#47 Jim Bouton

Ok, so did someone say controversy?  So here is a real controversy stirred up by one of those New York Yankees, pitcher Jim Bouton.  I think I have a few of Jim’s baseball cards from the early 1960’s.  Jim passed away last year at the age of 80.  Seemed like a good guy, despite the fact he was a Yankee.

Jim had an interesting career.  Though he never approached the doorstep of the Hall of Fame, he was a bit famous for other things.

Jim was a member of the 1962 championship team, and was named to the 1963 All-star team.  He won both of his starts in the 1964 World Series.  Jim suffered from arm problems as many pitchers did back then, and still do.  His career was cut short, although he had a most unusual story that included at least one comeback later in his career. 

Jim is really known for two other side-stories, related to his baseball career.  One is the fact that he was a creator of Big League Chew.  Big League Chew is still around today, and Eli will be carrying it in his back pocket when he takes the field next year.  BLC is a bubble gum product, modeled after the infamous chewing tobacco, only quite a bit healthier (hopefully). 

Jim is also known and shall always be known as the author of the book “Ball Four”.  SSOMG actually may have read this one, even though I am not much of a reader (and not much of a writer, as some would say).  “Ball Four” was a diary of Jim’s baseball experience, mostly revolving around his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots, although it also was an expose of many of Jim’s experiences about his high-flying and high-living New York Yankee teammates, including party-loving Mickey Mantle. 

Quoting Wikipedia, “The book was a frank, insider’s look at professional sports teams, covering the off-the-field side of baseball life, including petty jealousies, obscene jokes, drunken tomcatting of the players, and routine drug use, including by Bouton himself. Upon its publication, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Ball Four “detrimental to baseball”, and tried to force Bouton to sign a statement saying that the book was completely fictional. Bouton, however, refused to deny any of Ball Four’s revelations. Some teammates never forgave him for disclosing information given to him in confidence, and naming names. The book made Bouton unpopular with many players, coaches, and officials on other teams as well; he was informally black-listed from baseball”.

So, as you might imagine the kiss-and-tell story did not make him the most popular player in the clubhouse.  Despite his arm problems, Bouton did return to professional pitching, now throwing a knuckle-ball, putting much less strain on his arm.  Jim battled back to the major leagues and made 5 starts for the Atlanta Braves in 1978, eight years after his original retirement. 

Despite Jim Bouton’s controversial book that got him in some big trouble with his former teammates, time healed all wounds.  Mantle and others eventually forgave him for his story-telling, and before Jim’s stroke and death last year, he was back on the good side of Yankee management and history. 

SSOMG, as well as many sports fans out there are interested in the back-story, what a professional athlete’s life is really like day-to-day.  Bouton’s book brought us closer to the clubhouse and the field and the players.  In some ways it was a courageous tale, and in some ways foolish.  In the end, I think Bouton played it right.  His personal bank account at the time of his death was estimated at over $40 Million.  That’s a lot of bubblegum and a lot of book sales, and a few well placed pitches 60 years ago.

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