The Reds make a run at the first division—and a modest share of World Series money. In September, they arrive in San Francisco to play the Giants, whose best hitters have had their way with Brosnan before. Not today. Suddenly, in the course of an at-bat by Willie Kirkland, who had homered six times against him, Brosnan rediscovers his purposeful dark side—a necessary tool for success on the mound—and strikes him out with a fastball under the chin.

“When a pitcher can rid himself of the feeling that he can’t get a certain hitter out, he knows he’s got good stuff,” we read. “The Giants stared at me for six innings, waiting to see Old Broz, Old Nervous Broz, start to waver, start to think on the mound. They waited in vain.”

The Reds ultimately tumble to a sixth-place finish, three games ahead of the Cardinals. But with the end of the season, Brosnan’s thoughts turned away from vengeance, from being traded, from Sunday double-headers sweating through flannel uniforms, from hangovers and pep pills in the clubhouse. They turn, instead, to the end of things. “The empty locker symbolizes the cold, blue sadness of the last day of the season,” he writes. “There is something poignant and depressing about clearing out, for good; abandoning your own place in the clubhouse. They even take your name plate down, and who’s to know what player dressed in which locker?”

It did not take long for others to follow where Brosnan had first gone, and within a decade the deceptively easy tone of The Long Season would be eclipsed by such tell-alls as Jim Bouton’s tart and bawdy Ball Four. In fact, the idea of the athlete as subject matter became so accepted that, in time, it was hard to imagine a spring publishing season without the advent of another Bronx Zoo or Juiced or, most recently, A-Rod. For that matter, it was hard to envision a magazine staking a claim to literary greatness without being able to boast such gems as Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio, Roger Angell on Bob Gibson, or Richard Ben Cramer on Ted Williams.

It feels like a stretch to suggest that The Long Season changed sports writing. The book appeared just as journalism was reinventing itself, expanding what it defined as a story and how to tell it. But in the mad race for style points that began in the 1960s, and which today includes high marks for snarkiness and innuendo, something was lost: the simpler and ultimately more universal brand of storytelling that a most unlikely author had to offer.

Brosnan was back on the mound and better in 1960, and better still in 1961, when he wrote his second book, Pennant Race. It is a good book, and though it reads very much like The Long Season, Brosnan concedes that it lacks the original’s power: it is the work of a more contented man. He would go on to write several more books and hundreds of magazine articles, and that is how he made his living when his time came to walk away from the game. He tried his hand at fiction, but was never really pleased with the results.

“I have three kids,” he says, “and a half a novel about each of them.”

Like pitching with a three-run lead, it only looks easy.

 

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.