Since I’ve spent most of the past 48 hours as a passenger in a car, I decided to make my long weekend into a Bouton book-a-thon. I re-read Ball Four and then breezed through the sequel, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally? Next up is Foul Ball, which is of particular interest to me since I practice some historic preservation law and the book is about Bouton’s efforts to save a historic ballpark. I digress, however…
I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally picks up right where Ball Four leaves off. My only regret is that I read the Ball Five and Ball Six additions that were included in the latest published edition of Ball Four immediately after finishing Ball Four, which gave away some of what I read in I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally. Aside from that misstep, I really enjoyed this sequel. I think it’s particularly good for someone, like me, who wasn’t around when Ball Four was originally published because it fully details the reaction from both the baseball world and the rest of the country.
By the time I finished reading Ball Four I was eager to find out where Bouton’s career took him after the 1969 season. If you get ahold of the latest edition of Ball Four, you’ll also get the aforementioned Ball Five and Ball Six additions, written by Bouton at the ten-year and twenty-year anniversaries of the publishing of Ball Four. I urge you to resist the urge to read through these until after you’ve read I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, written just one year after Ball Four. Here you’ll journey with Bouton through his attempt to continue his baseball career in 1970 amidst the anticipation of Ball Four arriving on bookstore shelves. Besides reading his own recounting of the feedback (or backlash, as was often the case) on the book, you’ll be able to read snippets of actual reviews and both fan letters and hate mail. I felt like I was able to relive portions of 1969 and 1970 through the eyes of Jim Bouton (eyes one former teammate of his called “ass eyes”).
The sequel is just as witty and honest as the first book and the two should definitely be read in tandem. With each page I’ve read by Bouton, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for him and his writing. I’ve read reviews that suggest Bouton is his greatest fan and these books are essentially a shrine to how highly he thinks of himself. Well, who writes a book and tells nothing but bad things about themself? Not to mention, Bouton’s writing is full of self-depricating humor. Bouton’s not afraid to mention his own flaws right along with exposing everyone else’s. I would say 99% of all of the negative reaction to Ball Four centered around Bouton revealing that…gasp…baseball players are human! They curse, break the rules, act rudely, and chase women. The horror!
My first reaction after reading both books was that what he wrote was probably more shocking in 1970 than it is now in 2010. Maybe, but baseball fans still put baseball players on pedastals and worship them as heroes. It’s why they get so emotional over topics like Pete Rose gambling on baseball and all the current players rumored (and some, proven) to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. I’m guilty of it too, I think it’s almost impossible to be a fan and not have a reaction about these things. After reading I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, however, I have a different outlook. Bouton spends some time talking about the negative reaction people had to how Mickey Mantle was portrayed in Ball Four. He goes on to talk about his own hereos in baseball and the lesser side of each one that he eventually uncovered. Does he no longer have good memories of what those players meant to him? No. He’s able to separate the player he admired on the field from say the player he’s disappointed in for not signing autographs. Probably my favorite quote from I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally speaks to this topic: “So I think it’s possible that you can view people as hereos and at the same time that they are people too, imperfect, narrow sometimes, even not very good at what they do.” I think I’m going to strive to have this outlook from now on.
Since I declared Ball Four a must-read, I’ll have to say that I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally is a must-read as well. Read them one after the other and save Ball Five and Ball Six for afterwards. You won’t be disappointed and maybe you’ll come away with some new perspective for the game just like I did.
For love of the game,