Markusen: ‘Ball Four’ characters revisted, the Seattle days

From SABR member Bruce Markusen at The Hardball Times on October 19, 2015:

As much as Ball Four made a star and a household name out of its author, it did much more when it made its way onto bookshelves in the spring of 1970. Today, 45 years after its publication and surprising rise to national bestseller lists, the book continues to serve as a snapshot of baseball and American culture in the 1960s. Thanks to the writing of Jim Bouton and his underrated editor, the late Leonard Shecter, we have multi-dimensional images of iconic figures like Richie Allen, Mickey Mantle, Joe Pepitone, Joe Torre and others. Although they were already stars, Bouton gave us glimpses into their personalities that had not really been revealed.

Ball Four also gave us in-depth portraits of lesser known people. As a member of the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros in 1969, Bouton placed a microscope on the clubhouse dynamics and off-the-field personalities of a wide range of players and managers. The cast of characters with the Pilots alone included former and future All-Stars (like Tommy Davis and Tommy Harper), unheralded journeymen (Don Mincher and Jim Pagliaroni), amusing and oddball characters (George Brunet and Joe Schultz), and even studious intellectuals (Steve Hovley and Mike Marshall).

In many cases, these were characters who would have become quickly forgotten, but Bouton’s words and Shecter’s editing have made them permanent markers of a time when players still wore flannel uniforms and most players lived and died by the vagaries of a one-year contract. Many were obscure players at the time, but some eventually became All-Stars. Others led fascinating lives after their playing careers came to an end. Some have passed away, a few under particularly tragic and solemn circumstances.

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Originally published: October 19, 2015. Last Updated: October 19, 2015.