Bouton’s Ball Four Baseball Book Remembered In New Film
Thanks to filmmaker Jon Leonoudakis, Ball Four is once again a hot topic.
My memories of Jim Bouton's baseball playing days are vague. As an 11-year-old playing ball in the schoolyards of New York City, to me, Bouton was an ex-New York Yankee pitcher who I was told had a few pretty good seasons on the mound in the Bronx. Years later when I picked up a copy of Ball Four, a tell-all diary of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros (along with tales from his seven seasons in pinstripes), my take on Major League Baseball changed forever.
To say Ball Four, first released in 1970, was a game changer is no exaggeration. During my recent chat with Leonoudakis about his latest film - Ball Four Turns 40: The Legendary Event For The Iconic Book, I gained a clearer perspective on just how important Bouton still is to the game.
Although it has been more than a half century since Ball Four hit book shelves, a few years back the inner fan of Leonoudakis knew there was another side of Bouton's work to be told.
Enter the Baseball Reliquary, and it's late executive director Terry Cannon.
Cannon and Leonoudakis worked to bring Bouton, who at age 80 passed in 2019 while living in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to the west coast. Bouton was elected to the Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals in 2001.
Fast forward to September 2010, and Ball Four celebrtates its 40th year in print. Time Magazine ranks Ball Four among its 100 greatest non-fiction books all all-time. In 1996 New York's Public Library lists Ball Four with its best books of the century.
How could a film not be made of Ball Four? How could anyone other than Leonoudakis be the chosen storteller?
The one hour documentary on Ball Four is available for viewing at patreon.com/the sweetspottv.
Anytime speaking with Leonoudakis about baseball is a good day.
With his filmmaking expertise and his 'hopelessly' in love with baseball, Ball Four Turns 40 is a project that came about in two stages. Leonoudakis had the footage from the event of a dozen years earlier. Then, about one year ago he began putting the film together.
As a self-confessed 'baseball crazed kid in the 1960's', Leonoudakis remembers seeing an article in LOOK Magazine about Ball Four. He immediately followed up with purchasing a copy of the book that then MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn did his best to discredit; blackball. The thought of drugs, infidelity, practical jokes, and baseball heroes experiencing real life difficulties was previously unheard of.
The media, who acted as guardians to the dark side of the game, lost their grip. Ball Four let it all out in the open. It's estimated that more than 5.5 million copies of Ball Four have been in circulation since the book's first printing in 1970.
Back to Leonoudakis.
In 2010, when the 'Ball Four Turns Forty' exhibition was held at the Burbank Central Library in California, Bouton was flown to the west coast for a day-long visit with the Reliquary. Along with Bouton's visit, there was displays of Seattle Pilot memorabilia. The Pilots were in existence for one lone season - 1969.
Leonoudakis tells of scrambling to be ready for Bouton's visit, and how best to capture footage of the pending event.
There were three cameras to collect footage of Bouton and his interaction with the nealy 200 baseball fans in attendance. In the end, Leonoudakis had so many stories on film to choose from, making it difficult to nail down just what and who made the final cut.
The evening before the September 2010 event, Leonoudakis was invited to dinner with the Yankee legend who pitched the club to the 1962 World Series championship, and collected two victories in the 1964 World Series.
" He (Bouton) exceeded all my expectations," says Leonoudakis. " Jim was a delightful guy, once you got to know him."
During their meeting, Leonoudakis even learned from Bouton how to properly throw a knuckleball (Bouton's specialty during his all-star career).
The special guests, besides Bouton such as his former Pilots teammates Tommy Davis and Greg Goosen, plus film director and screenwriter Ron Shelton, all add up to making Ball Four Turns 40 a must view for sports fans.
In all, it took Leonoudakis about one year to complete Ball Four Turns 40. The film is so good because Leonoudakis knows the book so well. Watch the film, have a few laughs whlie looking back in time to when baseball had fun characters and analytics didn't rule.
Watch and learn why Ball Four remains a timeless baseball read.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.