June 25, 2017

“Pennant Race/The Long Season” by Jim Brosnan

May 10, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Long SeasonJim Brosnan was a solid pitcher, most effectively in relief, for the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, and White Sox, concluding his career in 1963 with his brief sojourn in the junior circuit. His best year by  far was in 1961 with the pennant winning Redlegs when he went 10-4 with 16 saves. Brosnan, who passed away in the summer of 2014, would be mainly remembered for his contribution to the ’61 NL champs but for one thing: he was the first ballplayer to publish an entirely self-penned diary of a season, In fact, he did it twice! The second time he truly grabbed the brass ring when Cincinnati won the pennant.

Far from the usual sanitized puff pieces of typical baseball books, The Long Season (Harper & Brothers, 1960) and Pennant Race (Harper & Row, 1962) were much more accurate in their depictions of what it was actually like to be a big league ballplayer. In a way, the Profesor’s first book, The Long Season, is the more interesting, since the author was traded mid-season, both teams finished out of the money, and Brosnan himself had only slight success for seventh-place St. Louis at 1-3. He did somewhat better for Cincinnati, finishing with an 8-3 mark for the sixth place Redlegs.

These books are a good look at the rank and file members of a middle of the pack big league club, not the all-stars or the ballyhooed newcomers, We see the millions of small disappointments, uncertainty, and frustrations that make up a big league season, indeed, that make up a big league life. In the years since the publications of his season’s diaries, Brosnan’s works have been somewhat overshadowed by the Ball Four juggernaut, that classic having been published in 1970. This relegation to what might be termed the second division of baseball books is undeserved and unfortunate.

While Brosnan had to be much more circumspect about certain matters owing to the tenor of the times, it is also true that he faced little of the harsh criticism that was heaped on Bouton for, it was said, violating the sancitiy of the clubhouse. In part, this is due to the more sedate tone of the earlier books, where dashes are used for curse words (____ him!, said Jones) but partly due to Bouton’s sometimes uneasy relationship with his teammates. While there may be some hindsight operating here, many of Bouton’s former comrades later deplored his iconoclastic nature, outspokenness (especially regarding salary) with reporters, and general refusal as a young player to adhere to the ‘seen but not heard’ ethos then required and expected of rookies.

In contrast, while Brosnan sometimes comes across as a brainiac (especially in his habit of calling his teammates by the full names (‘Joseph’ and “Peter’ for Joe and Pete, for example), at a time when reading actual books was considered downright subversive, he does seem much more one of the guys than Bouton ever did. Even given the constraints that Brosnan had to observe, there are still numerous moments of candor regarding drinking and, somewhat more discreetly, skirt-chasing. For readers accustomed to every sordid detail of an athlete’s sordid acts being disseminated worldwide seconds after they occur, The Long Season and Pennant Race may seem somewhat tame, but to older readers they will seem refreshingly discreet.

There is something to be said for discretion and implication. More is not always better, and both of these books are fine, entertaining reads, especially for those with an eye for history, and come highly recommended.

The Long Season, Harper & Row, 1960
Pennant Race, Harper & Brothers, 1962

Comments

One Response to ““Pennant Race/The Long Season” by Jim Brosnan”
  1. Tony Cowen says:

    The Long Season is a fine book. I especially enjoyed the story of the author getting hitting lessons from Paul Waner. I go back to that segment often.

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