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.

The news disappoints Anne Stewart Brosnan—the summer heat, the impossibly long drive with two young children from Chicago. But for her husband, the letter brings the relief and possibility of a fresh start. The Reds, a struggling team like the Cardinals, make him feel wanted. In the weeks to come, his pitching improves. The Reds fire their manager and replace him with Hutchinson, who had first managed Brosnan in St. Louis and whom he admires.

The trade comes at the midway point of the season, and once the deal is complete, the book evolves into a different sort of story. The anger ebbs. In its place comes room for questions and, with them, some knowledge. On a trip to St. Louis, Brosnan seeks out the Cardinal general manager, Bing Devine. As happy as he is to be with the Reds, he cannot help but wonder why St. Louis wanted to be rid of him. Devine replies with careful platitudes. Brosnan presses him (“Do you feel that I let you down, Bing?”), but Devine will not rise to the bait. Sensing he will get no further, Brosnan takes his leave, picks up his final Cardinals check, and finds a letter from a fan telling him that “Devine was a louse, Hemus was a bum, and I was still all right.”

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.