Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jim Bouton reflects on Ball Four as he auctions its recordings and manuscripts

Jim Bouton, the author of the revolutionary baseball book, Ball Four, has placed all of his audio recordings, notes, original manuscripts, and the subsequent letters from Major League Baseball urging him to retract his work, up for auction. The 77-year-old retired pitcher, who spent ten seasons in the major leagues with the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves, entrusted his collection to SCP Auctions, who expects the memorabilia which also includes some of his game-used items, to fetch in the neighborhood of $300,000.

Jim Bouton - 1965 Topps / Topps
Ball Four provided a look inside the major league clubhouse, with Bouton jotting down notes about anything of interest that happened during the season, whether it was on or off the field. In addition to Major League Baseball, Bouton’s work aroused the ire of the New York Yankees, who allegedly banned him after the 1970 publication of Ball Four from attending Old-Timers’ Day for writing about Mickey Mantle’s drinking habits.

In 1998, Bouton’s son Michael wrote a passionate letter to the New York Times to make the case for his father’s return to the annual Yankees Old-Timers’ Day. Published on Father’s Day, his son’s letter tugged at the heart strings of many, including the New York Yankees, who quickly welcomed Bouton back into the fold.

“That was sort of a bittersweet thing,” Bouton said when we spoke at the 2010 BAT Dinner in New York City. “I had been uninvited for 28 years, so the circumstances of me being invited back had to do with the fact that my daughter Lauren had been killed in an automobile accident the year before.

“My son Michael wrote a letter to the New York Times to be published on Father’s Day and said, ‘The Yankees should let bygones be bygones and that Old Timers Day was always a time for families, as he remembered when we had Old Timers Day when I was a player with the Yankees. So Michael ended the letter, ‘My dad can use all the hugs he can get right now.’ It was such a sweet and beautiful letter. The Yankees read it and invited me back.”

Forty years after his landmark work was published Bouton was still excited to discuss its merits. He explained why Ball Four has persisted despite his uncertainties about how it would be received.

“I thought it would cause a little excitement because I knew I was writing some things that hadn’t been written in a sports book,” he said. “I thought after a year or so it would die down, but it hasn’t. It didn’t hurt that I wrote an update in 1980, 1990, and 2000 to keep it alive. I think the characters in the book are so interesting and so funny; I think that [is what] resonates with people.”

While Bouton didn’t set out to revolutionize the world of sports writing, he acknowledged that Ball Four opened up a new world for authors to explore. Capturing the life of an athlete away from the stories told by box scores and game recaps became of greater interest to both sportswriters and fans alike.

“I think probably after the book came out, it was no longer possible for a sportswriter to be an extension of the team’s public relations department, which is what it usually was,” Bouton said. “Now I think reporters said, ‘Ok, people want to know more about these guys and their batting averages; they want to know what kind of people they are.’ I think because the players are attractively interesting with wonderful backgrounds, the more people know about them, the more they’ll become interested in the game.”

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