In retrospect, Brosnan is quick to concede the point. As it happened, he grew up buffeted between two warring parents, each of whom had different dreams for him: his mother wanted him to be a doctor, his father wanted him to play ball. He grew to be an angry fellow and found no comfort in months of psychoanalysis—an unthinkable recourse for a ballplayer—while he was still with the Cubs. But writing was a way to try to make sense of things.
He did this deftly. The Long Season opens with the sun shining, but not for Brosnan, who is unsure of his place on his team, the Cardinals, or with his new manager, Solly Hemus. The author cannot abide him, and makes liberal use of Hemus as the catch basin for his fears, his resentments, his inability to throw the pitches that others can. He views springtime as a season of harsh trials for every man trying to make the club, which means, inevitably, a season of broken dreams and farewells.
Brosnan presents himself as a man for whom contentment is elusive. It is not surprising, then, that the strongest set piece in the book tells of a pitcher facing the end of the line. Sal Maglie had been one of the finest pitchers of his time—but at forty-one, his time was well past. He wanted one more season, and Brosnan wanted it for him.
“Sal Maglie,” he wrote, “has gone down the drain.”
There is Maglie on the mound, laboring. His back hurts. He cannot find a rhythm or his curve.
When a pitcher starts doubting his own stuff, he prays for an easy inning. He needs one.
There was no easy inning left for Sal.
Maglie loads the bases.
“Make that good pitch here, now,” I said to myself.
He didn’t make it. Maybe he couldn’t do it … . Will he ever pitch anything but batting practice, any more?
Brosnan will make the club, not as a starter but as a reliever. He understands how precarious his position is; he is a bad outing away from being reduced to mop-up work. The season is about to begin, and he is filled with worry that he can share only with his wife. So he writes her a letter to “let the sight of words console my nerves”:
If I start to give up runs now, I’m a bum again. Success breeds a maggoty fortune that needs constant replenishment and refurbishing … .
If the knives start to jab they may hit this heel if it’s left carelessly unprotected … . Let’s face it, I can be had. The black forces of despair have made it with me before!
But having hit bottom, he turns to her, and to the life they share:
You’ll have your sorrowful, pining days as before, waiting behind, never any more sure than I am that I can do it … . But this man’s ready to start a new season, and we’re the team that can take it all … . You and I.
He cannot seem to find his place—on the mound, or with the team. Success comes fleetingly, and by early June he is convinced he is about to be traded. The news that he will make a rare start in Philadelphia brings no joy, only conspiratorial rage: he is sure that Hemus wants to give the Phillies a peek, hoping they might take Brosnan off his hands. “By the time I reached Connie Mack Stadium I had talked myself into a depressing cynicism,” he wrote. “Warming up before the game I didn’t feel right. Just hot under the collar.
“Ashburn led off for Philly. ‘I’ll curve him,’ I thought. Ashburn looked at four curve balls and walked.”
He records an out. And then he starts to fall apart:
Freese hit third. ‘I got to keep the ball down,’ I thought. Freese hit a high slider into the upper deck of the left field stands. The Philly fans started to laugh, again. (Those miserable fans.)
He is back in St. Louis the next night, and takes his wife and children to dinner at the restaurant owned by the team’s greatest player, Stan Musial. Never does the gulf between star and journeyman feel so profound. The Brosnans are seated near the kitchen and watch as Musial works the room, autographing a dozen menus. He stops by their table, buys them a drink, and lingers long enough to tell Brosnan that business is so good he might invest in another bank, his third. “Now there’s a celebrity,” Brosnan’s wife tells him. The letter advising him that he has been traded to Cincinnati is waiting at the front desk when they return.