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Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original (Hardcover)
2021 Seymour Medal Finalist
2020 New York Times Summer Reading List
A Best Baseball Book of 2020 from Sports Collections Digest
From the day he first stepped into the Yankee clubhouse, Jim Bouton (1939–2019) was the sports world’s deceptive revolutionary. Underneath the crew cut and behind the all-American boy-next-door good looks lurked a maverick with a signature style. Whether it was his frank talk about player salaries and mistreatment by management, his passionate advocacy of progressive politics, or his efforts to convince the United States to boycott the 1968 Olympics, Bouton confronted the conservative sports world and compelled it to catch up with a rapidly changing American society.
Bouton defied tremendous odds to make the majors, won two games for the Yankees in the 1964 World Series, and staged an improbable comeback with the Braves as a thirty-nine-year-old. But it was his fateful 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and his resulting insider’s account, Ball Four, that did nothing less than reintroduce America to its national pastime in a lasting, profound way.
In Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original, Mitchell Nathanson gives readers a look at Bouton’s remarkable life. He tells the unlikely story of how Bouton’s Ball Four, perhaps the greatest baseball book of all time, came into being, how it was received, and how it forever changed the way we view not only sports books but professional sports as a whole. Based on wide-ranging interviews Nathanson conducted with Bouton, family, friends, and others, he provides an intimate, inside account of Bouton’s life. Nathanson provides insight as to why Bouton saw the world the way he did, why he was so different than the thousands of players who came before him, and how, in the cliquey, cold, bottom‑line world of professional baseball, Bouton managed to be both an insider and an outsider all at once.
About the Author
Mitchell Nathanson is a professor of law in the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at the Villanova University School of Law. He is the author of God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen, A People’s History of Baseball, and The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a Baseball Team’s Collapse Sank a City’s Spirit.
"When Mitchell Nathanson, a professor of sports law at Villanova, approached Bouton about writing his biography, the pitcher gave his blessing, on one condition: that Nathanson write about him with the honesty he’d tried to bring to the game of baseball. . . . Nathanson moves crisply through the deep back story, though he knows a good detail when he sees one."—John Swansburg, New York Times Book Review
"Nathanson . . . an astute writer on the game, is at his best on the Bouton-Shecter collaboration—late nights at the Lion’s Head Bar in Greenwich Village; Shecter making sense of Bouton’s scrawls on stationery, envelopes and toilet paper; the pair noodling over the manuscript stripped down to their underwear in Shecter’s airless Chelsea apartment. . . . Nathanson is good, too, with Bouton wisecracks."—Maxwell Carter, Wall Street Journal
"Baseball fans will laugh alongside and, ultimately, feel touched by this look at an iconoclastic, often quixotic man who, despite the charges that his landmark book had hurt the game, loved baseball to the very end."—Library Journal, starred review
"Nathanson goes beyond tracing Bouton’s life, focusing instead on explicating the roots of Ball Four. In so doing, the book becomes an inside-publishing exposé, showing how the publication and selling of Ball Four changed our expectations of what a sports book could be. . . . In addition, the book provides fascinating details about Bouton's post–Ball Four life, including his fling at acting and his turn as an entrepreneur, developing the successful bubble-gum product Big League Chew. A welcome look at one of baseball's signature mavericks."—Mark Levine, Booklist
"Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original is one of the best baseball biographies in recent memory. Nathanson is a fantastic storyteller, capable of juxtaposing Bouton's recollections with those of his contemporaries and situating these stories within their historical context. While researching the book, he spent a significant amount of time with Bouton in the final years of his life (Bouton died in 2019), which contributes to the depth with which he renders his subject."—Clayton Trutor, Reason
"A well-researched and fascinating read that tells how the free thinking Bouton always marched to the beat of his own drummer."—John Werner, Waco Tribune-Herald
"Bouton is a book that deserves space next to Ball Four on the bookshelf. Nathanson has done a thorough job of presenting the life of a complex man who changed the game of baseball, not by what he did on the field, but what he observed on the field, in the clubhouse and on the road."—Bob D'Angelo, Sports Bookie
"If the reader has ever read Ball Four, then this book is one that he or she must add to their library as well as it is a great account of the man behind the legendary book."—Guy Who Reviews Sports Books
"Nathanson's source list is deep and insightful and his writing is crisp. And his access to Bouton's Ball Four notes provides answers to some lingering questions."—Dennis Star, Peoria Journal Star
"Readers who choose to visit Bouton will feel pleased to have made the acquaintance of a truly unique player in the panorama of American sports."—J. Kemper Campbell, Lincoln Journal Star
“Once you start reading, you will not be able to stop. A compelling look at one of the most influential and controversial figures in baseball history. A new generation needs to know the story of Jim Bouton: a man who never wearied of gleefully and hilariously skewering the establishment but who also had the old-school drive to will his dreams into reality. Above all, a lifetime love of baseball shines through in every chapter—a true reflection of Bouton himself.”—Brian Kenny, host for MLB Network and author of Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution
“Half a century after Jim Bouton’s Ball Four hilariously let the air out of Major League Baseball’s inflated self-image, one of the game’s most fascinating characters finally gets the biography he deserves. Unfettered and unfiltered, like Bouton himself, Bouton will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you wanna pound that Budweiser. To paraphrase the late, great Joe Schultz, ‘Attaway to go, Mitchell Nathanson!’”—Dan Epstein, author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s
“For years people have told me that they fell in love with baseball after reading Ball Four. Jim Bouton was a unique character on the baseball stage, a figure of historical importance. It’s time we all knew him better, and Mitchell Nathanson’s book gets that done.”—Marty Appel, New York Yankees historian and author of Pinstripe Empire and Casey Stengel