The best thing about baseball happens also to be the worst thing about baseball—its adherents’ almost pathological aversion to change. This year, however, Major League Baseball officials have been forced to contemplate the previously unthinkable to salvage what remains of the season. Prospective innovations run from expanding the playoff pool to 14 teams (from 10) to redrawing divisions regionally and banning spitting. Look out for more Yankees-Mets games and universal designated hitters. And good luck chewing tobacco.
Baseball’s current state of flux makes this perhaps the perfect time to reconsider one of the game’s least hidebound player-observers, Jim Bouton, who died last year at the age of 80. While I was too young to witness Bouton’s on-field career, I can remember when and where I first read “Ball Four” (1970): It was the spring of my senior year in high school, and I cut class to finish it. Bouton’s hilarious account of his 1969 season, split between the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros, changed the way I thought about baseball—and authority figures. The book revealed, among other things, the players’ rampant skirt-chasing, the coaches’ managerial cant and Mickey Mantle’s ruinous alcoholism.