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Cell Block 14.
January 9, 2004

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

In May 1970, the best-selling book "Ball Four" was published. Written by big-league pitcher Jim Bouton during his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros, "Ball Four" became an instant classic.

The former knuckleballer – who won 21 games with the New York Yankees in 1963 – "blew the lid off" Major League Baseball. Nobody had ever before written a tell-all account about what went on when the players left the baseball diamond.

 
 


Players, managers and baseball executives were outraged. There was an unwritten rule that "what goes on in the locker room, stays in the locker room." Back then, even sportswriters respected the code that Bouton broke.

In June 1970, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn publicly reprimanded Bouton. After that season - Bouton's last - he was unofficially banned from baseball. It would be 28 years before Bouton would be invited back to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers' Day.

Jim Bouton may have been ostracized by the baseball community, but "Ball Four" sold over five million copies and brought the first-time author literary fame and financial security.

Literary fame and financial security sounds a lot better than a Hall of Fame plaque and a managerial position, doesn't it? Well, maybe not to you and me, but I'll wager Pete Rose would rather have his new book "Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars" hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list than have his official banishment from baseball rescinded.

In his book, "unintentionally" released two days after this year's Hall of Fame inductees were announced, Rose finally reveals that he did indeed bet on baseball while he was managing the Cincinnati Reds. What a revelation.

I, for one, am shocked. I'll have to run out and buy the book – for $24.95 - to get all the juicy details. Or I can go to peterose.com and purchase an autographed copy for $79.95. For an extra twenty, Pete will even personalize the book with a heartfelt "Bill, Good Luck Pete Rose."

Rose finally came clean because he wants to be reinstated and once again be a part of the game he loves. Of course, he could have confessed in a two-paragraph press release instead of a 288 page memoir – available now in hardcover at amazon.com. But the latter is far more profitable.

If "My Prison Without Bars" is a hit with the public, who knows where it may lead for Rose. Bouton parlayed the success of "Ball Four" into a television sitcom that first aired in September 1976 on CBS.

On the show Jim Bouton played Jim Barton, a pitcher for the Washington Americans. Most of the scenes took place inside the team's locker room. The show's theme song was written and recorded by the late, great Harry Chapin.

Maybe Pete should start peddling the television rights to his book to the networks (assuming he hasn't already done so). I imagine Rose would really love the idea of having his very own theme song.

There are, however, a number of differences between Bouton's "Ball Four" and Rose's "My Prison Without Bars." Bouton's book was funny and relatively harmless. And though he was accused of "violating the sanctity of the clubhouse," most of his harshest critics have come to terms with his "transgression."

Rose, on the other hand, violated the sanctity of baseball. Then vehemently denied doing so over and over again for 14 years. Now he's ready to fess up. That's not funny, just pathetic. Come to think of it, that's exactly what I've said about many of the new sitcoms that have come and gone in recent years.

Rose's long overdue admission has been criticized for its poor timing and lack of sincerity. Sincere or not, I can't say. But his timing is impeccable. Under the guise of seeking forgiveness for his mistakes, he has created a firestorm of interest in his new book.

You can't buy this kind of publicity. Most authors have to endure months of hobnobbing with Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and David Letterman to generate this level of public awareness. Rose may not be contrite enough for most sportswriters, but he's a marketing genius.

I don't care for Pete Rose. I don't have any respect for him. But he is fortunate in one respect. If he has been in some sort of prison for 14 years, it sure is better to be in one without bars than having to share a cell with Big John.

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