Former Yankees' hurler Jim Bouton. Mandatory Credit: npr.org.

Do You Remember: Jim Bouton


Fine. I admit. I don’t remember him pitching either. But, he is in-fact an instrumental part of concession stands across stadiums nationwide. Big League Chew, anyone?

Jim Bouton was a pitcher in pinstripes for seven seasons in the 1960s. After signing with the squad in 1958, Bouton debuted in 1962 with a respectable 7-7 record. He would blossom in his next season, destroying the American League with 21 wins, and an All-Star appearance to boot. Bouton continued his success into 1964, posting 18 wins and leading the league in games started with 37. However, wins became hard to earn for the right-hander, only chalking up 15 more W’s in his next six seasons before retiring in 1970.

Or so he thought. After five years of relaxing, Bouton grabbed his once hung-up cleats and played A-ball for the Portland Mavericks, an independent team founded and owned by actor Bing Russell, and whose son Kurt was also an infielder for (yes, the Kurt Russell who played Herb Brooks in Disney’s Miracle). There, he would regain his passion and ability, returning to the majors at age 39 to play one last season (this time with the Braves). Bouton even picked up a win, eight years removed from his previous one. He would retire for a second time, and this time for good, with a 62-63 record.

It was Bouton’s off the field work that gained him the most fame, or notoriety. The fame: Bouton is one of the inventors of the wildly popular Big League Chew bubble gum. Personally, I don’t like the flavor, but that’s besides the point.

The notoriety: Ball Four. During the 1969 season, Bouton spent his time with the Seattle Pilots in the team’s inaugural and final season. He wrote a book describing the actuality of athletes; how they not only were hammering heroes but also immature, juvenile druggies. The book quickly became ignominious, as he referenced the names of the players who committed the deeds. Bouton became blacklisted for his book, and was a pariah.

Eventually, he was forgiven, culminating in his invitation to the 1998 Old Timers’ Day. Nowadays, Bouton, 75, is a professional speaker, and on his website www.jimbouton.com, an announcement by Bob Sheppard continuously announces number 56, ready to take on whatever challenge was thrown his way not only in sports, but in all areas of his life.

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Tags: Ball Four Big League Chew Jim Bouton New York Yankees

  • Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

    It was a great book. As a high school student, it was a welcome revelation that ballplayers were real people, just like us, and doing the same stupid and funny things that we were doing. It’s a kid’s game. The stuff he mentioned was tame by today’s standards, but in those days, he was breaking sacred taboos. If I’m not mistaken, he later owned the Pittsfield Class A team for awhile. His comeback was made via the knuckleball.