Nathanson follows Bouton through his attempted comeback with Atlanta, his many campaigns and business ventures, including his support for liberal causes, his investment in Big League Chew, and his attempt to save an old ballpark in Pittsfield, Mass. Some schemes panned out; more didn’t. Nathanson is gentle with Bouton and does not dwell on the man’s own peccadillos. This is a book for Bouton’s fans — of which I am one.
Nathanson goes beyond tracing Bouton’s life, focusing instead on explicating the roots of Ball Four. In so doing, the book becomes an inside-publishing exposé, showing how the publication and selling of Ball Four changed our expectations of what a sports book could be. Always outspoken, Bouton took on the baseball establishment, showing how major leaguers behaved behind the scenes, humanizing them by shattering the angelic image promulgated by the traditional baseball press. In addition, the book provides fascinating details about Bouton’s post–Ball Four life ... A welcome look at one of baseball’s signature mavericks.
Mr. Nathanson, a professor of law at Villanova and an astute writer on the game, is at his best on the Bouton-Shecter collaboration—late nights at the Lion’s Head Bar in Greenwich Village; Shecter making sense of Bouton’s scrawls on stationery, envelopes and toilet paper; the pair noodling over the manuscript stripped down to their underwear in Shecter’s airless Chelsea apartment ... Mr. Nathanson is good, too, with Bouton wisecracks ... I could have done without Mr. Nathanson’s grander claims for Bouton. He is compared, separately and unironically, to Bob Dylan and John Lennon ... To Mr. Nathanson, 'Ball Four' is metaphorical for or analogous to just about anything, from Bouton’s chewing gum venture to his selfish divorce, which 'devastated the Bouton family the way Ball Four devastated baseball.'