I've had my share
of thrills in baseball. I won 21 games for the Yankees in 1963, pitched the
pennant-clinching game and made the All-Star team. Don Drysdale beat me 1-0 in
the World Series. In '64 I won 18—plus two in the World Series against the
Cardinals. In those days I could throw as hard as anybody. My hat used to fly
off my head, I threw so hard. I could "bring it," as they say. And I
was known as a tough competitor. Yankee Catcher Elston Howard nicknamed me the
Bulldog. Then I hurt my arm in 1965, and I hung on for a few more years. I
resurrected an old knuckleball I had thrown as a kid and won a few games—very
few—for Seattle and Houston. After eight years in the bigs, I retired in 1970.
That's the year my book came out—Ball Four.
That's also when
I got my new first name. Controversial, as in Controversial Jim Bouton, author
of...or Controversial Jim Bouton, sportscaster for.... Ball Four told a few
truths about baseball, so naturally the baseball Establishment hated it. The
owners were furious. The commissioner wanted to ban the book. The housemen
among the writers called me Judas and Benedict Arnold and other names. My
favorite was social leper. Dick Young of the New York Daily News thought that
one up. While I was on the mound trying to pitch, players on the opposing team
hollered obscenities at me from the dugout.
screaming and hollering sure sold books. Ball Four went for 200,000 in hard
cover, is still going strong in paperback and just got translated into
Japanese. It's the largest-selling sports book ever. I was so grateful, I
dedicated my second book, I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally, to my
detractors. They didn't appreciate the gesture. I think they're still mad at
One way I can
tell is that I never get invited back to Oldtimers' Days. Understand, everybody
gets invited back for Oldtimers' Day, no matter what kind of rotten person he
was when he was playing. Muggers, drug addicts, rapists, child molesters, all
are forgiven for Oldtimers' Day. Except a certain author. You get the idea I'm
not exactly the fair-haired boy. Just giving you a little background.
Because I am such
a reprehensible character, I had a little difficulty getting back into
professional baseball. In 1977 Bill Veeck gave me a chance with his Double A
farm team in Knoxville, Tenn. I was released after six weeks, but I didn't take
it personally; my pitching record was 0-6. Then I made a bunch of phone calls
and ended up playing in Durango, Mexico. Only a foreign country would have me.
After five weeks of 26-hour bus rides and galloping "turista," I
returned to the U.S. and finished the season with the Portland Mavericks
(Northwest League, Class A), an independent team of players nobody wanted,
owned by actor Bing Russell. My knuckleball was getting better. I won five,
At that point,
all 26 major league teams refused to even let me try out for one of their 112
farm teams. The cellar-dwelling, expansionist, player-poor Seattle Mariners
told me I couldn't even try out for their Class A team. They probably didn't
want their players to get sick and die from whatever dread disease I have.
Finley told me personally on the phone he didn't want me. It may be the only
thing he's ever had in common with the other owners.
It's not like
they had anything to lose. I told them I'd pay all my expenses; I just wanted a
uniform and a chance. And I was flexible on that. I would have brought my own
uniform. I even promised I wouldn't write a book. I figured I'd better let them
know that. Something told me they weren't dying to read Son of Ball Four (I
never said I wouldn't write a magazine article).
Then I got lucky.
During the winter of '77-'78, I was giving a talk to some businessmen, and one
of them, Jeff Hammond, editor of Motor Boating & Sailing magazine, said he
was a friend of the Atlanta Braves' owner, Ted Turner. Hammond arranged for me
to meet Ted when he came to New York to accept the Yachtsman of the Year award
for winning the America's Cup.
Years ago an
owner would not deign to speak to a common player. During my six years with the
Yankees, I was only allowed to view Dan Topping and Del Webb from a distance. I
was once permitted to speak with Dan Topping Jr. himself, but only for a short
while. He made me feel like I should've taken my shoes off before I came into
his office. And I wasn't wearing spikes. I never did catch a glimpse of the
Astro owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz. And I never even knew who owned the Seattle
Pilots. Baseball owners used to be like the Wizard of Oz before anybody got
wise. Things must've changed when players got to be free agents. Maybe the
owners started talking to players so they could be closer to their money.