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Jim Brosnan, 84; relief pitcher invigorated writing on baseball

Writing with a slightly jaundiced eye, Mr. Brosnan changed the nature of baseball writing.

Associated Press/File 1964

Writing with a slightly jaundiced eye, Mr. Brosnan changed the nature of baseball writing.

NEW YORK — Jim Brosnan, who achieved modest baseball success as a relief pitcher but gained greater fame and consequence in the game by writing about it, died last Saturday in Park Ridge, Ill. He was 84.

The cause was an infection he developed while recovering from a stroke, said his son, Timothy.

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In 1959, Mr. Brosnan, who played nine years in the major leagues, kept a diary of his experience as a pitcher, first with the St. Louis Cardinals and later, after a trade, with the Cincinnati Reds. Published the next year as “The Long Season,” it was a new kind of sportswriting — candid, shrewdly observed, and highly literate, more interested in presenting the day-to-day lives and the actual personalities of the men who played the game than in maintaining the fiction of ballplayers as all-American heroes and role models.

Written with a slightly jaundiced eye, the book is often given credit for changing the nature of baseball writing, anticipating the literary reporting of Roger Angell and Roger Kahn and others; setting the stage for “Veeck — as in Wreck,” the vibrant memoir of Bill Veeck, the maverick owner of several teams; and predating by a decade Jim Bouton’s more celebrated, more rambunctious (and more salacious) pitcher’s diary, “Ball Four.”

“The first workout was scheduled for 10 o’clock,” Mr. Brosnan wrote, in a typically arch passage, about the first day of spring training. “The clubhouse was filled by 9, and we sat around for an hour, anxious to go. But first came the speeches. Spring training has a convocation ceremony that follows strict patterns all over the baseball world. Manager speaks: ‘Wanna welcome all you fellows; wanna impress on you that you each got a chance to make this ballclub.’ (This hypocrisy is always greeted by an indulgent and silent snicker from the veterans of previous training camps.)”

The book created some resentment toward Mr. Brosnan within baseball. Joe Garagiola, the broadcaster and former player, called him “a kooky beatnik.” And in 1964, Mr. Brosnan, who had by then written a second book and contributed articles to magazines, was forced from the game because he would not sign a contract — he was then with the Chicago White Sox — that stipulated he could not publish any of his writing during the season.

But perhaps more remarkable was the reaction to Mr. Brosnan outside of baseball, where he was portrayed as something of an alien character: an athlete with a brain.

“Traditionally there are two kinds of baseball players — tobacco chewing, monosyllabic hard rocks, and freshly laundered heroes too young to appear in razor-blade commercials,” John Corry wrote in The New York Times, under the headline “No Comic Books for Brosnan.” “Jim Brosnan, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, is in a third class. He wrote a book about the other two kinds.”

In a long article, The Saturday Evening Post dissected Mr. Brosnan’s personality, going into detail about his prickliness and self-absorption as a young player and his history in analysis.

“Brosnan is quite possibly the most intellectual creature ever to put on [a] major league uniform,” the writer of the article, Al Silverman, declared.

James Patrick Brosnan was born in Cincinnati to parents who, as he would describe them, were unhappy with each other and interested in very different things. His father, John, who worked for a milling machine company, had one interest: baseball. His mother, Rose, was a nurse who introduced her children to literature and music.

As a boy, Jim was a reader, a musician — he played the trombone and, later, the piano — and a ballplayer. He signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs before his 17th birthday, although he had a rocky time of it in the minors — one season he was 4-17 — and would not reach the big leagues until 1954.

Between 1951 and 1953, Mr. Brosnan’s career was interrupted by stateside service in the Army, during which he played baseball, tried to write, and met the woman who would be his wife.

“I had promised myself that I’d write a book about my Army experiences,” Mr. Brosnan wrote in 2001, in an introduction to a new edition of “The Long Season.” “Hemingway did it, didn’t he? Mailer. James Jones. Irwin Shaw. The trouble was this: My only Army experience worth writing about was my honeymoon. ‘Pitcher Marries Pitcher’ should have been the headline when, on June 23, 1952, Anne Stewart Pitcher married Jim Brosnan, pitcher.”

Anne Brosnan died last year. In addition to their son, Mr. Brosnan, who lived for more than half a century in Morton Grove, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, leaves two daughters, Jamie Kruidenier and Kimberlee Brosnan-Myers; a brother, Michael; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Brosnan’s career as both a pitcher and a writer took a positive turn when he was traded by the Cubs to the Cardinals in 1958. Goaded by a writer friend, he wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about being traded, and that led to “The Long Season.”

He pitched well in his first year in St. Louis, going 8-4 as both a starter and a reliever. Traded to the Reds in June 1959, he eventually became a full-time reliever and had his best success. His career record was 55-47, with a 3.54 ERA and 67 saves.

In 1961, his best year, he was 10-4 and saved 16 games for a Reds team that won the National League pennant. His second book was an account of that season, and with the addition of the drama of the pennant race — the book, in fact, was called “Pennant Race” — some critics found it superior to “The Long Season.” Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Arnold Hano, the author of another much-admired baseball book, “A Day in the Bleachers,” called it “one of the best baseball books ever written.”

After his retirement from baseball, Mr. Brosnan wrote sports books for children and contributed to many publications, including the Times. But his accomplishment as a writer came to be best recognized after decades of perspective.

“At the dawn of the 1960s, the literature of baseball was paltry,” critic Jonathan Yardley wrote in the Washington Post in 2004. “Some good fiction had been inspired by the game, notably Ring Lardner’s ‘You Know Me Al’ and Bernard Malamud’s ‘The Natural,’ but nonfiction was little more than breathless sports-page reportage: hagiographic biographies of stars written for adolescents (‘Lou Gehrig: Boy of the Sandlots’), as told-to-quickies (‘Player-Manager’ by Lou Boudreau), and once-over-lightly histories of the game (‘The Baseball Story’ by Fred Lieb).

“Then one book changed everything: ‘The Long Season’ by a little-known relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds named Jim Brosnan.”

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