Having recently reread Ball Four by Jim Bouton, it’s hard not to share the humor and wit of one of baseball’s finest books. Ball Four was written during the 1969 season by Bouton, a knuckleball pitcher trying to get his career back on track. He’d spent the previous season in the minor leagues after beginning his career in 1962 with the New York Yankees. He won 39 games in 1963 and 1964 and then his career, and the Yankees’ dynasty, went downhill.
Pitching for the expansion Seattle Pilots (who would move to Milwaukee and become the Brewers the next season) and eventually being traded to the Houston Astros, Bouton begins journaling his season in the offseason before the season and ends it in the winter after the 1969 season. The book was extremely controversial when released. Bouton breaks the code of the locker room that says everything said and done within the team should stay there. Much of the book reminisces of his time with the mighty Yankees of the early sixties of Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle. Bouton portrayed those players, and every other one, as human beings, not heroes. Many players and others involved in the game were angry Bouton let the sec ret out that ballplayers got drunk after games, cheated on their wives and took amphetamines.
The ballplayers, most of whom hadn’t read it, picked up the cue. The San Diego Padres burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse. While I was on the mound trying to pitch, players on the opposing teams hollered obscenities at me. I can remember Pete Rose, on the top step of the dugout screaming, “Fuck you, Shakespeare.” … I dedicated my second book (I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally) to my detractors. I don’t think they appreciated the gesture.
Ball Four is an important baseball book and it’s also an important American book. It lets the reader inside the clubhouse, behind the curtain. It shows us baseball players aren’t what they appear on television. Yes, they’re talented athletes, but they’re also human. They deserve our attention … in moderation. But the book also tells some hilarious and insightful baseball stories.
Ball Four is too good not to share. If you have yet to read it, I hope the following quotes will persuade you to pick it up. If you have read it, but it’s been a while, it’s a great book to pick up again. It doesn’t work like a novel where it needs to be read from front to back. It can be read between other books. A random page can be turned to and appreciated as much as if you’d been reading it for a week.
Here are some of my favorite quotes.
I know a lot of guys on the club. Greg Goosen is one. He’s a catcher, a New York Mets castoff, and is up out of Triple-A. Two years ago I was playing against Goose in the International League. There was a bunt back toward the pitcher and Goose came running out from behind the plate yelling, “First base! First base!” at the top of his lungs. Everyone in the park heard him. The pitcher picked up the ball and threw it to second. Everyone safe. And as Goose walked back behind the plate, looking disgusted, I shouted at him from the dugout, “Goose, he had to consider the source.”
I guess I got to him, because the first time he saw me – two years later – he said, “Consider the source, huh?”
We’ve been running short of greenies. We don’t get them from the trainer, because greenies are against club policy. So we get them from players on other teams who have friends who are doctors, or friends who know where to get greenies. One of our lads is going to have a bunch of greenies mailed to him by some of the guys on the Red Sox. And to think you can spend five years in jail for giving your friend a marijuana cigarette.
Jim Pagliaroni joined the club tonight and is going to be a welcome addition. He was describing a girl that one of the ballplayers had been out with and said, “It’s hard to say exactly what she looked like. She was kind of Joe Torre with tits.” This joke can only be explained with a picture of Joe Torre. But I’m not sure any exist. He dissolves camera lenses.
A young girl asked one of the guys in the bullpen if he was married. “Yeah,” he said, “but I’m not a fanatic about it.”
During the game a guy came down from the stands to the dugout and said to Mike Marshall, “Hey, is Mike Marshall in the dugout? I’m a good friend of his.”
“No, he’s not down here,” Mike Marshall said. “Maybe he’s in the bullpen.”
The fellow went off to look.
John Kennedy flew into a rage at Emmett Ashford over a called strike and was tossed out of the game. Still raging, he kicked in the water cooler in the dugout, and threw the metal cover onto the field. Afterward we asked him what had gotten into him. He really isn’t the type. And he said, “Just as I got called out on strikes, my greenie kicked in.”
Joe Schultz (Pilots’ manager) is not like Sal (Maglie, Pilots’ pitching coach) with the pitchers. Gelnar was telling us about this great conversation he had with Joe on the mound. There were a couple of guys on and Tom Matchick was up. “Any particular way you want me to pitch him, Joe?” Gelnar asked
“Nah, fuck him,” Joe Schultz said. “Give him some low smoke and we’ll go and pound some Budweiser.”
Right before the plane landed the guys were telling stories about how much we’d been getting on the road. And as we were getting ready to leave the plane and dash into the loving arms of our waiting wives, Pagliaroni said, very loud, “Okay, all you guys, act horny.”
When Dick Baney went into the game to throw his first major-league pitch everybody in the bullpen moved to the fence to watch him. We wanted to see how he’d do against the Brew, which is what we call Harmon Killebrew. Inside I still think of him as the Fat Kid, which is what Fritz Peterson over at the Yankees always called him. I’d say, “How’d you do, Fritz?” and he’d answer, “The Fat Kid hit a double with the bases loaded.” Well, the first time the Fat Kid faced Dick Baney he hit the second pitch 407 feet into the left-field seats.
After the game I was shaving next to Baney. “Welcome to the club,” I said. “You lost your virginity tonight.”
“The only difference,” he said, “is that all you guys will still be here tomorrow.”
The kids beat the fathers 40-0, and Sibby Sisti said, “Forty runs, for crissakes, and nobody gets knocked down.”
The attendance at the Baltimore games was respectable, but we’re back to not drawing much for the Tigers. It is decided in the bullpen that the people who came to see us play the Orioles are the same kind of who went to see the lions eat the Christians.
You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.