🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences
- Jim Bouton, a starter turned relief pitcher, is attempting to resurrect his baseball career as a knuckleballer with the expansion Seattle Pilots, a team with a rag-tag bunch of players and coaches.
- Bouton documents his year with the team (in a journal like format) and intersperses anecdotes from some of his earlier years with other teams (he pitched in the World Series with the Yankees earlier in his career), while shedding light on the various personalities on his teams (both current and former).
- The story is as much a human-interest piece as it is a baseball book, as he documents both his personal challenges with the sport and coming of age.
- As someone who spent the majority of my formative years (from 8 to 22) playing baseball, this book resonated with me on a number of levels.
- I recognized many past teammates and coaches within the book's characters. You find all types of personalities within baseball teams and bringing them all together in pursuit of a common goal (i.e., winning games) is often extremely challenging.
- I enjoyed Bouton's authentic voice throughout and his ability to show baseball players as imperfect human beings. While professional athletes are sometimes put on a pedestal, I think it's worth remembering that they (just like all other "heroes") are just regular people at the end of the day, flaws and all.
- This book was especially poignant for me, as Bouton wrote it on the cusp of turning 30, and helped me put into perspective a lot my lessons learned from my years playing baseball. It is often difficult to put your experiences in perspective as you are going through them and this book put a voice to a lot of the disjointed feelings I had about dedicating so much of my time/life to a sport.
How I Discovered It
A "listicle" of the "Best Baseball Books of All-Time." As I started playing baseball again in 2021, I realized I hadn't read much about the sport and this book was apparently a "must-read" for any baseball player/fan.
Who Should Read It?
Any baseball fan would enjoy this book as Bouton exposes all the good, bad, and ugly that surrounds the sport.
☘️ How the Book Changed Me
How my life / behavior / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.
- Prior to reading this book, I had mixed feelings about my baseball career. When I "retired" at 22 (read "didn't get drafted to play professionally"), I tried to distance myself from the sport I had dedicated the prior ~18 years of my life toward. As I was forced to explore my other curiosities (professional life and new hobbies), I felt a twinge of regret from all of the opportunities I missed out on while playing baseball (chief among them missing out on a lot of my education during college). But after reading the book, I became more attuned to the tremendous life lessons that I picked up from playing baseball. I reflected upon the number of different people that baseball brought into my life (both on and off the field) and I'm more grateful for my baseball years.
- I learned to love baseball again from reading this book. Baseball is often romanticized by writers - a "perfect" game in many ways, small subtleties that have outsized impacts. But honestly, it was just a game to me when I was playing. I was often more concerned with my personal performance and my next at-bat or game than I was with appreciating the game I was playing. This book helped me see the game in a new light, one that could be appreciated and enjoyed through my unique lens as a former player.
- I learned to accept baseball as an integral part of my life experience. I used to be concerned with being seen as "only" a baseball player or using it as an identity especially within my family. I no longer view my time spent playing as something that defines me nor something I try to diminish. Just like other life experiences, I recognize my baseball years as another portion of my upbringing and one that has shaped me (for better or for worse) into the man I am today.
✍️ My Top 3 Quotes
- "You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
- "...a lifetime spent developing one skill doesn’t allow much time to develop others. Lots of athletes can’t function in the real world. That’s why they only feel comfortable in each other’s company. They sense that something is missing in their lives, but they’re not sure what. At the same time, they feel invincible because of their success on the field."
- "'Religion is like baseball,' said Steve [Hovley]. 'Great game, bad owners.'"
📒 Summary, Highlights, and Notes
I can still remember Pete Rose, on the top step of the dugout screaming, “Fuck you, Shakespeare.”
I think we are all better off looking across at someone, rather than up. Sheldon Kopp, the author and psychologist, wrote, “There are no great men. If you have a hero, look again: you have diminished yourself in some way.”
He just ran into Doubleday’s First Law, which states that if you throw a fastball with insufficient speed, someone will smack it out of the park with a stick.
We agreed we’re both troubled by the stiff-minded emphasis on the flag that grips much of the country these days. A flag, after all, is still only a cloth symbol. You don’t show patriotism by showing blank-eyed love for a bit of cloth. And you can be deeply patriotic without covering your car with flag decals.
Today Joe Schultz said, “Well, boys, it’s a round ball and a round bat and you got to hit it square.”
“The world doesn’t want to hear about labor pains,” Johnny Sain used to say. “It only wants to see the baby.”
Joe Schultz is not like Sal with the pitchers. Gelnar was telling us about this great conversation he had with Joe on the mound. There were a couple of guys on and Tom Matchick was up. “Any particular way you want me to pitch him, Joe?” Gelnar said. “Nah, fuck him,” Joe Schultz said. “Give him some low smoke and we’ll go in and pound some Budweiser.”
It was the Bard or Johnny Sain or somebody who said, “He who would be calm must take on the appearance of being calm.”
They have bedsheet banners in Atlanta too. They say REBEL. Sometimes the bedsheet is a Confederate flag. I wonder how the Negro players feel about them. The worst part is that these things are hung by kids. Why the hell couldn’t they let that stuff die with their grandfathers? These are not rebels who want something new. These are rebels who want to bring back the old.
You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.
I felt I needed to get away from the noise in my head and find someplace I could breathe. The illusion was always that it would come with the next achievement, the next success. If I could just find that ultimate accomplishment I’d be safe.
we both do industrial consulting which, as a friend of ours said recently, is better than working for a living.
“life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Think of a ballplayer as a fifteen-year-old in a twenty-five-year-old body.
And a lifetime spent developing one skill doesn’t allow much time to develop others. Lots of athletes can’t function in the real world. That’s why they only feel comfortable in each other’s company. They sense that something is missing in their lives, but they’re not sure what. At the same time, they feel invincible because of their success on the field.
A philosopher once said: “Don’t pity the nation that has no heroes; pity the nation that needs them.”
It’s just that every year in the spring I get this urge to play some ball in the sunshine. Just for fun. And, while my life is fun, I know it’s not that way for most people. There is too much poverty, too much greed, and too much ignorance in the land. As one of the lucky ones, I’d like to help make things better. That’s my dream these days.
Baseball has become a cheaper game, designed for unknowing fans accustomed to gross action over subtle beauty.
“Religion is like baseball,” said Steve. “Great game, bad owners.”
I’m like the talking dog; it’s not that the dog speaks well, it’s that he speaks at all.