Jim Bouton, who will return to the major leagues today with the Atlanta Braves, said the cultural pressure of being washed up at 39 is the biggest obstacle he has to overcome.

"There is a little voice in my head that told me I could do it all along," Bouton said Friday. "The biggest obstacle was overcoming the cultural pressures that a 39-year-old man is washed up in baseball."

Bouton, now a knuckleball pitcher, is listed as the probable starter against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the leaders in the National League West.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but nobody has tested the limits of a knuckleball pitcher," said Bouton. "If Hyt Wilhelm can pitch till he was 49, there's no reason why another knuckleballer can't go until he's 55 or 60."

He said pitching in the upcoming game is a bigger thrill than pitching in the World Series. Bouton pitched for the New York Yankees against the Dodgers in the 1963 World Series, which he lost 1-0.

Bouton will become the second 39-year-old knuckleball pitcher on Atlanta's roster when he joins veteran Phil Niekro.

Bouton, 20 pounds lighter than 15 years ago and looking much younger than his age, said a lot has changed in the eight years since he left the majors in 1970 - when he wrote the controversial book "ball four," giving a candid account of life in the big leagues.

Bouton, who has also had a career in sportscasting since he left the Yankees, is coming to the Atlanta team from the Braves' AA farm team in Savannah. He was 12-9 with a 2.77 earned run average at Savannah.

"I really have no goals," he said. "Who'd have thought I'd get this far? I don't have to succeed to make this a satisfying experience. But maybe I could end up winning 15-20 games.

"Who knows? No one has ever tested the limits to see how long a knuckleball pitcher can go. I just know that only (Braves owner) Ted Turner and maybe Charlie Finley or Bill Veeck would have enough imagination to give a 39-year-old pitcher a chance.

"As far as hyping the gate, a lot of people will come to see me because of what I've accomplished, and I think it's justified."