Though baseball invigorates American prose by giving idiosyncratic heft to nostalgia and buffing up anecdotal history, it’s mostly a playground for sportswriters and prose poets. Rare are the player reminiscences that are not propped up by ghostwriters. Brosnan’s irreverently witty “The Long Season,” a diary-style recollection of the 1959 season, which the middling pitcher spent with the then-mediocre St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, is just such reminiscence, and it’s wonderful.
Brosnan, a bespectacled, tobacco-chewing “agitator” nicknamed “The Professor” by his teammates and “Meat” by his wife, puts day-to-day drudgery ahead of game-loving veneration and emerges with a winning portrayal of camaraderie and acrimony that gives players and managers a gumshoe identity that biographies and social histories can’t rival. “I am brassily opinionated,” he writes. Indeed he is. He’s also a top-notch diarist. He doesn’t conceal his disdain for St. Louis manager Solly Hemus (when Hemus argues with an umpire Brosnan sees a “mouse confronting an elephant…”) or his still-uneasy respect for black players, only recently “emancipated.” But Brosnan can flat out write. On a batter: “I stepped back off the mound to hate Kirkland with my eyes”; on a Milwaukee bus driver losing his way to the stadium: “Since the Braves had lost seven games in a row the fans denied their very whereabouts.”
He also has a pitcher’s keen eye — “The clock atop the Cub scoreboard has been two minutes slow for the last five years.” — and makes no bones about throwing the heads of sluggers to scare them, an act now met by fines. In the clubhouse, trainers and doctors dispense wonder drugs (including steroids, amphetamines, and tranquilizers) to soothe the anxious and repair the sore-armed. “Decadron,” “Dexamyl” and “Equanil,” designer drugs of the day, make routine rounds. Though Brosnan loves the game, he’s also a fan of irony. The basic appeal of baseball, a game played by “big league serfs,” is to let people pretend: “Maybe you too will one day wear one of these monkey suits someday. What an ambition!”
Without Brosnan’s pioneering effort, it’s unlikely that similar, more heralded efforts such as Jim Bouton’s 1968 “Ball Four” would ever have found an audience.