Locker-room confessionals are all the rage these days. Athletes (with ghost-writers securely in tow) line up at every door along publishers' row, hopeful of peddling their "tell-it-like-it-is" burblings for sums that rival those hauled in by Jerry Kramer and Jim Bouton. Things have come to such a pretty pass that this spring we are being treated to books "by" Denny McLain and Joe Pepitone, perhaps the most unlikely pair of authors since Zsa Zsa Gabor and Rona Barrett last set pens screeching across paper.
Instant Replay and Ball Four were, and remain, the biggest moneymakers of the genre—and, by happy coincidence, two of the better sports books we have. A strong case can be made, however, that the best of the lot is the first—Jim Brosnan's The Long Season, which was published in 1960 and which has just been reissued by Harper & Row ($8.95).
The release of the new edition is by any standard a happy occasion. The Long Season is the best account we have from the ballplayer's point of view of what it is like to play out the "long season" of baseball and is all the more valuable because the author labored for a loser rather than a winner. The book clinches the point that Ring Lardner made half a century earlier—that, as Brosnan puts it, "ballplayers resent being scapegoats, symbols and story material rather than normal men with a little extra athletic talent."
That's not a bad passage: Brosnan wrote it. In fact, Brosnan wrote all of The Long Season during and after the 1959 season, which he began as long reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals and ended as a reliever and occasional starter for the Cincinnati Reds. He wrote it, as best as I can determine, not to make a fast buck but because it was in him to write—because words came as naturally to him as his slider, if not more so.
Fifteen years after its original publication, The Long Season is as much fun to read as ever. Brosnan wrote under strictures of decorum that did not limit Bouton, but his ballpark conversation is at least as funny without four-letter words as Bouton's is with them. His acid portrait of Solly Hemus, the first of three managers he pitched for that year, is every bit as devastating as it was in 1960; and his roughly affectionate tribute to Fred Hutchinson, the last of the three, is all the more touching in light of our knowledge that Hutchinson was to die five years later after a bold fight against cancer. Even after Bouton's hilarious comments on coaches, Brosnan's have lost none of their sting: coaches exist, he suggests, primarily to find "something to do besides count baseballs and pick their noses."
I can't leave this return visit to Brosnan's wonderful book without a bittersweet note. Reporting on Family Night at Crosley Field in 1959, Brosnan observes that "Gus Bell, a hunk of potent virility the likes of which has seldom been seen in organized baseball, had seven Bells ring around him." Well, one of those little Bells, Buddy, is now a standout third baseman for the Cleveland Indians. Tempus sure does fugit.