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On This Date in Sports June 1, 1970: Ball Four

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn condemns the book "Ball Four" and reprimands its author Jim Bouton. The book is a shocking expose about the life of a major league pitcher. The book was partially the diary of Bouton pitching with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, as well as memories of his time with the New York Yankees. The book, which details players' off-field behavior, including extramarital affairs, alcoholism, and rampant drug use, was viewed with great disdain across baseball. Bouton became persona non grata and was released by the Houston Astros. 

Jim Bouton was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 8, 1939. Bouton grew up a fan of the New York Giants while living in Ridgewood, New Jersey. When Bouton was 15, his family moved to Homewood, Illinois. Bouton rarely got a chance to play while in high school, but upon entering Western Michigan developed a knuckleball that caught the eye of major league scouts. While playing summer baseball in Michigan, Jim Bouton received an offer to play for the New York Yankees.

Jim Bouton made his debut in 1962, wearing #56 for the Yankees. A number traditionally was worn only in spring training; Bouton chose to keep the number as motivation on how close he is to being sent back to the minors. He posted a 7-7 record, as the Yankees won the World Series. A chance to pitch in the Fall Classic went by the boards for Bouton, as the game was rained out. Jim Bouton made the All-Star Game in 1963 and lost a memorable pitchers' duel to Don Drysdale in the World Series. He would win a pair of games in the 1964 World Series, lost by the Yankees in seven games.

As the Yankees' dynasty came to an end, Jim Bouton became symbolic of their struggles, going 4-15 in 1965. Over the next three years, Bouton dealt with arm troubles, leading the Yankees to sell him to the Seattle Pilots as he spent most of the 1968 season in the minor leagues. Thoughtful, Jim Bouton was among a group of athletes at the 1968 Summer Olympics that protested South Africa's involvement in the games due to their apartheid policies.

Before the 1969 season, Jim Bouton was approached by a New York sportswriter, Leonard Shecter, who suggested he keep a diary of his season with an expansion team after playing with the Yankees. The 1969 season was one of highs and lows for the veteran pitcher. He spent two weeks pitching in the minors in Vancouver and was traded late in the season to the Houston Astros. It was not the first diary of life in the majors, but it was the first to break the locker room codes, as Bouton did not hold anything back. Bouton detailed his unsatisfactory relationships with teammates and management alike, including sparring sessions with manager Joe Schultz and pitching coach Sal Maglie. He also detailed the lies and minor cheating that took place regularly in the game. 

Some of the more shocking aspects that came out of "Ball Four" involved his time with the Yankees. Jim Bouton went into detail about Mickey Mantle's heavy drinking and womanizing. Mantle was viewed as the All-American ideal of baseball. The media in New York covered up his carousing for years. In order to play, Mickey Mantle, as well as other big stars in baseball, used amphetamines nicknamed "greenies" for years. Teams often give players the drugs to ensure that they could perform after a night of heavy drinking. 

Jim Bouton's book was met by scorn from the baseball community as Commissioner Bowie Kuhn labeled it detrimental to baseball and tried to have it banned. The book stripped away the innocence of life in baseball and created a window into a world that most were not ready to see. Bouton was ostracized by his Astros teammates and eventually released. The book, however, was a critical and commercial success. The book became a best-seller and perhaps the most famous book ever written by an athlete. 

The book ended Jim Bouton's major league career but kicked off his as a sportscaster as he worked for local news stations in New York. He also dabbled into acting, appearing in "The Long Goodbye" in 1973. In 1976, Bouton saw life become art, as CBS created a short-lived sitcom based on Ball Four. After seven years out of the game, Jim Bouton attempted a comeback in 1977 and pitched in five games for the Atlanta Braves in 1978. This inspired the famous Chico Esquela sketch on SNL in 1979. While making his comeback, Bouton and two minor league teammates came up with the idea for Big League Chew, which was launched in 1980. 

Jim Bouton wrote a sequel to Ball Four detailing his life after the book's released entitled "I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally." For most of the time following the book, Bouton was blacklisted from the game. This included the New York Yankees, who refused to give him an invite to Old Timer's Day. Most of that was due to Mickey Mantle, who was angered by the book detailing his life off the field. The book continued to live on to new generations, who were no longer shocked by the stories that it revealed. Mantle later admitted he was an alcoholic. Before his death in 1995, he reconciled with Jim Bouton, leading the Yankees to finally invite him back to Old Timer's Day in 1998.