They knew I was
the guy who wrote Ball Four, but they didn't dislike me for it. In fact, they
liked me because I wrote it. A few players came over the first day and said
they'd always wanted to meet me. They brought dog-eared copies of my book for
me to autograph. I loved it.
Most of the
players had read Ball Four in high school or, as some of them enjoyed telling
me, in junior high. They liked the book because it told them what big league
ball would be like in case they ever got there. They enjoyed all those sexy
anecdotes. A few players told me it sounded like so much fun, they were
inspired to play harder so they would be sure to make it. Now there's a side
effect I never get credit for—Ball Four improving the quality of baseball.
Maybe Bowie Kuhn will give me a plaque for meritorious service.
Guys were always
coming over to ask me questions about the book. Did the Yankees really run
around the roof of the Shoreham Hotel in Washington to look in windows? Did the
Mick really hit a home run with a terrible hangover? I said I didn't want to
topple their idols, but it was all true. They said that the book didn't destroy
heroes. No matter what the Mick did, he was still the greatest ballplayer ever.
Everybody thought I was coming back to write another book. But these players
weren't afraid of that. They figured it was a great idea. They all said I
should be sure to spell their names right.
Ted had promised
me a fair chance, and I believed him. Now all I had to do was be sensational. I
was optimistic. In my entire career, I never failed to make the team I tried
out for in spring training. One spring, 1962, I even made a team I wasn't
trying out for—the Yankees. I was a minor-leaguer, invited to spring training
just to pitch batting practice. I had won 14 games the year before in AA, and
the plan was that on cutdown day I would get shipped out to AAA. Except I
We were playing
an exhibition game against the Cardinals at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg.
After pitching batting practice, I changed my sweat shirt and sat in the
bullpen to watch the game. At the end of nine innings, the game was tied, and
we were out of pitchers, having brought only enough to play a regulation game.
In spring training, guys who aren't going to be needed in games can work out,
then leave early to play golf. Who could the Yankees get to pitch the 10th
inning? The batting practice pitcher, who else? Neither team scored in the
10th, so I had to pitch the 11th. And the 12th. Then the 13th. In the 14th we
lost on a blown double play, but the day was mine. Along the way I struck out a
couple of guys.
If my teammates
had anything to do with it, I wouldn't have struck out anybody. I could tell
they weren't exactly rooting for me after what they told me on the bench
between innings. Johnny Blanchard was playing rightfield, and he was
Meat," said John. "Lay the damn ball in there, and let them hit
"Let them hit
the damn ball for Chrissakes. It's hot. I want to get the hell out of
I'm trying to make the club."