Former major-league pitcher Jim Bouton, who made his lasting imprint on baseball with his behind-the-scenes bestseller, "Ball Four," died Wednesday at his home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, according to several media reports. He was 80.
Bouton died after struggling with vascular dementia, his wife, Paula Kurman, told The New York Times. The former right-handed pitcher, who played 10 major-league seasons with the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves, suffered a stroke in 2012. Five years later, doctors discovered he had cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a brain disease, the newspaper reported.
Bouton was a hard-throwing pitcher when he broke in with the Yankees in 1962, who went 21-7 in 1963 and won two games in the 1964 World Series. However, but a sore arm relegated him to the minor leagues, and in 1969 he became a member of the expansion Seattle Pilots.
It was in Seattle that Bouton began keeping a diary, which would evolve into "Ball Four." Bouton's book, which centered on his efforts to make the Pilots' pitching rotation by throwing a knuckleball, was funny and irreverent, sprinkled with obscenities rarely -- if ever -- contained before in a baseball book.
Bouton wrote about clubhouse antics, and about players drinking hard, taking amphetamines and chasing women. Those revelations, along with stories about Mickey Mantle's personal life, angered baseball officials and players, Sports Illustrated reported.
Bouton's book broke the clubhouse credo, "What you see here, what you hear here, what happens here, stays here." Players viewed Bouton's book as a betrayal, and Dick Young of the New York Daily News referred to Bouton as "a social leper." When the pitcher later spoke with the acerbic columnist, Young's response became the title of Bouton's second book, "I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally." That book focused on the reactions to "Ball Four."
"Ball Four" was co-written with New York Post sportswriter Leonard Shecter. and published in June 1970. It was modeled after another major league pitcher's book, "The Long Season," written in 1960 by Jim Brosnan. Bouton, however, was able to capture the humor and vulgarity of a major league clubhouse in an engaging, funny way.
Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn summoned Bouton to a meeting after several excerpts of the book appeared in Look magazine and wanted the book banned, The Washington Post reported. Bouton refused, and the publicity from the meeting helped "Ball Four" become one of the biggest selling sports books in history, with more than 5.5 million copies in print, the newspaper reported.
In 2002, Sports Illustrated ranked "Ball Four" at No. 3 on its list of the top 100 sports books of all time. He finished behind A.J. Liebling’s boxing book, “The Sweet Science,” and Roger Kahn’s tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers, “The Boys of Summer," the Post reported.
Bouton was traded from Seattle to Houston midway through the 1969 season and was released by the Astros in 1970. He made a brief comeback with Braves in 1978.
Bouton spent life after baseball as a motivational speaker and helped invent Big League Chew, a brand of bubblegum packaged to look like a bag of tobacco.
Bouton and Mantle reconciled before the Hall of Famer's death in 1995. Shunned for years by the Yankees, Bouton was finally invited to an Old-Timers Game in 1998 after his son, Michael, wrote a letter to the Times on Father's Day, asking the Yankees to end their freeze out of the former All-Star.
Bouton always insisted he was not trying to write a "kiss-and-tell" book, and also mentioned the positives of his career and the relationships he forged during his career. His love for the game never ended.
"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time," Bouton writes in the final paragraph of "Ball Four."
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