Jim Brosnan, ex-Cubs, Sox pitcher famed for writing ‘The Long Season,’ dead at 84
Staff report July 7, 2014 1:26PM
Jim Brosnan with Cubs manager Bob Scheffing. (photographer Joe Kodick) 5-15-58
Updated: July 9, 2014 10:16AM
Former pitcher Jim Brosnan was a former Cubs and Sox pitcher who was probably better known for writing about life in baseball than he was for his greatest achievement in the game — helping the Cincinnati Reds reach the 1961 World Series.
Mr. Brosnan, a longtime Morton Grove resident, died June 28 at a hospice in Park Ridge. He was 84.
He played nine seasons in the majors, going 55-47 with 67 saves for the Reds, Cubs, Cardinals and White Sox.
After being traded to the Reds during the 1959 season, he became a standout relief pitcher. In 1961, he was 10-4 with 16 saves, then pitched three times in the Reds’ five-game loss to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
The right-hander already had drawn plenty of attention for his 1960 book “The Long Season,” taken from the diary of his 1959 season with the Cardinals and Reds.
He had sent a diary piece in 1958 to the then-new Sports Illustrated magazine that an editor with the Harper & Row publishing house liked and urged him to turn it into a book.
That was the spark that led to “The Long Season.” With its frank reportial style, it offered an inside look at the game and its players that hadn’t been seen before — touching on race and sex, contract issues and spitball techniques, a pro ballplayer’s self-doubts and the indignities of being traded.
It revolutionized sports journalism, taking readers inside the clubhouse, and it paved the way for other insider books, including Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” a decade later.
And unlike most books by sports figures that came before it, Mr. Brosnan wrote it himself, rather than employ a ghostwriter.
A best-seller, “The Long Season” was listed by Sports Illustrated magazine in 2002 as one of the top 20 sports books ever written.
Though a hit with fans, Mr. Brosnan’s book rankled some in baseball. Former player and Cardinals broadcaster Joe Garagiola called Mr. Brosnan a “kooky beatnik.”
Mr. Brosnan didn’t want his book to sound like other baseball books.
“I read a lot of baseball books written by guys who wrote books for kids,” he said in a 2004 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “And they were awful. I read stuff that sportswriters would do because they were hired to to it in the name of somebody else. I didn’t believe any of it. There was no sense of humor. There was no sense of anybody on these teams knowing what the hell the game was about.
“But I thought: I could do that! And I had promised my mother I would write a book some day.”
He followed up in 1962 with “Pennant Race,” chronicling the Reds’ run to the 1961 National League pennant and drawing, as he had with “The Long Season,” on the notes he would keep on a pad in the bullpen during games. In one passage, he wrote: “To get to [Cincinnati’s] Crosley Field, I usually take a bus through the old, crumbling streets of the Bottoms. Blacks stand on the corners watching their homes fall down. The insecurity of being in the second division of the National League — in the cellar — leaves me. For 25 cents, the daily bus ride gives me enough humility to get me through any baseball game, or season.”
“That was one of the best writing days I had,” he later said.
James Patrick Brosnan was born in Cincinnati, the son of an Irish father who worked for the Cincinnati Milling Machine Co. as a lathe operator and a German mother who worked as a nurse and a piano teacher and raised five children.
“I spent as much time in the library between the ages of 10 and 15 as I did playing baseball,” Mr. Brosnan said in the Sun-Times interview. “I read whatever my mother told me to read — until I got a hold of Joseph Altschuler’s novels. Nowadays, I can’t find him in the Morton Grove, Evanston or Niles library. From him, I learned how to distinguish the good words from the bad words. I learned about voice.”
Mr. Brosnan started his baseball career as a Cubs’ minor-leaguer at 17 and was brought up to the parent club for his first taste of the Major Leagues in 1954. He had a lifetime 3.54 earned-run average in 831 appearances and once struck out Willie Mays three times in a single game.
He ended his career in 1963 with the White Sox, refusing to sign a contract the following year that would have barred him from continuing to write about baseball. He was 34.
“When I arrived at the airport, [Sox general manager] Ed Short met me and said, ‘You can’t write here, either. Period,’ ” Mr. Brosnan said in the 2004 interview. “I was hoping for a little better welcome than that. I responded with a four-letter word that begins with ‘F.’ Hey, by that time, I had sold two pieces, one to Atlantic Monthly and the other to Sport magazine.
“Quitting didn’t bother me,” he said. “I was a writer. I was going to be a writer.”
Reds teammate and future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson had dubbed Mr. Brosnan “The Professor,” a commentary on the Coke-bottle glasses he wore and pipe he smoked as well as the books by the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky and John Updike that he’d take along on road trips.
“I read Updike, Thurber, Roger Angell,” he said in the interview. “I liked the way they put words together. It was different than the daily newspapers. I read two, three newspapers a day. But Updike was talking in an entirely different language. So I stole it.”
He spoke of spending time with future California Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, who taught at the University of Chicago before moving to San Francisco in the mid-1950s.
“In 1958, I was with the Reds, and we were in San Francisco,” Mr. Brosnan recalled. Hayakawa “calls me on the telephone and says we’re going to see [jazz great] Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines. He was a big baseball fan, too. I gave him a baseball cap.”
After leaving baseball, Mr. Brosnan was a longtime TV and radio broadcaster and magazine writer and wrote children’s sports books. He wrote occasional book reviews for the old Chicago Daily News and The New York Times and, for 25 years, was the baseball writer for Boy’s Life magazine.
He lived in Morton Grove since retiring from baseball.
He is survived by his three children, Jamie Kruidenier, Tim Brosnan and Kimberlee Brosnan-Myers; a brother, Michael; and four grandchildren.
Visitation will be held at 1 p.m. July 20 at at Simkins Funeral Home in Morton Grove, followed by a memorial service there starting at 4 p.m.