Jim Bouton and Ball Four 40 Years Later: Are the 1969 Seattle Pilots Headed to Broadway?

Oh, if only the last-place Mariners could bring as much cheer to Seattle as the Seattle Pilots did to the weekend crowd at the Burbank Central Library. That's in the north LA burbs where into this time warp stepped fan Jerry Miller wearing a number 56 Seattle Pilots jersey he found on eBay, and where the player who used to wear that number, pitcher-turned-author and actor Jim Bouton, was on a library panel, talking about his old book. Ball Four was first published 40 years ago, yet today it is Amazon's No. 1 baseball tome, at 465 pages, and is ranked among the top 2,000 of all Amazon best-sellers. Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called the book "detrimental to baseball," helping drive fans to the book stores for four decades.

A pitcher with the one-season (1969) Pilots (also for Houston and the New York Yankees), Bouton became a millionaire author as the book was significantly revised and updated over the years. But its original appeal remains, thumbing its nose at baseball's hierarchy and opening the clubhouse door to an unsporting life - the revered boys of summer, naked, snapping towels, even pretending to kiss each other on the lips. Some were buzzed on uppers, trading tales of beaver shots they'd seen from the field, while others hurriedly dressed, in the words of Pilots manager Joe Schultz, to go slam some Bud.

"There will be one or two old coaches sitting in the corner," when he visits a clubhouse today, Bouton told the Los Angeles Times. "I can see them glaring at me. But the younger players come over to me. 'Hey, I read your book in high school. I said that's what I want to be. I want to be a major league baseball player. You made me stick with it.' "

And it was inspired typing. "Without that book, I'd probably be a surgeon like my dad," said David Kipen who while in grade school was so smitten by Bouton's prose that he went on to become director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts. "He hijacked my life."

The book, written with Leonard Shecter, was the center of a special anniversary event Saturday at the Burbank library, where two panels of guests - Bouton included - discussed its enduring popularity. It grew out of a diary Bouton kept in his final, 1969 season as a knuckleballing reliever with the Pilots and Astros. "The motive for doing this was not to make money or write something that was going to last a long time," he says. "Basically, I just wanted to share the fun of baseball."

Now 71, he hopes to share the book, and the Pilots, with Broadway. At his home in Massachusetts, he's working on a stage adaptation: "Ball Four: The Musical." Says

Bouton: "Anything goes in a musical. And you can be gross and profane and bawdy. The stage. I think that's where it belongs."

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