The question suggested that a year after its publication, there might be a new spin on the widely accepted view that the book was about playing baseball for a living. But Brosnan did not get the chance to answer because Hutchinson, not known as a literary sort, did it for him.
“The book,” he replied, “is about him.”
With that Hutchinson rose and walked away, looking to Brosnan like a man well pleased with himself.
But was he right?
“Hutch,” Brosnan told me in a recent conversation, “was never wrong.”
If this was so, then Hutchinson had seen what the others had not, that in writing a book about himself, Brosnan had propelled the evolution of sports writing a great step forward by introducing the heretofore largely unimagined idea that a real-life athlete might be a character worthy of literature. Brosnan smiles at the thought of this, slyly, as if to say that well, yes, that was the point all along.
He is now seventy-nine years old and lives in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove, in the same split-level home to which, in the course of The Long Season, he returned to play with his children and seek the solace of his wise and peppery wife, Anne Stewart, who called him (and still calls him) “Meat.” He had grown up in Cincinnati a suspicious reader, which is to say that he read a lot but with a skeptical eye, especially when it came to books about baseball, which often bore no relation to what he was experiencing on the field.
“They didn’t feel right,” he says. “I had the ear and the mind that was open to something new.”
That something new was writing. A priest in parochial school had encouraged him to pursue the craft, telling him that he had a spark of talent, but would need to hone it through practice. So Brosnan practiced. He wrote letters and kept a diary. And when he at last made it to the big leagues with the Cubs in 1954, he found off-season work at a Chicago ad agency, for which he wrote copious memos. He traveled with a typewriter. He did not think well of many of the sports writers, whose knowledge of the game he found lacking. But he did strike up a friendship with Robert Boyle of Sports Illustrated, who, over lunch one day in the spring of 1958, suggested that if something interesting happened, Brosnan should try his hand at writing it up. A week later the Cubs traded him to the Cardinals. Suddenly Brosnan had, in addition to a very unhappy wife, material.
His first piece appeared in SI that July, and was a precursor of bigger things to come, filled with wry observations and generous dollops of self-deprecation. Brosnan also had a caution for readers who might envy his life: the days are long and filled with peril, and your wife will wish you delivered mail for a living.
Boyle not only invited him to write more for the magazine, but introduced him to an editor at Harper & Brothers, who suggested that if Brosnan were interested in writing a book about his life in the big leagues, he should send along forty pages. No promises, but the editor would have a look. That he did, and then asked for another forty pages, and another. All through the spring and summer of 1959, Brosnan pitched and wrote and sent his pages, not at all concerned that he was operating without a contract or an advance. “Jesus, I was a pretty lucky guy,” he says. “These guys who are in the business and are good at it [thought] I could do the same thing.”
He wrote with an ease that stood in sharp contrast to his disposition on the mound. There he sweated, winced, and berated himself: “That wasn’t a very good pitch, buddy boy … . Next time we’ll curve him, right?” The mound, not the page, was where he needed to prove himself, which afforded him an enviable freedom from literary angst, though not from struggle.
Other ballplayers had by then chronicled their troubles. But these were stories of cruel circumstances: Roy Campanella’s paralysis in It’s Good to Be Alive and Jimmy Piersall’s psychotic breakdown in Fear Strikes Out. Brosnan’s trouble was Brosnan, and not merely with his difficulty in spotting his fastball. The Long Season may be an easy and engaging read, with its behind-the-scenes glimpses of flipping rocks onto the field to pass the early innings in the bullpen. Yet there is also an unmistakable edge to the book, the mark of an author using his material to sort himself out.