Monday, February 16, 2015

Ball Four

Jim Bouton's basic Strat card
with the Seattle Pilots, 1969.
I promise, I'm not going to go into detail here about my Strat-O-Matic project. Nothing is more boring than somebody else's fantasy team, except perhaps somebody else's solitaire fantasy league. (If' you are for some reason interested in the project, click here.)

But I did want to comment briefly on why the 1969 season appeals so strongly to me. That was the summer I discovered baseball. The Twins were good (there's a argument to be made that, even though they didn't get to the World Series, the 1969 Twins were the best team in their Minnesota tenure).

And it was the season that provided the grist for Ball Four, a truly marvelous book. A sensation and a scandal when it came out in 1970, it was an insider's version of professional baseball by a player with an outsider's viewpoint. Jim Bouton had been a star pitcher on the Yankees in the final years of their dynasty; he was, as he compiled the diary book, a marginal pitcher trying to hang on.

The powers that be didn't appreciate the book. Its publication probably helped shorten Bouton's career, although a 5.40 ERA didn't help much either. But it played no small role in making the young me a baseball fan.

What a book. There's stuff on the Mantle-Ford-Maris Yankees of the early-mid 1960s, there's the one sub-glorious year of the Seattle Pilots, and there's the constant ferment of the culture. Race, Vietnam, changing sexual mores, the rise of the players union -- Ball Four isn't just baseball, it's baseball in the context of America in a specific time.

If you haven't read it, you should. And if you have read it, it's worth the re-read.

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