Tracked down at his Springfield, Mass., home, Jim Bouton had this to say in light of the Seattle Pilots’ 40th anniversary, and coming up on the 40th anniversary of his classic “Ball Four”:
Q: What images do you conjure up of Greg Goossen and those Seattle Pilots?
JB: People ask me all the time about the characters in “Ball Four” and if I can elaborate. I don’t have any other memories beside what’s in the book. Once the document was done, I erased everything. I know Greg was a really fun guy to be around and a great teammate, a smart guy.
Q: Forty years later, do you have any special memories of the Pilots that resonate stronger than any other?
JB: More people send me letters and remind me of things haven’t read in the book for years, so that always refreshes my memory. It strikes me how lucky I was to be with that particular group of guys. It was just a very special collection, mostly because the Pilots’ thinking going in was to win the pennant by drafting older players. So these were real guys with stories and histories, and many had some great years at one time — Gary Bell and Tommy Davis, for example — they had real careers, so as they playing together for the first time and were getting to know each other, they’d tell stories. It was a great bunch of old storytellers who also knew how to play ball. I was so lucky to have them and the nice thing about it, some of them were all past their prime and not so full of themselves. They were real people and had great respectives about who they were and how they were dealing with that.
I still get so much mail, people stopping me, constantly bringing back the memories. They’re in my life every day. Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about one of my teammates. I never get tired of it. It’s a different memory. People tell me, ‘My grandfather says I need to read your book.’ I’m OK with that.
Q: What was the toughest part about compiling the book at the time?
JB: The best thing was that I kept good notes and did it every single day. I was very disciplined with writing the quotes as close to exactly as I could remember them. I could usually remember the story, but the real key was how someone said something. Everyone has their own speech. You can’t paraphrase it. You gotta nail it right then. So that’s what I learned.
I wasn’t trying to be sneaky about the process. I just think most felt I wasn’t going to follow through on it. It was just an idea. And even if I did it, who’d want to read about the Seattle Pilots, know what I mean? It seemed like a only a fool would write about an expansion team. Most books at that time were from players who capitalized on having won the Cy Young or set World Series records or played for the Yankees or Dodgers, or ‘My Years with the Gashouse Gang.’ The Pilots seemed to be the last team you could write a book about. But the guys were just incredible people.
Q: Do you have a 40th anniversary issue of ‘Ball Four’ in the works for next year?
JB: Nope. I wrote ‘The Final Pitch’ in 2000. That’s it. There’s nothing more to add. And, you know, it really wasn’t a ‘tell-all’ book. There was a lot of stuff I could have told, including on myself, but I didn’t want to invade their privacy. All I wanted was to show what it was like to be in the locker room and how funny these guys were. On every page, you gotta laugh at something. That’s who they were — funny as hell every single day. I’m just a very lucky person who played at that level and got to know that whole lives.
More books by Bouton (listed on his official site, www.jimbouton.com)
== “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally” (1971, William Morrow, $5.95 cover price), the “Ball Four” sequel, that covers Bouton’s meetings with baseblal commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who accused him for ruining the game.
== “I Managed Good But Boy Did They Play Bad” (1973, Playboy Press, $7.95 cover price). Compiled and edited by Bouton, with Neil Offen. In the “About the Author” blurb, Bouton says he is a “veteran right-hander, part-time author, part-time TV sportscaster, part-time politician, part-time movie star” and ” full-time ace pitcher for the Ridgewood-Paramus Barons.” In the front, the list of “Other Books by Jim Bouton” include “Ball Four,” “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally” and “War and Peace.”
== “Strike Zone” (1994, Viking, $21.95 cover price): A novel co-written with Eliot Asinof about a ballgame being fixed by the home plate umpire. Bouton is Sam Ward, a career minor leaguer making his first start in the big leagues. Asinof is Ernie Kolacka, the umpire who’s not calling ‘em as he sees ‘em.
== “Foul Ball” (2003, self published by Bulldog Publishing; in paperback in 2005): Bouton recounts his adventure trying to save Wahconah Park, in Pittsfield, Mass., which has been holding organized baseball games since 1892. Bouton’s plan was opposed by a handful of power brokers who wanted to build a new $18.5 million stadium that the people had voted against three different times.