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!


The End Of Innocence

SU field oversight
SU field oversight
Winchester Printers

Greetings from The Booth!

I actually had to walk to the Booth for this edition, because of this week’s gas shortage…so I’m a little winded.

First, an update on Shenandoah University Baseball. The number-16 Hornets eliminated Hampden-Sydney to advance to this weekend’s ODAC semifinal series with Eastern Mennonite. On paper, things seem to set up nicely for 28-9 SU. The Royals, the 8-seed in the tournament, took out the top seed, Randolph-Macon. Good luck to Kevin Anderson’s juggernaut, as they hopefully can roll through the ODAC and secure an NCAA berth later this month.

So…for whatever reason, I went down a rabbit hole yesterday and ended up revisiting 2 books from my childhood that pulled the curtain back on a professional sports world that had previously been presented in All-American wholesomeness. Until these sports exposes were published, we as kids were told that our heroes drank their milk, got plenty of sleep, and took their vitamins everyday, and if we did the same, we could become pros just like them.

The first of these eye-opening books was “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. “Ball Four” was really the first of the so-called “tell all” books and revealed the previously closed world of Major League Baseball. Bouton, a pitcher for the New York Yankees and later the short-lived Seattle Pilots, chronicled the late-night escapades of players like Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, and took us into a clubhouse of ribald gags, hangovers, and tales of sexual exploits. Many kids my age read”Ball Four” under the covers at night with a flashlight , lest our moms catch us with such a book.

Then there was “North Dallas Forty,” a “fictional” account of a Texas pro football team, written by former NFL receiver Pete Gent. The central characters were wide-receiver Phil Elliott, and quarterback Seth Maxwell. You didn’t have to be a super sleuth to deduce that Elliott was Gent, who played for the Cowboys, and Maxwell was Don Meredith, who would go on to fame on Monday Night Football. Gent also revealed a world of drug use, late-night adventures, and a pro football world that valued computer data and devalued it’s athletes. The book was later made into a movie (although the book is much better) starring Mac Davis and Nick Nolte.

It was the end of the innocence for me. But it was not the end of the tell-all books, which keep coming today. There is the occasional blockbuster, but none had the impact of “Ball Four” and “North Dallas Forty,” which, if nothing else, took our heroes out of their ivory towers and brought them down to earth.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO HORNETS!