Book Review: Foul Ball by Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton is a former major league pitcher and author of the classic American book Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues, a diary of the 1969 season when he pitched for the expansion franchise Seattle Pilots among other teams . Republished with updates and additional material, Ball Four has grown into a weighty tome documenting Bouton’s life through the end of the 20th century. Now a new chapter in Bouton’s life produces a new book, Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying To Save an Old Ballpark (2003). The ballpark is Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The politicians, newspaper and business leaders of Pittsfield want to scrap Wahconah and build a new ballpark on land downtown (owned by the Berkshire Eagle) at great expense to the taxpayers. They’re unable to do so though because the taxpayers repeatedly vote against the new ballpark and in favor of preserving Wahconah.

Enter Bouton and two business partners who offer to renovate and maintain Wahconah Park with their own money, acquire an independent league franchise, and create an attraction that will draw in Berkshire tourists to great benefit of the Pittsfield economy. Surprisingly, Pittsfield’s political elite are not interested in this sensible plan, and do everything in their power to discredit Bouton despite the popular appeal of his team’s plan. Over the course of 2001, Bouton describes political stonewalling, frustrating debates and votes that are discounted, and hostile editorials from the Eagle. As he and his partners learn more about the political system, they learn there’s more than money motivating their opponents, and that there may be deep secrets on the proposed site of the new stadium. GE poisoned much of the community by dumping PCB’s illegally and the Eagle’s downtown land is one of the dumping sites. A ballpark would make a perfect coverup. All of this is written with Bouton’s characteristic humor and insight.

The book has an unhappy ending as Bouton doesn’t get the ballpark and even the newly elected city council members who were elected by pro-Wahconah voters begin to kowtow to the hidden elites. I don’t feel that I’ve read the whole book though, because like Ball Four it just keeps expanding with a Part II in the paperback edition which my public library system doesn’t seem to own. I do know that Wahconah still stands and is still being used for baseball, including games of the Vintage Base Ball Federation staged by Bouton himself. Some of the revelations of Part II include the discovery that baseball has been played on the site of Wahconah Park since 1892 and the document in Pittsfield holds the oldest known written reference to “base ball.” Kind of makes one hopeful for the old ballpark.

I’d been meaning to read this book but was finally inspired to do so now by Lorianne’s post Field of Dreams at Hoarded Ordinaries.

An aside in the book, I was intrigued by The Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals, a kind of an alternate baseball hall of fame to which Bouton was inducted during the course of the book.