Three cheers to Jim Bouton, whose classic book, Ball Four, turns 40 (Jay Jaffe had a great post to mark the event over at the Pinstriped Bible last week).
When asked how the title “Ball Four” came into being, Bouton explained Saturday how he and editor Leonard Shecter were at the Lion’s Head Tavern in New York, the famous literary bar near Columbia University, having just turned in the finished product into the publisher:
“We went to have a drink to celebrate this piece of cardboard we had just turned in, and we’re thinking, ‘Now what are we going to call the damn thing?’
“We were talking about the need to have a downbeat title. This isn’t a story about how somebody just won the World Series. It’s about struggling, about difficulty. What’s the toughest thing for a pitcher — a knuckleball pitcher in particular — it’s to get the damn ball over the plate. It’s walking guys ….
“So we’re talking about all this, and there was a lady sitting at the bar. She was very drunk. And she was listening to our conversation. And at some point, she leans over and says, ‘Whyyyyy don’t you caaaaall it Baaaaallllll Foooouuuuurrrrrrr?’
“And we said, ‘nawwwww.’
“Finally we couldn’t come up with anything. And I was walking Shecter back to his hotel before I went home to New Jersey, and then Shecter says, ‘You know, Ball Four isn’t a bad title.’ So we owe it all to this woman at the bar.”