November 18, 2014


A Journeyman Pitcher Got There Before Jeter : The ex-Yankee's website gives us players' unfiltered views--like Jim Brosnan started doing in 1958. (BOB GREENE, Nov. 17, 2014, WSJ)

[I]n the summer of 1958, something unexpected in the sports world happened. Sports Illustrated readers opened a new issue and found a long article about the life of a journeyman relief pitcher who had recently been traded from the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals. The author was Jim Brosnan.

This was unheard of: unfiltered thoughts from a professional athlete, free of polishing from ghostwriters, straight from the clubhouse to the reader. It wasn't that the revelations were salacious or scandalous--they weren't. It was the human-to-a-fault dailiness of a ballplayer's world that was so startling. It was as if, for the first time, you understood what it was like to play a sport for a living. I recall, as a boy, opening that issue of Sports Illustrated and feeling as if Brosnan were talking to me, telling me things no sportswriter ever quite had.

If the article was met with wariness in the major leagues, it was embraced by readers, and Brosnan followed it with one of the best sports books ever written: "The Long Season," a diary of life on the road in 1959. After losing a game for the Cardinals against the San Francisco Giants: "Four hours later I sat at a table in Thompson's cafeteria, stabbing ham and eggs, drowning my burned-up pride with cold milk, and salting, slightly, the lower lids of my angry eyes. How in hell can you get into such a sad position? How can you fall so far so fast? . . . I can't stand to be booed. Some people say I'm being childish; most ballplayers say you get used to it. . . . I manage 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."

Brosnan wasn't telling secrets, at least not the hurtful kind. (A decade later, in a suddenly more freewheeling American social era, another major-league pitcher, Jim Bouton, would write the best-selling and considerably less circumspect "Ball Four.") Jim Brosnan, though, was letting readers in on a quieter, simpler secret: what it's like inside a big-league uniform. Sometimes literally, as in this passage after he was traded midseason to the Reds: "Life in the Cincinnati clubhouse in midsummer is lived in the raw. Pregame uniform is jock strap and shower clogs. The thought of putting on a flannel uniform over woolen socks and undershirt starts the sweat rolling. 'How many electric fans you got in here, Chesty?' I asked the clubhouse man. 'Not enough,' he said."

Posted by at November 18, 2014 1:32 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus