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Friday, September 23, 2016

Ball Four, You’re Out: How A Classic Baseball Book Became A Failed Baseball Sitcom

One of the main obstacles Bouton and his co-creators faced in writing the series was the issue of translating ballplayer dialogue to network television in a realistic and/or believable fashion, since Joe Schultz-style epithets were obviously not going to fly on network TV. “You couldn’t say ‘Horseshit,’” Bouton explains. “You could have ‘Horse!’, or maybe ‘Horse-crock!’ There were all sorts of ways they had to neuterize it.” But swearing wasn’t the only aspect of life in the majors that was deemed off-limits; because CBS had scheduled the show to run on Wednesdays during Family Viewing Hour—the FCC had mandated in 1975 that all network shows broadcast in the first hour of prime time must be “family-friendly” in content—CBS’s Standards and Practices department also forbade any spitting, burping, chewing of tobacco, popping of “greenies,” or any other potentially offensive behavior from the show’s characters. “We were not allowed to put any of the grittiness of life in the majors on the screen,” Bouton says. With every network note, Ball Four the sitcom became less and less like Ball Four the book.

If sanitized content was an automatic strike one against Ball Four, then strike two came when the network decided to cast Bouton as the show’s lead. Bouton would portray Jim Barton, an aging pitcher who alienates his teammates on the fictional Washington Americans by writing tell-all pieces for Sports Illustrated. Bouton certainly had the real-life qualifications to play the part, and he’d acquitted himself nicely as the creepy playboy Terry Lennox in Robert Altman’s 1973 production of The Long Goodbye, but sitcom acting was, well, a whole other ballgame. “They probably thought casting me would be inexpensive, because I was not a real actor,” laughs Bouton. “And who knew what a difficult chore that would be?”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 23, 2016 at 06:41 AM | 16 comment(s)
  Beats: ball four, jim bouton, television



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