Friday March 8th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL
Today is Jim Bouton’s birthday – a date that has always been sort of a personal holiday for me. I have been a rabid fan of his classic book ‘Ball Four’ since I first read it in high school, and I’ve reread it countless times since. It’s an annual staple right around this time of year, when baseball prepares to make a comeback. That book is entertaining on so many levels I never get sick of it.
What I love about it most is its realness. Jim writes about what it’s like to be a baseball player, warts and all. He readily admits his own faults, and voices his opinions in a well thought out and intelligent manner. I don’t always agree with his opinions, but I never was bored as I read them.
He was way ahead of his time in 1970, and took a lot of flak from the baseball hierarchy for the things he wrote. He was blackballed from baseball for years afterward, and there are still those in the game who view him as a heinous villain to this day. It took major stones to buck the system.
I always tell anyone who will listen it was ‘Ball Four’ that inspired me to start writing my own diary, and it’s true. I thought it would be fun to see if I could write one page a day for thirty days cataloging what life was like as a professional comedian. Almost seven years later, I’m still at it.
The main reason I do it now is to hopefully give aspiring comedians some in depth and honest insight they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. I’ve done what they’re looking to do, and my mistakes will hopefully help them avoid wasting the time I did so they can have an easier road.
Jim Bouton and I are both cut of the same cloth in that we’re opinionated to the point of letting it hurt us, and we’ve both suffered for it but still had the guts to stand by our thoughts. I’ve been able to piss off more than a few people with what I’ve written - even when it’s not my intention.
Jim and I write what we think, and I for one always thought that’s what the whole idea of “free speech” was supposed to be about. I’m fine if someone doesn’t agree with me, but sometimes the people who get offended take it way too personally and hard feelings grow and last for a lifetime.
I can’t speak for Jim, but I’m happy to know he’s made peace with a lot of the people who had ill feelings toward him for ‘Ball Four’. He ended up making peace with Mickey Mantle, and that meant a lot to him. He’s now a fixture at New York Yankees Old Timers games, and it all seems to be water under the bridge. He is now accepted for his accomplishments, and I’m glad he is.
I sure hope I’m able to touch people with what I write even half as much as Jim touched me at a time I was very impressionable. I wanted to be a baseball player in high school, and that book really opened my eyes and let me see the real side of life much like being an NBA ball boy did.
I saw that athletes are just people, and people have flaws. Comedians are the same, and we’ve got even more flaws than the average person. I’ve never denied that, and hopefully what I write can help someone coming up the ranks learn how to behave better so they don’t have to waste as much time as I did trying to prove myself. Thank you for the inspiration, Jim. Happy birthday!