March 8 – Happy Birthday Jim Bouton
I’ve never read Ball Four. That surprises me because I’ve been reading about two books per month for the past forty years of my life and that includes just about every commercially successful piece of baseball non-fiction published during that time. For some reason, however, I’ve yet to read Jim Bouton’s classic about his life in baseball.
The Bulldog made a lot of money from that book, much more than he ever made on a pitching mound, but the experience has also cost him dearly. He was immediately ostracized by his former Yankee teammates for breaking the old cardinal rule of keeping what happens in the locker room inside the locker room. In Ball Four, Bouton evidently confirms that some pro ballplayers cheat on their wives, gamble too much, have huge egos, and serious substance abuse problems. The truth was that you could substitute just about any other occupation on earth for the word “ballplayers” in the previous sentence and write a book about it and no one would be shocked.
I may not have read Bouton’s book but I did see him pitch for the Yankees. He put absolutely every ounce of strength he had into every pitch he threw. In 1963, he was one of the best pitchers in either league. He won 21 games, threw six shutouts and had an ERA of 2.53. He then pitched brilliantly in game 3 of the that year’s World Series against Los Angeles, giving up just one run in the first inning, but the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale was even more brilliant that day.
By 1964 the strain on Bouton’s right arm was beginning to take its toll but he still won 18 times during the regular season and two more times against the Cardinals as the Yankees dropped their second straight World Series. The problem with Bouton’s delivery was that he threw as hard as he could across his body which put a tremendous amount of stress on his arm. After throwing 520 innings the previous two seasons, Bouton’s arm broke down in 1965 and he was never again the same pitcher.