Today, this sort of thing is commonplace, and we're treated to stories of stars injecting each other with steroids in the restroom and such. But 35 years ago, this just wasn't done. Bouton was ripped by many in the business, and arguably driven from the game prematurely because of the reactions to his book.
A year or two later, he followed up with "I'm Glad..." (the title comes from a discussion Bouton had with the sportswriter, Dick Young). In addition to tying up some loose ends, describing what happened during the baseball season after Ball Four was published (his last season in professional baseball, other than a brief comeback several years later). Bouton also described
the reactions of players, management, and sportswriters to his book.
A couple of lines jumped out at me from his descriptions and analyses as being applicable to the current discussions that surround blogging and the traditional press. Here's one bit about writers with pre-written stories:
...a lot of bad things happen when a reporter sets out with a story already written in his head. He is in fact acting as a roadblock between the public and the truth. There's something vaguely sad and at the same time hackle-raising about Marty Martinez, the Astro utility man, coming over to me and saying, "I always said something nice when they asked me about the book, but they never put what I said in the newspapers."Clearly, a lot of what ends up in print these days is the result of writers already knowing what they want to write, and doing "research" that is a matter of finding material to back them up, rather than doing the research first to find out what's true, then writing based on that. It's true in the "mainstream media," it's true in blogs, it's true in academia. I see it all over the place, and it's lazy, sloppy, misleading, and just wrong. I have somewhat less of a problem with people who at least expose their biases and acknowledge them, but if they won't also acknowledge differing viewpoints, they do a service to no one.
Bouton also quotes extensively from a review of Ball Four by David Halberstam in Harper's, who wrote less about the book itself than about the reaction from the entrenched media toward someone having the audacity to enter their turf:
The sportswriters are not judging the accuracy of the book, but Bouton's right to tell (that is, your right to read), which is, again, as American as apple pie or the White House press corps. A reporter covers an institution, becomes associated with it, protective of it, and, most important, the arbiter of what is right to tell. He knows what's good for you to hear, what should remain at the press-club bar. When someone goes beyond that, stakes out a new dimension of what is proper and significant, then it is not the ballplayers who yell the most, nor in Washington the public-information officers, but indeed the sportswriters or the Washington bureau chiefs, because having played the game, having been tamed, when someone outflanks them, they must of necessity attack his intentions, his accuracy. Thus Bouton has become a social leper to many sportswriters and thus Sy Hersh, when he broke the My Lai story, became a "peddler" to some of Washington's most famous journalists.This is a story we hear constantly these days about bloggers. Those in the mainstream press lash out at bloggers for being uncivil or for not having their journalistic expertise. Fundamentally, they resent being scooped, upstaged, or proved wrong. But it's nothing new. When a Jim Bouton or a Hunter S. Thompson comes in as an outsider or an amateur and outperforms those who are supposed to do the job, the reaction is rarely (at least initially) to question whether the job has been done right all along, but rather to attack the interloper.
And I suppose it's important to point out that Sy Hersh continues to break the stories that the rest of the press either ignores or hushes up.