Thanks to filmmaker Jon Leonoudakis, Ball Four is once again a hot topic.
My memories of Jim Bouton’s baseball game days are vague. As an 11-year-old playing ball in the schoolyards of New York City, Bouton came to me as an ex-New York Yankees pitcher who I’m told had some pretty good seasons on the hill in the Bronx. Years later, when I picked up a copy of Ball Four, a comprehensive journal of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros (along with stories from his seven seasons in pinstripes), my attitude toward Major League Baseball changed forever .
To say that Ball Four, first released in 1970, was a game changer is no exaggeration. During my last chat with Leonoudakis about his latest film, Ball Four Turns 40: The Legendary Event For The Iconic Book, I realized just how important Bouton still is to the game.
Though it’s been more than half a century since Ball Four hit bookshelves, a few years ago the inner Leonoudakis fan knew there was another side to Bouton’s work to tell.
Enter the Baseball Reliquary and its late CEO, Terry Cannon.
Cannon and Leonoudakis worked to bring Bouton, who died in 2019 at the age of 80 while living in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to the West Coast. Bouton was elected to the Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals in 2001.
Fast forward to September 2010 and Ball Four is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Time magazine ranked Ball Four among the top 100 best non-fiction books of all time. In 1996, the New York Public Library listed Ball Four as the best books of the century.
How could Ball Four not be made into a movie? How could anyone other than Leonoudakis be the chosen shopkeeper?
The hour-long documentary about Ball Four can be viewed at patreon.com/the sweetspottv.
It’s always a good day to talk baseball with Leonoudakis.
With his cinematic know-how and “hopeless” love for baseball, Ball Four Turns 40 is a project that came about in two phases. Leonoudakis had footage of the event a dozen years ago. Then about a year ago he started putting the film together.
A self-professed “baseball mad boy in the 1960s,” Leonoudakis recalls an article in LOOK magazine about Ball Four. He immediately bought a copy of the book, which then-MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn did his best to discredit. black bullet. The thought of drugs, infidelity, practical jokes, and baseball heroes facing real-life difficulties was previously unheard of.
The media, acting as guardians of the game’s dark side, lost its footing. Ball Four exposed everything. It is estimated that more than 5.5 million copies of Ball Four have circulated since the book was first printed in 1970.
Back to Leonoudakis.
In 2010, when the Ball Four Turns Forty exhibit was held at the Burbank Central Library in California, Bouton was flown to the West Coast for a day-long visit with the reliquary. Along with Bouton’s visit were displays of Seattle Pilot memorabilia. The pilots only existed for one season – 1969.
Leonoudakis recounts how he struggled to be ready for Bouton’s visit and how best to capture footage of the upcoming event.
There were three cameras to collect footage of Bouton and his interaction with the nearly 200 baseball fans in attendance. In the end, Leonoudakis had so many film stories to choose from that it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what and who did the final editing.
The night before the September 2010 event, Leonoudakis was invited to dinner with the Yankee legend, who picked the club to the 1962 World Series Championship and had two World Series wins in 1964.
“He (Bouton) exceeded all my expectations,” said Leonoudakis. “Jim was a lovely guy as soon as you met him.”
During their meeting, Leonoudakis even learned from Bouton how to throw a knuckleball properly (Bouton’s specialty during his All-Star career).
The special guests, alongside Bouton, such as his former Pilots teammates Tommy Davis and Greg Goosen, as well as film director and screenwriter Ron Shelton, make Ball Four Turns 40 a must-see for sports fans.
Overall, it took Leonoudakis about a year to complete Ball Four Turns 40. The film is so good because Leonoudakis knows the book so well. Watch the movie, have a few laughs as you throw back to the days when baseball had funny characters and analytics didn’t rule.
See and learn why Ball Four remains a timeless baseball read.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley now residing in Florida. He has covered professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and the web since the 1980s. His columns appear weekly on WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.
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