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.

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?

Michael Shapiro is a contributing editor to CJR and teaches at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. His most recent book is Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball From Itself.