Jim Bouton might not be a household name for every baseball fan. A pitcher for the New York Yankees for much of the ’60s, Bouton had an up and down career that saw him quickly become an All-Star before burning out and becoming a relief pitcher without much action for much of his career. Despite being a relatively obscure name in baseball’s history books, Bouton earned himself a lot of money.
He passed away in 2019, but thanks to a book he wrote in 1970, his memory lives on forever.
Jim Bouton’s baseball career
Throughout his life, Bouton spoke about how he never considered himself a natural athlete. He wasn’t particularly fast, nor did he have a god-like build that let him get by on sheer athleticism. What Bouton did have, however, was the drive to make himself. He joined the baseball team in high school but was only allowed to warm up with them during his first year. Eventually, Bouton enrolled in Western Michigan University without a scholarship.
Bouton pitched enough to earn a scholarship. After two years in college, he played in several minor league clubs, including the New York Yankees farm system. By 1962, Bouton was in the big leagues and pitching for a team that boasted Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra. After a solid outing as a rookie, he showed that he could hang with the professionals.
After a brief stint in the Army, Bouton returned in 1963 and had the best season of his career, finishing the season with a 21-7 record and a 2.53 ERA. This would prove to be his first and only All-Star season. Bouton had another good year in 1964, but by 1965 he began experiencing arm pain. The rest of his career was spent coming off the bench and pitching knuckleballs to select hitters.
Eventually, after spending a lot of time in the minor leagues, he was a journeyman pitcher across the league, spending some time with the Seattle Pilots before spending a year-and-a-half with the Houston Astros. Bouton retired in 1970, but eight years later had a brief comeback with the Atlanta Braves. He retired with a 62-63 record and a 3.57 ERA.
Bouton made it into professional baseball, but his true legacy did not have much to do with how he played the game.
Jim Bouton’s book ‘Ball Four’
Bouton was always a bigger personality than baseball. He often joked around with the media and tried to keep the mood light. He was also quite politically active and spoke about issues such as war and racism both in America and abroad. His biggest claim to fame, however, was in his book. In 1970, Bouton wrote Ball Four, a diary of the life of a professional baseball player.
He offered a candid look into the life of a baseball player, including many of the players’ struggles with amphetamines and alcohol. The book also included graphic depictions of the players’ sexual escapades. Bouton wasn’t afraid to name names. Ball Four tells stories about Mickey Mantle batting with a hangover and other teammates in questionable situations. As a result, he alienated former teammates, who saw his book as a breach of trust.
In 2017, Bouton reflected on the book and said he did not expect it to become as big as it eventually became.
“I didn’t know the value of it,” Bouton told The New York Times. “I was just really sharing the nonsense. Every once in a while, I would transfer the notes to audio and send in my tapes. I’d call [co-writer Leonard] Shecter and say, ‘Is this interesting?’ And he’d say: ‘Are you kidding? Keep going!’ “
What was Jim Bouton’s net worth as a result?
Bouton made a lot of money off of his book, but a business partnership he had did not hurt things. He was involved with the formation of Big League Chew, a popular gum that comes in pouches like chewing tobacco. Because of these lucrative business opportunities, it seems he never had to worry about his wallet.
Jim Bouton reportedly had a net worth of $40 million. He didn’t make the big bucks from baseball, although that helped him get the other opportunities. Instead, he found a way to use his standing as a player to make money in different ways. Bouton may be gone, but he certainly left a legacy behind.