Schoenfield: ‘Ball Four’ still an American classic

From David Schoenfield at on December 4, 2013:

Jim Bouton published “Ball Four” in 1970. The book was so controversial — players cheated on their wives, used greenies and dealt with moronic coaches and managers — that commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to force Bouton to sign a statement saying the book wasn’t true.

The book still holds up all these years later. If you’ve never read it, do so. If you’ve read it before, it’s worth reading again. I’ve been going through it recently and the most interesting aspect now is the insight into a time when the game was so much smaller — and yet bigger, in some ways — than it is now. Bouton’s book chronicled his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots (he was traded to the Astros in August) and his ongoing battle to perfect his knuckleball, his rag-tag collection of teammates and manager Joe Schultz, who was fond of telling his team things like “Okay men, up and at ’em. Get that old Budweiser.”

Here are five short passages from the book, a look into baseball from 1969:


Big meeting before the game about personal appearances and autograph signing. It was proposed that we charge no less than $100 for any personal appearance and no less than $100 an hour for autograph-signing sessions. I said I didn’t think it was a very good idea because it would work a hardship on the lesser-known player who could not command such a large fee. A player like Harper or Mincher or Davis might get that kind of money but a Gus Gil or a John Gelnar, guys who might be offered $25 or $50 for an appearance, might never get any shots at all.

Somehow I don’t think Jacoby Ellsbury has to worry about an extra $50 here and there. Bouton also writes of the contract squabbles with management, trying to get a couple more thousand dollars after a good season, or the hardships suffered when sent to the minors or traded and you have to move a family when you’re not making all that much money. When the money in today’s game hardly seems real, it’s a glimpse back at a time when ballplayers were still your neighbors.


Read the full article here:

Related link: Listen to the Seattle Pilots player panel with Jim Bouton, Steve Hovley, Mike Marshall and Jim Pagliaroni, and moderated by’s Jim Caple from SABR 36 in 2006 (MP3)

Originally published: December 4, 2013. Last Updated: December 4, 2013.