2020 New York Times Summer Reading List
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.
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.