Review: “The Long Season”

I recently finished reading The Long Season, by Jim Brosnan. Mr. Brosnan was a major league pitcher from 1954-1963. The book is his personal account of the 1959 baseball season. Here, for your good information, is my “review.”

Given that real books written (actually written) by real baseball players are about as common as a unicorn sighting (Lisa Frank illustrations and Zork II don’t count), The Long Season is something of a rarity. Mr. Brosnan writes in a blunt, unpretentious style. He covers the highs and lows, and ins and outs of being a pro ballplayer; both the blessings and curses of his chosen profession. You don’t get the feeling that he’s trying to beat you over the head with anything, or that he’s talking down to you. The book seems more like a long conversation, with Mr. Brosnan leaning back in his chair, lighting a cigarette and matter-of-factly presenting you with his point-of-view.

Having only ever been a fan, I relish opportunities to learn how players really think, feel and react. What does it feel like to come through for the team in a big situation? Conversely, how does it feel to blow it? What is it like when you get traded? Mr. Brosnan has answers for all those questions and others besides. Such insights are what I enjoyed most about the book. As someone who is strongly against the practice of booing, I was glad to find that Mr. Brosnan’s take on the subject supports my stance. An excerpt:

I can’t stand to be booed. Some people say I’m being childish; most ballplayers say you get used to it. I can’t believe they really hear those boos; they turn their ears off when the ugly noise begins. Desperately I try to do the same; inevitably I managed only to turn up the sound, and it rings and reverberates for hours after I’m gone, the crowd’s gone, the game’s gone.

When twenty thousand people applaud as you walk out to do your job, it should be an inspiration. It should make you feel good. (Applause is what you play for, too, as well as money.) When those same twenty thousand cry, ‘Ptui, you let us down,’ you have to feel bad. Most of the fans probably didn’t open their mouths; many probably sympathized with me when the booing started; some, reasonable critics, probably said, ‘Guess he didn’t have it tonight.’

‘Didn’t have it! The bum blew it!’

Even in the clubhouse I could hear the final smattering of boos as Charley Jones announced the results; ‘Here are the summaries. Giants, 6- Cardinals, 5. Winning pitcher, Antonelli. Losing pitcher, Brosnan.’

Boo! Like and echo. Like the tardy, final twist of the knife. It hurts. Don’t let them tell you it doesn’t.

The conspicuous contrasts between the game in 1959 and today are almost as enjoyable as anything. The following passage, in which St. Louis player/manager Solly Hemus gets into a skirmish with a Pirates’ pitcher, got my attention:

Daniels charged off the mound and Hemus scampered up to him, fists at the ready. Both benches erupted, as players from both sided welcomed the break in the monotony. Some punched were thrown, indiscriminately and ineffectively.

Players who engaged in a like manner today would be promptly ejected and subsequently fined and suspended. Hemus and Daniels, after this incident, remained in the game long enough to start a second brawl. If either was punished after that Mr. Brosnan doesn’t detail it. It’s not quite as severe as fans charging the field and stabbing players like in the earlier part of the 20th century, but still…

Both teams that Mr. Brosnan played for in ’59 (the St.Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds) were, at best, mediocre. The ubiquity of subpar baseball teams is the only thing that really weighs the book down. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing, or writing about it, or reading about it- losing is about as much fun as a colonoscopy.

Although the whole losing thing causes portions of the book to drag, Mr. Brosnan does not allow it to swallow the entire project. He tackles pretty much everything with a dry, satirical wit. “A sense of humor,” he tells us, “is necessary for a life in the bullpen.” Ahh, true fact. While being liberal with his humor, Mr. Brosnan doesn’t use it to sugarcoat anything. Most modern writers tend to romanticize baseball, especially when referencing the past. The Long Season offers a healthy dose of reality. Baseball has never been perfect. The game was flawed then and it is flawed now. And although the nature of the imperfections has changed, the glorious nature of the game itself has not.

In the book’s last chapter, Mr. Brosnan describes the annual act of a player clearing out his locker once the dying season has breathed its last. The passage is almost sentimental and was this close to making me cry. As long and/or difficult as a baseball season may be, there is always going to be a hint of sadness when it ends.


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