Biography

Into the Dugout

Jim Bouton pulled back the curtain on the MLB and changed the perception of sports forever.

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Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original, by Mitchell Nathanson, University of Nebraska Press, 409 pages, $34.95

The best book ever written about baseball is Ball Four, Jim Bouton's irreverent look at the 1969 baseball season. Over the course of the year, Bouton bounced from the New York Yankees, his club of seven seasons, to the minor leagues to the short-lived Seattle Pilots to the Houston Astros, trying to hang on as a big-league pitcher several years past his prime. Edited by sportswriter Leonard Shecter and published in 1970, Ball Four is a work of genuine iconoclasm, the first widely read account of life in the Major Leagues that was not written in hushed tones.

By the time Bouton's book was released, Major League Baseball had spent decades as the grand dame of American professional sports. Perhaps no aspect of American life was written about as reverentially as the "national pastime," a term that the sport's thoroughly sentimental partisans had been using to describe it since the Buchanan administration. The elevation of baseball stars to the simultaneous status of celebrity and role model became particularly pronounced during the 1920s, when sportswriters like Grantland Rice and future baseball commissioner Ford Frick turned Babe Ruth into a cultural icon of virtually unprecedented stature. The baseball heroes of subsequent generations were cast in a similar guise, presented in all forms of media as figures of towering cultural significance and characteristic of all that was good in American life.

Bouton's book was radically different—a sports book for an era when institutions of all kinds were coming under skeptical scrutiny. Instead of a familiar, cloying I'm-getting-paid-to-play-a-kid's-game narrative, Bouton discussed his contract disputes and his desire to get paid his market value. Writing in diary form, he spoke out of school on professional athletes' everyday lives, dishing on their petty jealousies, lecherousness, boozing, and use of amphetamines to make it through the 162-game grind. Despite the late 1960s' reputation for cultural radicalism, Bouton showed that the spirit of the times had yet to reach Major League Baseball. He criticized the groupthink he found in baseball locker rooms, deriding his teammates' lack of interest in cultural and political matters—and their acquiescence to team-owner paternalism by refusing to push for better pay or for more control over the conditions of their employment.

Needless to say, Major League Baseball was not pleased with Bouton's presentation of the game. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn went so far as to try to get Bouton to sign a document that said his book was a work of fiction. Bouton refused. But even if he had signed, the cat would have been out of the bag.

The behind-the-scenes sportswriting that Bouton pioneered has been copied thousands of times over the past five decades, by journalists, by documentarians, by Bouton's fellow memoirists. Just recently, the picaresque Chicago Bulls documentary series The Last Dance adopts a beyond-the-box-score tone that would have been unimaginable before Ball Four. Athletes who have used the various social media platforms to express their views on a wide range of issues are working in a tradition that Bouton pioneered.

By the time I spoke with the Ball Four author in 2009—he was the first person I ever interviewed—I was intimidated by his legend, having transformed him in my head into a ball-playing Hunter S. Thompson. But he was generous with his time and couldn't have been more gracious to a young writer. He spoke frankly with me about steroids in baseball, taxpayer financing of stadiums, and athletes' interactions with the press.

The forthrightness that came across in that conversation is evident in Mitchell Nathanson's account of the Ball Four author's life. Nathanson is a law professor at Villanova who has written several baseball histories, and Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original is one of the best baseball biographies in recent memory. Nathanson is a fantastic storyteller, capable of juxtaposing Bouton's recollections with those of his contemporaries and situating these stories within their historical context. While researching the book, he spent a significant amount of time with Bouton in the final years of his life (Bouton died in 2019), which contributes to the depth with which he renders his subject.

The Bouton that Nathanson evokes is equal parts traditional and subversive. Bouton challenged the status quo of the "national pastime," unmooring the men who made their living in baseball from the mythology of the game. He brought athletes down from Mount Olympus and showed them to be people, deeply flawed and deeply funny, worthy of informed admiration rather than thoughtless worship. Bouton embraced and was embraced by the era's counterculture, becoming an exemplar of the liberated, socially conscious athlete amid what sports reporter Howard Cosell called the "jockocracy."

But at the same time, he was a throwback: an old-fashioned hustler, part showman and part entrepreneur. After being blackballed from the Major Leagues, Bouton found many ways to parlay his notoriety and smarts into a lucrative post-baseball career. He worked as a sportscaster in New York and appeared in several films. He proved a shrewd investor in real estate and became genuinely wealthy as one of the inventors of Big League Chew gum. All the while, Bouton was engineering a multiyear baseball comeback as a knuckleball pitcher, which culminated in a five-game return to the majors in 1978 for the Atlanta Braves. Bouton's best product proved to be the brand he created with Ball Four.

NEXT: Will Biden Repeal Trump’s Destructive Food Tariffs?

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  3. https://twitter.com/VenturaReport/status/1327709465102209026?s=19

    Fight breaks out on BLM Plaza between a family supporting Trump and pro-BLM supporters moments ago. DC police trying to calm the situation and separate groups. Sad scene , children are crying and very scared.

  4. https://twitter.com/stillgray/status/1327862654854000640?s=19

    These people are trying to get Parler shut down now. They’re not even interested in turning Parler into a containment site or ghetto. They want to disenfranchise conservatives entirely and keep us suppressed and unable to organize.

    1. Dissent is no longer patriotic.

      1. #Don’tResist

        1. Oh, very nice.

          Perhaps also #YouToo ?

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  5. https://twitter.com/JackPosobiec/status/1327978984605446149?s=19

    The media spent half of yesterday mocking the 100,000-person MAGA March and the second half ignoring the families being attacked in the streets by Antifa anarchist

    1. None of those people were illegal immigrants or trannies.

    2. The headline in today’s local paper: “Thousands believing Trump won hold rally; Neo-fascist group Proud Boys are among the participants.”

      1. Did it really call Proud Boys a “Neo-fascist group”?

        I imagine they’re using the modern progressive definition of ‘everybody I don’t like’, but that still sounds like a potential lawsuit to me.

  6. You want to know about building back better?

    https://twitter.com/HLAurora63/status/1327829267112206337?s=19

    THIS???? is what Trump is fighting against.

    Holy snot!!!

    The globalist said it out loud.????

    1. The only good thing about having Prime Minister Zoolander in charge, is he’s too dumb to keep the secret parts secret.

      Strange how Reason never bothers to talk about the international authoritarian putsch that Trudeau just blabbed about. It’s probably the biggest threat to libertarian principles in the West ever, but crickets from the Reasonistas.

      1. Well, apparently the remaining Koch has decided that the best way to preserve his position is to join them. So, not exceedingly shocked.

        1. Ha nope considering how left wing this magazine is we know where the direction came from.

  7. https://twitter.com/CoxsTench/status/1327837790978060290?s=19

    I’m sitting here, looking at what’s gone on in DC today, what’s taken place in cities around the country – buildings destroyed, lives ruined, innocent people beaten simply because of their political beliefs.

    And then I think about the rhetoric.

    1. Yes, but Trump’s mean tweets…

    2. Meh. American Progressivism as the new state religion has a long way to go to rack up the body count of Shia vs Sunni, Catholic vs Protestant, Hindu vs Muslim, or even Scientology vs anyone with a brain.

      1. But you could compile the deaths from every religious conflict in history ever, and it still wouldn’t be a fraction of the deaths caused by state progressivism in the twentieth century.

        Always remember that American progressivism is just a one tentacle in Chuthlu’s beard and its heyday is yet to come.

        1. Well, state progressivism is a religion, so…..

        2. “One tentacle in Cthulhu’s beard” is getting stolen… 😉

  8. https://twitter.com/RubinReport/status/1327794985123467264?s=19

    You sure they aren’t just and idea of projectiles and explosives? That’s what Joe Biden told us…

  9. https://twitter.com/Rasmussen_Poll/status/1327931164552802305?s=19

    “Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton in every major metro area around the country, save for Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta and Philadelphia … in these big cities in swing states run by Democrats…the vote even exceeded the number of registered voters.”

    1. Not only did it exceed the number of registered voters in many areas, but this election had the highest percentage of people voting in over a century.

      Summoning White Knight and Sarcasmic to tell us this is because the election was somehow more controversial than Teddy R vs Taft, and Kennedy vs Nixon, or how the sudden smashing of a steady 120-year decline is totally not suspicious.

      1. So, to be honest, I have no idea how contentious either of those elections were. But I am certain that they both happened before the internet and 24/7 news media. Then again, maybe all the individual newspapers at the time flogged things as hard as the centralized sources of today. I truly have no idea.

        The things you mention are certainly quite sketchy, but we’ve also had four straight years of essentially the entire news media screeching about how horrible Trump is. A turnout which bucked the 120 year trend isn’t *completely* unexpected. I mean, the entire country has been continuously propagandized that getting rid of Trump is absolutely critical to the survival of the nation.

        I’m certainly not going to claim that everything was on the up and up without more investigation, but I’m also not going to say that it *couldn’t* have happened.

        Honestly, the unprecedented turnout doesn’t strike me being nearly as irregular as many other things that have been mentioned. Although it *is* odd that it seemed to be so selectively located. Obviously, a greater than *possible* turnout is a different story.

        1. The historical trends of voting percentages didnt increase due to the internet.

          http://www.electproject.org/national-1789-present

          1. I’m not saying that the internet has increased voting turnout in *general*, I’m saying that I can see how it *might* have been a factor in increasing it *this time*. Because of all the other things I noted.

            I mean, you’ve *been here*. You’ve surely noticed that things have been kinda screechy for the last four years?

            I *agree* that it bucks the trend. But even W didn’t get the sort of coordinated, concentrated, constant shellacking in the media that Trump did. There weren’t massive social media and search engine companies working to alter the perception of reality this hard. And the social media companies that existed at the time didn’t have the reach they do now.

            1. Look at most polling. Half the country doesn’t care. They don’t get motivated to go put and vote just because the news they don’t watch tell them to. The only likely collusion is they were pressured by ballot harvesting or simply gave their ballots to friends to fill out. Media isn’t going to cause inner city voters to vote in higher percentages than they did for Obama. That just isn’t believable.

              1. You may well be correct. I’m simply pointing out a possible explanation for why this election *could* have been different, not claiming a definitive answer.

                This election *was* different. For one thing, they didn’t actually have to *go* out and vote. Ballots showed up in the mail.

                I’m certainly very open to the possibility of significant election fraud. But it’s important to contemplate possible confounding factors, if only to reject some of them.

        2. Weird how it only affected Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philly though…

          1. Which is why I said: “Although it *is* odd that it seemed to be so selectively located.”

      2. And please ignore the historical 2% average at most for single candidate voters that jumped as high as 18% in some of those counties, mostly with overnight ballots.

        1. This is one of those other things I alluded to above that strike me as far more profoundly indicative of shenanigans.

    2. No, in Phila. Trump shrunk his 2016 margin of loss, probably due to voters fed up with rioting and looting. However, in the Philly suburbs, Biden did 100,000 votes better than Hillary and that literally swung the state to Biden.

  10. https://twitter.com/CodeMonkeyZ/status/1327514692755943427?s=19

    Milwaukee lost a flash drive holding absentee vote counts at 3am.
    What happened to the flash drive when it wasnt under anybody’s official control?

    1. Is it possible to edit json data easily?

      Yes. I do it all the time.

  11. https://twitter.com/YossiGestetner/status/1327822482640867328?s=19

    ????Just wow.

    A recount in NH for a county legislative seat, gave the Dem an additional 380 votes and the GOPer and added 1,600 votes.
    In Windham, NH a recount added a few 100 votes per seat where only 8K-9K people voted. This is a HUGE % change of votes.

    Insane numbers out of a NH State Rep district (where voters choose 4 seats):
    A GOPer first had 5,256 votes. Recount added 298; a 5.6% jump.
    Another had a 6.3% rise; the next had 5.6% and another gained 6.6%.
    Recount change for Dems:
    0.65%
    0.81%
    0.75%
    LOSS of 2.2%

    The Union Leader reporter says the added votes are what machines first rejected but added at recount.
    How did one Democrat lose 2.2% of his original vote? Everyone should go up. No?
    See the second part of the screen grab; what he says is a “common error.” OMG!

    – Recount added on average 6.0% votes to four GOPers in NH. Average Dem gain was 0.0%.

    – A GOPer was down in a CT State Assembly seat by 80 votes due to a glitch. Now ahead by 21.

    – A MI Dem first won 50.08% of the vote due to a glitch. Lost the win because she got only 48.2%.

    1. All it would take to switch most elections in battleground states is a 1% push towards either candidate by the software. Makes it really curious that you saw even 100k vote jumps to biden in the middle of the night because it would take more than 1% switching. Wait for the Ga hand recount. If even 2% change on vote counts the software has to be suspect.

    2. Give it up, clingers! Recounts are always pointless and only add a handful of votes! Most secure election ever! Derp!

      1. We know it was secure because the servers weren’t even on American soil! The Democrats couldn’t even *get* to them!

  12. Like football, I think most of MLB’s appeal is getting buzzed off watery beer and junk food in the stands. It’s not like basketball, soccer or hockey where the play’s continuous. It has lots of little breaks for a mildly inebriated mind to process events and enjoy the atmosphere.
    Dead boring if you’re sober and don’t like crowds though.

    1. But the real market value is in the appeal to get equally buzzed and fat while sitting at home.

  13. https://twitter.com/ElijahSchaffer/status/1327983425593204736?s=19

    I would like to remind you that we are in a civil war
    Whether you like it or not
    Try walking into a big liberal city with Trump gear on
    You’ll quickly see how you are treated like an enemy
    You won’t be safe
    In many places your life will be in danger
    Wake up people

  14. Weird how there was no arson, assaults, murders, looting at the MAGA rally… that is until BLM and Antifa started swarming smaller groups post March committing assault.

    https://mobile.twitter.com/VenturaReport/status/1327728625723060224

  15. https://twitter.com/laralogan/status/1327854746267492352?s=19

    Investigating violent elements used on the streets & within protests to orchestrate “chaos”, divide the country & hurt/kill people. Regrettably easy for media/leaders to deny/minimize because one side has ‘information dominance’ – allows them to dismiss evidence in plain sight &
    Target/discredit any journalist they wish to silence. Finding no shortage of funding/training/unlimited access to legal resources &global political infrastructure sustained by networks of foundations who deceptively use noble aspirations/worthy goals to hide a globalist agenda.

  16. https://twitter.com/RichardGrenell/status/1327983375806676993?s=19

    So many reporters in DC and not one found this before the election?

    I mean, @KFILE looks at every Republican’s high school yearbook but can’t look at Biden’s charities?!

    Joe Biden’s cancer charity spent more than $3.7million on staff salaries but distributed ZERO towards research grants over two years, tax filings reveal.

    1. Oh they can, but they won’t. Nothing to see there! If they report on anything negative they won’t get to fly on Air Force One or get to ask questions at White House briefings.

  17. There is only one way to stop them

    https://twitter.com/MrAndyNgo/status/1327772322355240965?s=19

    The wanton violence in the nation’s capital today demonstrates that BLM-antifa is not going away. They’re emboldened. They are an existential threat to the Constitution & liberal democracy. My upcoming book explains how we got here & how we can stop them:

  18. https://twitter.com/Rothbard1776/status/1328001949350961153?s=19

    BREAKING: @SidneyPowell1 “Peter Neffenger, President & on the Board of Directors of Smartmatic … just so happens [to be] on @JoeBiden’s Presidential transition team [that’s going to be non-existent] … @realDonaldTrump won by not just 100’s of thousands of votes, but by
    millions of votes that were shifted by this software that was designed EXPRESSLY for this purpose. We have sworn witness testimony of why the software was designed, to rig elections, he was fully briefed on it, he saw it happen in other countries, it was exported internationally
    for profit by the people that are behind Smartmatic and Dominion. They did this on purpose. It was calculated. They’ve done it before. We have evidence from 2016 in CA. We have so much evidence I feel like it’s coming in through a fire-hose.

    @MariaBartiromo “You have a small
    time-frame here. The elections are supposed to be certified in early December. Do you believe that you can present this to the courts & be successful within the next couple weeks?”

    @SidneyPowell1 “Let me put it this way, first of all, I never say anything I can’t prove”

  19. “I think, big picture, Pamela, here is the concerning trend line here. People are going more and more into their own echo chambers, more into their own bubbles, especially Trump voters,” Stelter said. “There’s this new social media app, called Parler, getting a lot of attention. Because conservatives are leaving, saying they’re leaving Twitter and Facebook, going off to Parler because they believe Parler is a safer space for them.”

    Liberals fear losing the ability to be the narrative builders.

    1. “Shut up and listen to me”.

      You may not like being told to shut up, it’s the being forced to listen that really gets into dystopian territory. You are not free to walk away, we will come after you.

  20. https://twitter.com/NathanBrandWA/status/1327652566122057728?s=19

    Democrat Jon Ossoff calling for the canceling of conservatives earlier this year–>

    “You’re not just going to get beaten, you’re going to get beaten so bad you can never run or show your face again in public.”

    1. Is that the same Osoff that forgot to declare income from a pro party Chinese company?

      1. I believe so! What an utterly bizarre coincidence, I’m sure…

  21. https://twitter.com/MrAndyNgo/status/1328009098302951424?s=19

    Overnight in Vancouver, Wash., antifa from Portland gathered at City Hall for retribution in the recent officer shooting of an armed black man. Antifa were repelled by volunteer civilian group protecting city hall w/bats & weapons.

    1. A rather interesting aspect of the militarization of police. When it’s a lone person they are tough as steel, when it’s a gang of marxist terrorists they are nowhere to be found.

      So the citizens resort to taking a bat to the head of every blmantifa terrorist they can find. Which one makes the news.

      1. Well, they might well be getting told to stand down.

        I can’t *believe* I just defended the police. Look what Pantifa has driven me too!

        *weeps*

  22. Judges start conceding there is no covid exception to election laws, claim the universal mail in ballots for California was illegal.

    https://www.foxnews.com/politics/california-judge-gavin-newsom-authority-mail-ballot

  23. https://twitter.com/david_shane/status/1327741728330309632?s=19

    Once upon a time a Catholic high school student smiled oddly and it was national news for three weeks.

    A family with children are in tears as they are followed and harassed by antifa. #MillionMAGAMarch

    1. If the Pantifa folks weren’t wearing MAGA hats, clearly they did nothing wrong.

  24. The elevation of baseball stars to the simultaneous status of celebrity and role model became particularly pronounced during the 1920s, when sportswriters like Grantland Rice and future baseball commissioner Ford Frick turned Babe Ruth into a cultural icon of virtually unprecedented stature. The baseball heroes of subsequent generations were cast in a similar guise, presented in all forms of media as figures of towering cultural significance and characteristic of all that was good in American life.

    Kids who were treated as special all their lives and then given hero-like status and hero-like paychecks – what would you expect to happen? Same thing with movie stars or entertainers – you’re young, you’re stupid, you got a big bag of money, you got handlers that can bail you out of most any trouble you might get into, you’re treated like a god – what could go wrong?

    And yet – somehow this myth was sold that these people were better than you, that they were clean, bright, upright All-American boys and girls. Sure there were rumors of drug use and debauchery and depraved sex, but those were just scurrilous rumors with no foundation. Who would believe that Ty Cobb was a vicious racist, that Charlie Chaplin was a pedophile, that Rock Hudson was gay, that OJ Simpson thought he could commit murder and get off scot-free, that Shoeless Joe Jackson was fixing World Series games and Harvey Weinstein was raping young actresses?

    And who was it selling this myth? The media? The “Fake News”? The same people who covered up that FDR was a cripple and that JFK was a junkie sex fiend and reported that Stalin was a nice guy and Mitt Romney was a literal Hitler? Imagine that! It’s a good thing we no longer have a news media like that, a media that will shit in your face and insist it’s a chocolate fountain, a media that will conspire to lie like a fucking rug about what’s true and what’s newsworthy. Yep, things are so much better now that we can trust the media to tell it like it is.

    1. Never forget that the entire media had a panic attack over Trumps comments on the Access Hollywood tape, and at the exact same time this was going on, those same people knew that Epstein was raping children…
      and then decided to cover it up.

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  25. https://twitter.com/TheRightMelissa/status/1328097901239803905?s=19

    The spirit of liberty has risen because the American people see writing on the wall & it’s scary.

  26. https://twitter.com/zerosum24/status/1328097611925086211?s=19

    New Video: Predator BLM with a blade. Wow, wild stuff.

  27. Ahhh, I don’t care.

  28. https://twitter.com/TheLaurenChen/status/1328097085124644864?s=19

    Anyone who genuinely believed politicians would just give up control and let us go back to living our lives like normal once a vaccine was out was grossly naive.

    “Social distancing, masks still necessary after getting COVID-19 vaccine:” -Fauci

  29. Milena Rodban (blue checkmark)
    Risk via simulations.
    Washington, DC

    https://twitter.com/MilenaRodban/status/1328066056796205056?s=19

    Stop having indoor get-togethers.
    Stop having indoor get-togethers.
    Stop having indoor get-togethers.
    Stop having indoor get-togethers.
    Stop having indoor get-togethers.
    Stop having indoor get-togethers.
    Stop having indoor get-togethers.
    Stop having indoor get-togethers.

  30. https://twitter.com/laralogan/status/1327860208903839744?s=19

    GA Poll Watcher, IT Expert, Non-Trump Supporter Affidavit: Sudden Surge of 20,000 Mail-In-Votes For Biden In Early Hours On Nov 5, While Approx. 1,000 Votes For Trump Disappeared

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