The thing about Jim Bouton that always amazed me — and warmed my heart — was the pure joy he derived from his masterpiece, “Ball Four.”
“I have lived with the book for so long now, and had so many conversations with people over the years, that the characters, my teammates, have become like members of my family,” Bouton told me in 2009 during one of several interviews I was privileged to have with him.
“I honestly have developed very loving feelings about every single one of them.”
Because of that book, which was transformational for me as a teenager and for millions of others who were given a shocking/hilarious/irreverent/authentic glimpse inside Major League Baseball baseball, the Seattle Pilots will live on forever. And so will Bouton, who died Wednesday at the age of 80.
The book ostensibly chronicled Bouton’s attempt to resurrect his career with the expansion 1969 Pilots at age 30, a sore-armed former Yankees fireballer who decided a knuckleball was his ticket back to the big-time.
But what made Bouton’s book stand out in 1970 when it was published and still resonate today, nearly 50 years later, is the eclectic cast of teammates that he brought to life. It was ribald, it was profane, and it was light years ahead of its time in portraying ballplayers as humans, flaws and all, rather than adhering to the idolatry that had prevailed to that point in sporting literature.