Bouton was a good pitcher before arm trouble deprived him of his fastball, but the personable nonconformist is best remembered for his book. Ball Four, a combination of his diary of the 1969 season (split between the expansion Pilots and the Astros) and his recollections of his Yankee career, broke baseball taboos by revealing the personal lives of his teammates past and present. Sometimes less-than-admirable but usually amusing details were included. Until then, the whole of baseball journalism had protected the public from such supposedly shocking knowledge as the drinking habits of Mickey Mantle and his Yankee buddies, the use of “pep pills,” and the womanizing of most ballplayers on road trips. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called it “detrimental to baseball.”
Bouton first gained notice as an integral member of the Yankee staff in the final three seasons (1962-64) of the four-decade New York dynasty. His style was energetic, with his cap often flying off as he hurled both the ball and his body toward the plate. He was 7-7 as a rookie, then had an All-Star season in 1963. He was 21-7 with a 2.53 ERA and placed among the league leaders in most categories: second in winning percentage, shutouts (6), and fewest hits per nine innings (6.89), tied for second in wins, and fourth in ERA. He took a tough loss in Game Three of the World Series, opposing the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale. Bouton surrendered the lone run of the game on a first-inning walk, a wild pitch, and a single; he tied a WS record with two wild pitches in the game.
Bouton was solid again in 1964, going 18-13 with a 3.02 ERA and leading the AL in starts. He had a fine World Series, winning Game Three 2-1 on a complete-game six-hitter (St. Louis’s run was unearned) and also capturing Game Six, which was a 1-1 tie through six innings, by the score of 8-3.
But the Yankee dynasty and Bouton’s career both came crashing down in 1965. He blew out his arm and the New York offense failed. He doggedly pitched through pain for two seasons, going 4-15, 4.82 in ’65 and 3-8, 2.69 in 1966, the year the Yankees fell to last place.
Bouton spent most of the rest of his career in the bullpen, and began to throw a knuckleball in 1968. He retired after the 1970 season and spent some time as a TV sports reporter in New York. A successful minor league comeback in 1975 didn’t lead to any offers, but he tried again in 1977; it was at this point that he said, “This winter I’m working out every day, throwing at a wall. I’m 11-0 against the wall.” He was still unpopular among his ML peers, but he made it back with the Braves (owned by anti-establishment Ted Turner) in 1978 and went 1-3 in five starts. After finally calling it a career, he wrote about his comeback in an update of his first book called Ball Five. Since his retirement, he has gone into various baseball-related businesses and was one of the inventors of “Big League Chew,” bubblegum shredded to resemble tobacco.