Audible obsessed lifelong learner.
A truly tragic yet inspiring story of a young man with insane skills on the baseball diamond who has fought his entire life with the demons of addiction to drugs and alcohol. The shattered lives he left in his wake as he sunk deeper and deeper into self destruction was tragic but thankfully he never hit bottom which to Doc is the grave. Here's to Doc as he continues his struggle to slay his demons every day one day at a time.
Ball Four is one of those books that I always thought I knew what it said and what it was about, and never had the least interest in picking it up and reading it. Although I would describe myself as a above average baseball fan, and my general interest in all topics baseball as high, for some reason, it had just never struck me that this was a book I should read. Maybe it was the fact that I knew Jim Bouton had been a Yankee. Maybe it was the fact that I knew the book had been controversial and somewhere along the way I had heard critical opinions of it. Maybe it was that noone ever grabbed me and said, "Byron, you should read this book!" (Or if they did, I didn't hear them.)
But over the past four years, I have become a ravenous listener to audiobooks, and over the last two years, have discovered that I have missed a lot of reading in my life. Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill have all caught my attention with their classic works. Then, last month, I starting browsing the baseball related books, looking to shift gears, and Ball Four caught my eye. When I downloaded it, I noticed that the book was read by the author. I didn't notice until I started the book that it also include three updates at 10 year intervals after the initial book was published. More about those updates in a minute.
I found the book somewhat interesting initially. Bouton starts at the beginning of the 1969 season, when he was playing for the expansion Seattle Pilots, and he makes frequent reference to his glory years with the Yankees earlier in the 60's, but he also makes it clear early on that things went sour for him in New York, although he never really presents the New York history in story-telling form. His focus stays on the 1969 season, and he presents it in almost diary format, where he bounces back and forth from things that happened or were said each day to reminisces from earlier in his career, with a particularly humorous way and seldom flattering way of describing current and former teammates. At times, he is absorbed with his own sense of self-importance, trying to figure out why he doesn't get respect from management or teammates.
A few weeks into the season, I began to wonder if I really wanted to finish the whole book. This was going to get tiresome going through the whole season, and I knew the Seattle Pilots did not have a good season, so there wasn't going to be any good baseball story there, I thought. But, perhaps for lack of a ready alternative, I hung in there, kept listening, and began to find myself absolutely absorbed in the season, and recognizing how incredibly thorough of a look inside the life of baseball players in the 1960s I was receiving.
By the time we got to the end of the season, and the end of the initial book, I felt thoroughly entertained and appreciative of the service Bouton had provided to me to bring the major league of my youth to life in a new way. There were times, as Bouton read his own book, when he would chuckle at the stories he was telling, which was annoying a couple of times, but on the whole, added to the read. Even as he poked fun at his teammates and managers for their foolishness, you saw that the pot was calling the kettle black, and I can to appreciate that Bouton was both egotistical and self-deprecating, and I decided I really liked the guy. If I had been a player, I would probably have been a lot like him.
It was clear why the book had been controversial. It was probably the first tell-all book, and he mocked some of the greats of the game. He portrayed Joe Schultz, the manager of the Pilots, and Sal Maglie, the pitching coach, as men without a clue as to how to make strategic decisions to win games, and he revealed the incredible cheap-ness of the owners. Bouton was earning a salary of $22,000 in 1969, so this was back in the days before any Tom, Dick, or Harry could strap on a glove and earn a million dollars, and the stories he tells on the owners are priceless.
Stopping at the end of the original Ball Four would have left a good taste in my mouth, and I would have written a 4 star review, and all would have been well. But, Bouton added the three updates, from 1980, 1990, and 2000, and this book jumped from 4 stars to 5 stars plus in my estimation.
Now a disclaimer here, the last update is tough...it involves a crying Bouton telling the sad story of the death of a family member. I'm a sap.. I appreciated it. You may not. It is not long, and if that's not your cup of tea, speed through it and move on.
But the richness of the updates come in two other ways: 1) he gives incredible insight into life after baseball. Going to visit the former teammate who now has a plumbing business was just wonderful. 2) he discusses the evolution of the response to the book, which was not well received my many teammates or by the baseball establishment. It was notorious, far beyond what it deserved in my opinion, but that just speaks to the shallow-mindedness of so many of the people in baseball. But through the updates, one gets a 30 year retrospective of how one man tried to take a stand, and to my way of thinking, we are better for his efforts.
If you are an Old baseball fan and have not read this book, get the audio version with Bouton reading it, and indulge yourself. If you are a young baseball fan, and don't know who Jim Bouton is, and did not know there was ever a major league team called the Seattle Pilots, let me introduce you to some baseball history. I think you will find it hard to believe much of what you read, but in the end you will realize the magnitude of the cultural change of the past 40 years since the concept of "free agency" was introduced into professional sports.