Nobody—let alone a ballplayer—had ever taken readers inside the clubhouse, and on the road, and into the bullpen, and given them the chance to watch and listen. The Long Season opens in the spring and ends on the season’s final day. In between, Brosnan carps about his manager, throws too many home-run balls, gets traded, wonders why he is traded even though he’s happy to be playing for a new club, and spends a lot of time chatting with his fellow pitchers about money, as well as the eternal mystery of what it takes to get a batter out. If his pitching didn’t make Brosnan famous, his writing certainly did. The Long Season irked some in his exclusive fraternity—fellow ballplayers called him a “gray flannel suiter” and a beatnik.” But critics were kind, and the readers made it a best-seller.
The novelty of The Long Season, however, obscured something deeper. This did not escape the attention of Brosnan’s manager in Cincinnati, Fred Hutchinson, who was a man of few words, all of them trenchant. In 1961, the Reds had just clinched their first National League pennant in twenty-one years. Brosnan and Hutchinson were surrounded in the happy clubhouse by a gaggle of newsmen eager for their thoughts, when someone asked Brosnan, “What was the book about?”
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.