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Jim Bouton, Author of Tell-All Baseball Memoir ‘Ball Four,’ Dies at 80

Those were the glory days. Arm trouble bit him after that; he was 4-15 in 1965 as the Yankees slipped to sixth place. And by 1968 he was expendable; the Yankees sold him to the Seattle Angels, then a minor league team that would graduate (as the Pilots) to the big leagues the following year.

In addition to his wife, Bouton, who lived in western Massachusetts, is survived by two sons, Michael and David (who was adopted from Korea as a boy and was called Kyong Jo at the start of “Ball Four”);two stepchildren; and six grandchildren: Alexandria Bouton, Jack Bouton, Georgia Kurman, Annabel Kurman, Skyler van der Hoeven and Aspen van der Hoeven. A daughter, Laurie, was killed in a car crash in 1997.

The notoriety earned by “Ball Four” propelled Bouton to several other episodes in the public eye. For a time he was a sportscaster for network affiliates in New York. He was a delegate from New Jersey for George McGovern at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. He appeared as a crafty killer who gets his comeuppance in Robert Altman’s 1973 sardonic crime drama, “The Long Goodbye,” an updating of the Raymond Chandler novel starring Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe. And he appeared in a short-lived television series based on “Ball Four” — it lasted just five episodes in 1976.

With Eliot Asinof, best known as the author of “Eight Men Out,” an account of the Black Sox scandal of 1919, Bouton wrote “Strike Zone” (1994), a plot-heavy and melodramatic novel about an umpire on the horns of a moral dilemma: He must decide whether to affect the outcome of a game in order to help a man who once saved his life and is now in trouble with gangsters.

Bouton also wrote a book, “Foul Ball” (2005), about his quixotic effort to save an old ballpark in Pittsfield, Mass. That inspired him to help form and promote the Vintage Base Ball Federation, which organizes games played according to 19th century rules by baseball-fan versions of Civil War re-enactors.

“Ball Four” was published during the 1970 season while Bouton was with the Astros, but he was having a poor year, and after being demoted to the minors, he retired.

But Bouton wasn’t kidding in “Ball Four” that it was miserable being unable to scratch the competitive itch. So he played semipro ball for several years, and, attempting an unlikely comeback, persevered though stints with minor league teams in Durango, Mexico; Knoxville, Tenn.; Savannah, Ga.; and Portland Ore., where he became the first investor in Big League Chew, shredded bubble gum in a pouch, in emulation of chewing tobacco, invented by a bullpen-mate, Rob Nelson.

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