Thorn: Jim Bouton and ‘Ball Four’ papers acquired by Library of Congress

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on July 8, 2019:

Fifty summers ago, in that year of Woodstock, Apollo 11, and the Mets’ improbable championship, a pitcher named Jim Bouton threw a knuckleball and wrote a diary that became a classic of American literature: Ball Four, signifying failure, and it was a stunning success. Funny, profane, and smart, it revealed the sex, drugs, and horseplay of baseball in the era. It was also a political work, a milestone in the generational divide that characterized the 1960s.

The New York Public Library named it as one of its Books of the Century, the only sports title named. Jim thus stands shoulder to shoulder with such world figures as Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Ball Four,” the library’s editors noted, “was the first ripple of a tidal wave of ‘tell-all’ books that have become commonplace not only in sports, but also in politics, entertainment, and other realms of contemporary life.” (Jim, with typical diffidence and humor, has termed his book a “tell-some.”)

So I’m delighted that Jim’s personal papers and related materials — some 37,000 items, from 1939 to 2018 — are now preserved at the Library. The collection is a treasure trove for scholars — of baseball, plainly — but also for those who would try to recapture what it was like to be alive in the Age of Aquarius and Vietnam.

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Originally published: July 9, 2019. Last Updated: July 9, 2019.