July 19, 2007


An interview with Jim Brosnan (David Davis, 7/17/07, LA Observed)

Soon after I graduated from the John R. Tunis school of sports literature, I began reading through my dad's collection. He had some cherce books: James T. Farrell's My Baseball Diary, Lawrence Ritter's Glory of Their Times, Roger Kahn's Boys of Summer, Ring Lardner's You Know Me Al, the works of Roger Angell and George Plimpton (though my dad thought Plimpton a snob), Jim Bouton's Ball Four, Pat Jordan's A False Spring, and Robert Coover's Universal Baseball Association, Inc.

Two of the best – and most literate -- were written by an obscure relief pitcher named Jim Brosnan: The Long Season (1960) and Pennant Race (1962). Before their publication, sports books by and/or about athletes were one-dimensional and hagiographic. Both Long Season and Pennant Race were season-in-the-life diaries that gave readers an insider's peek into the daily toil of a ballplayer: how they prepare for spring training, what they talk about in the bullpen, what it feels like to be traded.

Here's Brosnan on Dodgers ace Don Drysdale: "When Drysdale is fast -- on some days a pitcher throws harder than on others -- his fast ball pops the leather of the catcher's mitt. Like a sledge hammer slamming a fence stump. The very sound can numb a batter's hands, even before he gets out of the on-deck circle. 'Got to get out in front -- got to be out in front on the pitch,' he says to himself. Of course, Drysdale also throws a fast curve ball. If the batter sets himself to get way out in front on the fast ball, and the pitch turns out to be a curve ball, he may suffer the embarrassment of looking like he's chasing bumblebees with a butterfly net." [...]

LAO: You're known more for your books than for your pitching. How would you characterize your playing career?

JB: I got better at it. I never was able to throw the Tommy Bridges curve ball. [Bridges threw what was considered to be a nasty curve.] I just wasn't getting that break. It was years later, when [coach] Howie Pollet taught me how to throw a slider, that I began to understand it.

I once threw a Tommy Bridges curve ball to Ken Boyer, after I had gone to Cincinnati from St. Louis. Boyer was a good friend, and the pitch had a break that went almost straight down and was a strike. He just stood there and stared at me. Later on, he said to me, "If you'd only been able to throw that pitch when you were with us, we would have won."

LAO: You faced Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Duke Snider, among others. Who was the batter you feared the most?

JB: Mays hit a ball off me over the top of the roof at the Polo Grounds. And, just to prove that he could do it on the West Coast, he hit one clear over the left-field stands [at Candlestick Park]. As far as I'm concerned, he was the best opponent that I couldn’t get out. Well, I once struck him out three times in a game that I started. It was all over the papers the next day -- it was me saying, "I just struck out Willie Mays three times."

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 19, 2007 6:48 AM
Comments for this post are closed.