Former Yankees Pitcher, 'Ball Four' Author Jim Bouton Dies at Age 80

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJuly 11, 2019

382468 01: Former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton signs copies of his new book,
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Former MLB pitcher Jim Bouton, who wrote the critically acclaimed and controversial Ball Four that detailed his 1969 season, died Wednesday at the age of 80. 

Per Brian Niemietz and Larry McShane of the New York Daily News, Bouton was in hospice care in Massachusetts after fighting a brain disease connected to dementia.

Ball Four detailed the behind-the-scenes lives of ballplayers during an era in which more controversial details of athletes' lives were largely kept under wraps. In that sense, the book was far ahead of its time, as virtually nothing is secret during the social-media age.

As Niemietz and McShane wrote, "Bouton exposed in great detail the carousing of Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, the widespread use of stimulants [known as 'greenies'] in Major League locker rooms, and the spectacularly foul mouth of Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz."

The book caused so much uproar that MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Bouton into his office and demanded he retract the story, per Mike Kupper of the Los Angeles Times.

Bouton did not, and his seminal work has stood the test of time. Of note, Time magazine named Ball Four one of the 100 best non-fiction books in history in 2011. Per Niemietz and McShane, Ball Four was also the only sports book on the New York Public Library's list of the greatest 20th-century books.

The right-hander went 62-63 with a 3.57 ERA over a 10-year career, seven of which came with the New York Yankees. Bouton enjoyed his greatest success with the Bronx Bombers, going 39-20 with a 2.78 ERA for the American League pennant-winning teams of 1963 and 1964. The Yankees also won the 1962 World Series during Bouton's rookie year when he went 7-7 with a 3.99 ERA.

Bouton only won nine more games for the Yanks after the 1964 campaign, and he found himself on the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969. His time with the Pilots (and eventually Houston Astros) largely forms the backbone of Ball Four.

Bouton played one more year with the Astros and was out of the MLB for seven full years before making a brief return with the Atlanta Braves in 1978 as a knuckleballer.

After his career, Bouton wrote a Ball Four sequel, I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally, and a few other books. He also started the Big League Chew gum company with Rob Nelson, a teammate on the Single-A Portland Mavericks. Bouton was also a sportscaster for WABC-TV and WCBS-TV.

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