I discovered a copy of "Ball Four" in my high school library over 25 years ago, and found it to be laugh-out-loud funny. Jim Bouton, in the twilight of his baseball career, and suffering from a sore arm (this was in the days before sports medicine came along and prolonged careers), reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher and hooked on with the lowly expansion Seattle Mariners. His observations on locker room life and on the easy availability of hot young women to professional athletes, was an inspiration to me at age 14. Ever since then, I've picked up a copy of the book every few years (and I have at least three copies by now) and always find something new to enjoy or quote or admire.
Other reviewers on this site refer to "Ball Four" as "dated". I could not disagree more. Even though the book was largely written in 1969, it still has a lot to tell us about modern-day society, labor-management relationships, the role of sports in society, and politics. Bouton, as a 30-year-old ballplayer, was unusually observant, and, as he writes from 1969 -- the same year that "Mad Men" is up on TV now, as I write this review -- spokevery perceptively about the kinds of societal change that most of us enjoy watching Don Draper struggle with. Also, as an avowed left-winger, Bouton provides a perspective different to the majority of other baseball figures.
Reading "Ball Four", you can choose to just enjoy the more raunchy or R-rated material while ignoring the more social or political material. Or you can read up on the very early years of baseball's labor wars, and get your history lesson on the likes of Bowie Kuhn and Marvin Miller. Or, if you enjoyed the movie "Office Space", there's tons of material here about the short-sightedness of the management, which involved at least 7 increasingly muffled layers of supervision between the owners and the players of a single team. Bouton was a keen student of baseball history, and spends a fair bit of time talking about old players, and the guys he followed when he was a kid; he has the misfortune in 1969 to be coached by Sal Maglie, one of Bouton's childhood heroes but a truly inept pitching coach (as they say, never meet your heroes!)). But, not only that, Bouton figured into the very dawn of today's statistical-oriented baseball analytics --he realized that relief pitchers should be judged by inherited runners scored and baserunners-per-inning ratios, rather than purely by wins and losses. He was immensely valuable as a relief pitcher in 1969 -- his Strat-O-Matic card proves that -- but the Pilots ignored him and under-utilized him, because they weren't paying attention to the right information.
So, read "Ball Four" -- and its several updates, issued in 1980, 1990, and 2000. There's something amazing on nearly every page of the book and its supplements -- funny, titillating, insightful, of historical interest, or just plain mind-boggling. There are very few other baseball books that hit their targets so directly, or that are so eminently quotable. The book will be 50 years old soon, but it will never, ever, go out of date.