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A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

May 26, 1999|ARA NAJARIAN

What: "Ball Four" a book by Jim Bouton.

Thirty years after Jim Bouton started taking notes in the Seattle Pilots' dugout, the story is still a great ride.

If you're a baseball fan and you have not read this book, find it and read it. It is rated at least PG-13 by today's standards, so parents beware. But there still may not be a better book that gives the reader a look at what it is like to be a major league player.

It also is a fine piece of history.

For one, the book was written in an age before free agency and therefore before agents played such a large role in professional sports. The approach to contract negotiations was so different, today's players might have trouble believing it.

For another, the approach to healing and dealing with injuries is very different if only because sports medicine has advanced so much in 30 years.

Indeed, it is because of Bouton's sore arm that he has turned to throwing the knuckleball for the expansion Pilots (who later moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers). In the book, he attributes lack of knowledge both medicinally and in terms of throwing technique as contributing factors to his sore arm before learning the knuckleball.

The book is a diary of the 1969 season for Bouton, and it's downright fun. You want more when the season finishes. Some may enjoy Bouton's descriptions of night life with Mickey Mantle when Bouton reminisces about his Yankee years, while others may enjoy the mischievous pranks that players do to each other. I like when Bouton turns inward and is concerned about fitting in with teammates. Or when he witnessed Vietnam protesters, which caused him some guilt and confusion about his profession. He gives an honest description of race relations at a time when baseball teams were predominantly white.

Bouton broke new ground with "Ball Four." Thirty years later, we're still the better for it.

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