Jaffe: Ball Four’s Big Bang: A Conversation with Jim Bouton and Dr. Paula Kurman

From SABR member Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs on July 16, 2019:

In January 2017, a publicist from SCP Auctions contacted me with an invitation to interview Jim Bouton, the pitcher-turned-author whose candid, irreverent, and poignant “tell-some” account of his 1969 season, Ball Four, became not just a best seller but a game-changer in the coverage of athletes, and a cultural touchstone that resonated far beyond the diamond. I jumped at the chance; not only had I first read a dog-eared copy of Ball Four at age nine, I had returned to the book countless times over the years, connecting to its outsider point-of-view and drawing the inspiration to write myself while crossing paths with Bouton a few times from 2000-08. Our conversations had always been a delight.

SCP was auctioning the Ball Four original manuscript and ancillary materials, “every note Bouton scribbled, every tape he recorded, the full manuscript and all the heated correspondence from Major League Baseball, which ordered him to deny it,” wrote the New York Times’ Typer Kepner. Also included was the edited manuscript “detailing the publisher’s attempt to gut the book of every tough, revealing, or sexual passage,” a letter from the publisher’s lawyer “identifying 42 instances of potential libel, and Bouton’s final edits that addressed only 4 of them,” correspondence related to Bouton’s always-contentious contract negotiations from his playing days, and “exquisitely maintained scrapbooks” kept by Bouton’s mother, detailing every stage of his career, including his 1978 comeback. The Ball Four lot, whose auction was scheduled to end on January 21, was expected to fetch “somewhere in the $300,000-to-$500,000 range” and already had attracted multiple bidders, according to the managing director of SCP Auctions.

The stars did not quite align. Initial hopes of conducting our interview face-to-face at MLB Network headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey, in connection with separately scheduled appearances on MLB Now, were dashed when the 77-year-old Bouton decided to pass on a trip from his home in the Berkshires to the studio. Instead, we did the interview by phone on Friday, January 13, eight days before the auction closed. What I did not know until calling was that Bouton was ailing. As his second wife, Dr. Paula Kurman, explained before our interview, he had not fully recovered from a 2012 stroke and had difficulty speaking (as well as reading and writing). Hence, she would assist with the interview.

Read the full article here:https://blogs.fangraphs.com/ball-fours-big-bang-a-conversation-with-jim-bouton-and-dr-paula-kurman/

Originally published: July 17, 2019. Last Updated: July 17, 2019.