I haven’t read a baseball book since my mother gave away my trading cards of the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Braves. No, I’m not quite that old. I got them from a neighbor lady who was surreptitiously cleaning out her son’s room and I imagine they are still circulating on EBay.
On Jim Murray’s recommendation, I got a copy of Jim Brosnan’s 1960 baseball diary “The Long Season” from the library, and discovered that “Season” is as unlike the heroic sports biographies of my youth (“as told to Bob Considine”) as a glossy travel book is to a group of airline pilots critiquing the world’s worst airports.
The book was written in the quaint era when baseball players still had side jobs in the off-season. Brosnan worked at a Chicago ad agency and he clearly has a way with words in describing the 1959 season in which he pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and was traded to Cincinnati.
Many authors indulge in grand phrases and exalted poetics when writing about the great American pastime, but Brosnan focuses on the nuts and bolts, describing baseball the way a plumber talks about hooking up a dishwasher. It’s shoptalk, but instead of tips on putting in a water heater, it’s how to pitch to Henry Aaron or Willie Mays.
To share the dugout, the bullpen or the mound with Brosnan is to get an entirely different perspective on the game. To be sure, the book is one person’s view, but so radically different from what one sees from the stands as to be an entirely different experience, whether it's the stiffness of spring training and the jitters of opening day or the melancholy moments spent cleaning out a locker at the end of the season.
Brosnan writes frankly and he is a man with a great deal on his mind: His ERA. His arm. The wind. The grass. The sportscasters (he doesn’t care for Joe Garagiola and hates Harry Caray with a passion). The sportswriters (most of them heavy-drinking nitwits with exception of Dick Young of the New York Daily News). The fans. His age. His arm. Is he going to be cut? Is he going to be traded? How do you pitch to Henry Aaron? His ERA.
Here’s Brosnan on playing against the Dodgers at the Coliseum:
“As if the Coliseum wasn’t enough to rattle a pitcher’s nerves. The first impression of that monstrous screen, twenty-five feet or so behind the shortstop, invariably causes the comment ‘What the hell are they thinking about? They’re making a joke out of the game!’ And the joke’s on the pitchers, of course.”
And on playing at Seals Stadium:
“San Francisco’s ballpark is another pitcher’s hell. The wind frequently prevails, even against the most clever and well-executed pitching. Don’t, by God, make any mistakes on that mound!”
Halfway through the book, Brosnan is traded to Cincinnati. He’s expecting the trade (except to Philadelphia) because he hasn’t been doing well and doesn’t like Solly Hemus, the player-manager of the Cardinals, which is way down in the rankings. Brosnan, who had been traded from the Cubs to St. Louis, says it only hurts the first time.
Brosnan finishes the year with an ERA of 3.36 with the Reds (he sloughs off his record with St. Louis) and hopes for “no more baseball problems till February 1960.”
This is a snapshot of baseball when daytime doubleheaders were called on account of darkness and completed later in the season, and when a player like Brosnan thought he was doing well at $20,000 ($147,890.42 USD 2010) a year. In that sense, “Season” is an antique, full of long-forgotten games and dimly remembered players. And no, nobody worries about performance-enhancing substances other than martinis.
Even though he was writing 50 years ago, Brosnan conveys the timelessness of the sport, the endless competition of teams and individuals, and the universal anxieties and rewards of professional athletes, all of which make "Season" a vivid portrait of baseball and the men who play it.
Brosnan went on to write “Pennant Race,” about the 1961 season.
Here are the first two pages of “The Long Season,” courtesy of the OCR software on my scanner:
Morton Grove, Illinois
My wife, Anne Stewart, said, "The contract came. Guess how much?"
I never would have.
We had been looking for the contract in the mail each day. We had talked about it for six months.
Even before one season ends, a ballplayer estimates next year's contract. In late September of the 1958 season I reviewed my record with pleasure and concluded that I didn't have much more time to improve it. With each game I pitched I felt better and better about my prospects in 1959.
"Good old Bing," I had said one night as the season came to an end. "I think I'm going to enjoy talking contract with him."
"You should. This will be the first time you ever had anything to say to a general manager," my wife said.
I'd won twice as many games as I'd ever won before in one year in the majors, and in addition, I had saved seven more games in relief as the Cardinals staggered through the last month. The only question in my mind was how much of a raise I'd get. Here I had proved that I could do two jobs well — start and relieve. What price versatility?
Did Bing Devine, the Cardinal general manager, look upon me with the rose-tinted, dreamy-eyed gaze of a pennant-waver? Or would we two battle for the bare bones of a typical baseball business contract? I cut out from the agency in time to get the first commuter train home. My wife greeted me with her fighting smile, and handed me the registered letter from St. Louis.
One quick glance confirmed my most pessimistic fears. All winter we'd waited, hoping for a reward, a pat-on-the-back that would pay all the old bills. Hanging my coat and hat in the closet, I took the martini my wife held out to me, and gulped down the olive that had risen in my craw.
"Good God, I'm no better off after a good year than I was the year I got out of the Army. This doesn't mean a thing! A thousand-dollar raise! He'll spend that much on phone calls before the season starts!"
"You aren't thinking of signing that, are you?" Anne Stewart asked, shaking her finger at the folded paper that read:
UNIFORM PLAYER'S CONTRACT
NATIONAL LEAGUE OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL CLUBS
……………… ……………….. ………………
2. For performance of the player's services and promises hereunder the Club will pay the Player the sum of
"What are you gonna do?" I asked, an almost plaintive cry hardly calculated to answer her question. "Maybe he's trying to test my sense of humor. Turn the thermostat up; it looks like it's going to be a long, cold winter."
Devine had written, "Please find enclosed your St. Louis contract calling for salary of $16,000. If this is satisfactory, return to me as soon as possible."
My typewriter keys quickly clicked out an answer. I boiled over for one full page, spilling anguished indignation. Hell, I had been tempted to ask for $ 25,000!