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Born on March 8, 1939 in Newark, New Jersey, Jim Bouton was a major league pitcher of some distinction, whose fierce competitive nature earned him the nickname “Bulldog.” He followed his 7-7 rookie campaign with the New York Yankees in 1962 by posting marks of 21-7 in 1963 and 18-13 in 1964, including two World Series victories over the St. Louis Cardinals. Bouton came up with a sore arm in 1965 and, with his fastball gone, won only nine games in the next four seasons with the Bronx Bombers, before being shipped off to that baseball Siberia in Seattle, Washington. While attempting to resurrect his career in 1969 as a knuckleball pitcher with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros, Bouton began writing a diary during the season on notebook paper, hotel stationery, popcorn boxes, ticket stubs, coasters, and anything else that was handy. The end result, Ball Four, published in 1970, became arguably the most influential baseball book ever written, and one which changed the face of sportswriting and our conception of what it means to be a professional athlete. Prior to its publication, baseball books had attempted to provide good examples and tell inspiring, if not always truthful, stories; Ball Four was the stick of dynamite that blasted ballplayers off their pedestals, showing them not as sacrosanct and heroic figures but as flawed and often inglorious men. Igniting a firestorm of controversy, Bouton was called a Judas and a Benedict Arnold for having violated the “sanctity of the clubhouse.” The baseball establishment was outraged by the book’s candid depiction of the sex-obsessed lives of major league players, the stinginess and stipidity of ownership and management, and the intolerance to nonconformists such as Bouton himself (who was distrusted by teammates for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, his strong union stance in the locker room, and his penchant for reading books in the back of the bus). Fearful that Ball Four would damage baseball’s “image,” Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to suppress it, only ensuring its commercial success. Although its startling revelations initially overshadowed the book’s brilliance as a document of a highly transformative period in baseball history, Ball Four has, in the three decades since its publication, assumed its proper place in the literature of baseball. It was even anointed in 1995 by the New York Public Library as one of its “Books of the Century,” the only sports book so honored. Bouton would eventually pen a sequel to Ball Four called I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, and even tried his hand at baseball fiction in 1994 by co-writing Strike Zone with Eliot Asinof. Bouton has explored his many interests over the years, including work as a sportscaster, an actor (in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, he played the hitman Terry Lennox, who gets “plugged” at the film’s end by Elliott Gould), an entrepreneur (inventor of shredded bubble gum and vanity trading cards), and most recently, as a motivational speaker. ~ Written by Terry Cannon

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