Remembering Jim Bouton

Digital First

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Former Yankees pitcher and baseball author Jim Bouton died at home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts on Wednesday at the age of 80. 

He had been battling a number of ailments since a stroke in 2012. In the last few years, he fought a brain disease linked to dementia, the final chapter of a life well-lived.

And what a life.

Bouton pitched for the Yankees in the 1960s. He won 21 games in just his second season in 1963, and won two games against the Cardinals in the 1964 World Series.

But an arm injury robbed him of his fastball and changed his career.

So instead of just playing baseball, he started to observe it and document his journey on just about anything he could find tape recorders scraps of paper napkins and doggie bags.

The result was his masterpiece “Ball Four”

It chronicled his 1969 season when he was hanging on with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros. 

It was funny and irreverent and eye-opening because it also detailed the lives of ballplayers and all the characters that he came across behind the scenes in the clubhouse and the dugout and off the field.

When it was released in 1970 “Ball Four” was considered scandalous and Bouton was ostracized by players and management for exposing those secrets.

But now “Ball Four” is considered a classic in fact… it’s the only sports book on the New York Public Library’s list of the greatest books of the 20th century.

In 2011 Time magazine included it on its list of the 100 greatest nonfiction books of all time.

The last sentence of “Ball Four” is one of the best closing lines of all time: 

“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.”

After his career was over Bouton was also a sportscaster, an actor and an entrepreneur co-founding “Big League Chew” the shredded bubble gum kids and adults enjoy to this day.

He also helped to promote Vintage Baseball taking the game back to the way it was played in the early days.

When all was forgiven and he was invited back to a Yankees Old Timer’s game in 1998 after the tragic death of his daughter Laurie he was able to hear the cheers once more.

He said it was the most emotional day of his life.

I had the chance to interview him a couple of times and I have included a video to one of those interviews from 2004.

I remember him as funny insightful and forever young. He was one of a kind.

Jim Bouton was 80 years old.

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