Years ago, I saw a quote by a former ballplayer named Jim Bouton: “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around the whole time.” I didn’t know it then, but it’s the final line of his famous book, or expose depending in how you view it, Ball Four. I knew back then that I liked Jim Bouton, because I felt the same way. I’ve spent most of my life playing softball and watching baseball. I clung to fastpitch softball until my body, and my ego, could no longer stand the toll. When it comes to baseball, I have become more passionate with each passing year. I coach fastpitch softball nearly year-round. Two teams at once last spring/summer. I had to write three legal journal articles in law school, one each for courses in Sports Law, Taxation and Historic Preservation. This should demonstrate that I can make baseball relate to the study of absolutely anything. I’ve blogged about the Braves for four years. I’ve studied collective bargaining and revenue sharing for four years. I’ve guest lectured on these topics for one year. And in the past year, I’ve been honored to be involved with L.E.A.D., an inner-city baseball league in Atlanta.
I often wonder why I’ve developed such a love for games that involve throwing and hitting a little round ball with stitches. All I can say is that baseball and softball have been an integral part of my life, and a constant in my life no matter where I’ve gone. I played softball from age 5 until 26. No matter where I moved, Statesboro, Georgia to Columbia, South Carolina to Irvine, California to Gainesville, Florida back to Atlanta, Georgia, there was always a softball team to play on and a baseball team to root for. I’ve cheered for the Atlanta Braves, the Boston Red Sox, the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Anaheim Angels (who regrettably became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during my time as a resident of Orange County, California), the Florida Gators, and the Gwinnett Braves. From attending local baseball games to joining a softball team, I could always count on baseball and softball to make me feel comfortable in new surroundings.
It’s for these reasons that I think I identified with Jim Bouton while reading Ball Four. From the first pages it becomes apparent how much he loves playing the game. Bouton played before free agency, so he certainly wasn’t playing for the money. I’ve tried to heed the advice of another favorite former player of mine, Rob Dibble, that For Love of the Game was just a movie, but I just can’t seem to let go of the idea that those guys who are lucky enough to be out on the field playing the game I love have to love it as much as I do. After reading Ball Four, I’m convinced that Bouton did love playing the game. And not for fame or notoriety. It’s obvious as you read his day-by-day recounting of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros that he loved to play the game.
Ball Four reads like a diary. Bouton kept notes throughout the season and the book unfolds day-by-day from Spring Training through the season’s end. While Ball Four is best known for the stories he tells about the other players, I enjoyed it for different reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the stories about the players and the clubhouse antics. Bouton is incredibly witty and I found myself laughing out loud at numerous places in the book. But being someone who never played in the Majors, I enjoyed feeling like I was with him every day of the season, experiencing what he was experiencing. I could feel his desire to get in the game, his frustration when he was misunderstood, his struggle to master the knuckleball, and his excitement when he had success.
Ball Four is like going back in time and having the opportunity to sit in the bullben with Bouton all season long. I wasn’t even alive in the season of 1969 when all of this was playing out on the field, but I feel like I relived the entire season right alongside him. If you’ve ever wondered what really goes through a ballplayer’s mind, this book will fascinate you. It’ll make you laugh too. And if you’re someone like me who enjoys learning about collective bargaining and free agency, this book will provide amazing insight into what it was like to be a ballplayer during the time period all of that was being born. I couldn’t have asked for better research as I write my own book.
Overall, I give this book an A+ and label it a “must read” for baseball fans. I’ve read dozens of books on baseball and only one other, Feeding the Monster, has captured my attention the way this book did. If you haven’t read it, grab a copy today!
More posts to come on various topics in the book…
For love of the game,
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