lot of time sitting around.)
Ball Four broke many taboos because of its explicit depiction of life in baseball. While it contained numerous amusing and unflattering stories, it also revealed for the first time the drinking habits of Mickey Mantle and his Yankee teammates, which had been kept out of the press. Bouton also described the drug use and womanizing rampant among major-league baseball players. Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called the book "detrimental to baseball." The book made him unpopular with many other baseball players and coaches, who felt he had betrayed their trust and breached the long-standing rule that what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. Many old school sportswriters also denounced him, with Dick Young particularly vociferous, calling Bouton and Shecter "social lepers". Bouton described the fallout from Ball Four and his ensuing battles with Kuhn and others the following year in another diary, entitled I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally.
Bouton retired midway through the 1970 season after the Astros sent him to the minor leagues due to ineffective pitching. He immediately became a local sports anchor for New York station WABC-TV, as part of Eyewitness News; he later had the same job for [CBS-TV. He appeared as an actor in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) and had the lead role in the 1976 CBS television series Ball Four, which was loosely adapted from the book and was cancelled after only a few episodes. By this time the book had a cult audience of fans who saw it as an honest and comic portrayal of the ups and downs of baseball life. Bouton went on the college lecture circuit, delivering humorous talks revolving around baseball, broadcasting, and his experiences with the book.
The urge to play baseball would not leave him. He launched his comeback bid with the Class A Portland Mavericks in 1975, compiling a 5-1 record. He skipped the 1976 season to work on the television series, but returned to the diamond in 1977 when Bill Veeck signed him to a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. Bouton was winless for a White Sox farm club; a stint in the Mexican League and a return to Portland followed.
Bouton's quest to return to the majors might have ended there; but in 1978 the anti-establishment Ted Turner signed him to a contract with the Atlanta Braves. After a successful season with the Savannah Braves (AA), he was called up to join the Atlanta rotation in September, and compiled a 1-3 record in five starts. His winding return to the majors was chronicled in a book by sportswriter Terry Pluto, entitled "The Greatest Summer." Bouton also detailed his comeback in a third book, titled Ball Five as well as adding a Ball Six, updating the stories of the players in Ball Four, for the 20th anniversary edition. These were collected (in 2000) with the original as Ball Four: The Final Pitch, along with a new coda that detailed his reconciliation with the Yankees following the death of his daughter in a road traffic accident.
After his baseball career ended a second time, Bouton was one of the inventors of "Big League Chew," a shredded bubblegum designed to resemble chewing tobacco and sold in a tobacco-like pouch. He has also co-authored Strike Zone (a baseball novel) and edited an anthology about managers, entitled I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad. His most recent book is Foul Ball (published 2003) a non-fiction account of his (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to save Wahconah Park, a historic minor league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
- Ball Four has been through numerous significantly revised editions, the most recent being Ball Four: The Final Pitch, Bulldog Publishing.
- I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally
- I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad -- edited and annotated by Bouton, compiled by Neil Offen.
- Foul Ball, Bulldog Publishing. (June 2003)
- Strike Zone, Signet Books. (March 1995)
"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
"This winter (1977) I'm working out every day, throwing against a wall. I'm 11-0 against the wall."
- Signed as an amateur free agent by New York Yankees (1959).
- Sold by New York Yankees to Seattle Pilots (October 21, 1968).
- Traded by Seattle Pilots to Houston Astros in exchange for Dooley Womack and Roric Harrison (August 24, 1969).
- Released by Houston Astros (August 12, 1970).
- Signed by Chicago White Sox (April 7, 1977).
- Released by Chicago White Sox (June 1, 1977).
- Signed by Atlanta Braves (May 16, 1978).
- Granted free agency (November 2, 1978).