'Ball Four' author to speak at conference

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Jim Bouton
Author Jim Bouton is coming to Middle Tennessee State University on Friday, April 5, to share his experiences as a major league pitcher at the 18th annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference.

Bouton, who won a World Series ring as a member of the New York Yankees in the early ‘60s, will be the speaker starting at 12:45 p.m. inside the James Union Building.

“I wanted to share the fun and nonsense of being a professional baseball player,” Bouton said.

His main claim to fame came in 1970, when his book, “Ball Four” was released in bookstores and it became a must read for baseball fans. The book was an in-depth look into what went on off the field when Bouton was a member of the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros.

“‘Ball Four’ was the first sports tell-all, and it lifted the curtain and gave the public its first real look at the lives of professional athletes,” said Warren Tormey, an English professor, who serves as conference coordinator. “Arguably, things we take for granted – things like ESPN, Behind the Glory, Outside the Lines, and other elements in the modern sports broadcasting industry – exist because of Bouton’s book laid the groundwork.”

In 1969, Bouton had just been sent to the newly formed Seatle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) after spending several seasons with the Yankees.

During that season, Bouton took notes on everything that went on – both on and off the field. Bouton then sent the notes, which were transcribed to cassette tapes, to Leonard Shecter, who was a reporter at a New York City paper. The notes were turned into the book, “Ball Four.”

Even though Bouton was praised for the book, he does not take credit for its success even after more than 40 years of when the book came out.

“I really can not take credit for it,” Bouton said. “I think I get credit for having a great year, and paying attention to what people are saying and doing. I had a great year, and I kept wonderful notes of everyday of the season.”

When “Ball Four” came out in 1970, some people around baseball were not happy with the way Bouton portrayed the sport, especially about what happens in the locker room, including the MLB commissor at that time Bowie Kuhn, who wanted the book banned, according to several previously written articles about the book. It was commonly felt by those involved in the sport that what happens in the locker room stays in the there.

Since then, several so-called “tell-all” books have been released on many subjects. Bouton believes a book like ‘Ball Four’ would be hard to do today.

“There is no privacy anymore,” Bouton said. “I think it is a lot more open than it was before. The difference today is most players are not as interesting than when I played. Most guys who play professional baseball played college baseball, and it has replaced lower class minor league baseball. Today’s players are more polished, more professional, and they handle themselves better. As a result, it seemed like they are too polished. The rougher edge guys were during my time. I do not think anybody could do “Ball Four” again, because the players are different today.”

Besides Bouton’s speech tomorrow afternoon, several other presentations on baseball will take place during the event.

Speakers, both local and national, will give lectures on different topics about America’s Pastime, including one by fellow Murfreesboro Post columnist Gina Logue on Hank Aaron.

Also, the keynote address will be given at 8:30 tomorrow morning by Ottawa University English Professor Dr. Andrew Hazucha called “The Jim Bouton Retrospective: Zen and Politics of the Knuckleball.”
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