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Revisiting “Ball Four”

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Greetings From The Booth!

It’s hard to believe but this week, some area students went back to school. For you “children of the 60’s” like me, let that sink in. Had we been forced to go back to school in early August, there would have been a revolt. For me, the back-to-school signpost was always the Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day weekend. When Jerry and Ed McMahon unveiled the final totals, and Lewis broke into “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” we knew the Summer vacation was over. The butterflies in my stomach were as big as 747’s. August 9th?!? I’m not even sure the Little League World Series is over yet.

Speaking of school, it seems we hear a lot these days about how the United States is falling behind on the education front. While there is cause for concern, I was delighted to see the great results from the Handley Library Summer reading program. It’s great to know that students are still reading, even in the Summer months. Seeing this positive news took me back to the Summer vacations of my youth, when my mom would take us to the Martinsburg Public Library every Monday (first, there was a stop at a local donut shop right next door–chocolate with white icing). We had to pick out 3 books, read them that week, and get 3 new ones the following Monday.

I gravitated toward sports books, usually sports biographies or works of fiction. The bios were usually tales about heroic feats and clean living, with the athletes reminding us kids to get plenty of sleep, practice hard, and take our vitamins.

Then came Ball Four. Written in 1970 by major league pitcher Jim Bouton, Ball Four chronicles his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots. It’s considered baseball’s first “tell all” expose. Unlike sports books before, Ball Four gave fans a detailed look at what happens in a major league clubhouse, in hotels, bars, on the field, and the bullpen. And MLB didn’t like it one bit. What goes on in the locker room is supposed to stay in the locker room.  Ball Four humanized our heroes and made them real, and for his efforts, Bouton, who passed away in 2019, was basically shunned by baseball, calling himself a “social leper.”

Because of it’s mention of drug use, drinking binges, and sexual exploits, Ball Four was a book I read at night with a flashlight, and hoped my mom didn’t sample. For me, it marked the end of innocence where sports was concerned. Despite then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s comment that Ball Four was “detrimental to baseball,” it never diminished my love for the game. Truth be told, it probably made me love baseball even more.

This Summer, I revisited my worn copy of Ball Four, and though it is mild by today’s standards, it is still a great read, and this time I didn’t need the flashlight.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO STUDENTS!

RW

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