Literature

Jim Brosnan, Pitcher of Baseballs, Chronicler of Baseball

Pennant RaceJim Brosnan, for a time one of the better relief pitchers in the National League, a member of the pennant-winning Cincinnati Reds in 1961, passed away June 29 at age 84. More even than for his pitching, Brosnan was noteworthy for his forays into the baseball-book canon. Jim Bouton is widely considered the first insider to expose the true lives of ballplayers, but when Brosnan’s The Long Season was published in 1960, Bouton was a 21-year-old in the Carolina League and still more than a decade away from a literary career. Brosnan wrote openly about how it feels to be a major league baseball player, in a way that nobody had before attempted let alone pulled off with such panache. And he truly wrote openly; no ghostwriting services were used.

His follow up effort, Pennant Race¸ about Cincinnati’s run toward glory in 1961, was equally compelling. Part of his truth-telling, of course, included the game’s unwritten rules, passages which serve as a snapshot in time. They capture not just baseball as Brosnan played it, but show just how much things have changed in the modern game. It’s a time capsule, freezing attitudes just the way they were.

Even all these years later, the words jump from the page. There’s little doubt that, when it came to multiple skill sets, Brosnan could spin a phrase better than any writer could spin a curveball. In honor of Brosnan and his efforts, here are some passages from Pennant Race that discuss retaliation and intimidation. Things couldn’t be more different.

Hunt and Sanford, of the Giants, dueled for six innings, tied up 2-2. Mays tried to steal second in the sixth, spikes up, cutting Elio Chacon, our Venezuelan second baseman, as he tagged Mays out.

“Mays slid a little high, didn’t he?” asked Bevan. Chacon was carried past our bench to the clubhouse, his sliced thigh visible, bleeding from three spike wounds.

“Somebody’ll have to knock Mays down now,” I pointed out. “Can’t have any rough stuff this early in the year.”

 

After you knock a hitter down, you still have to throw strikes on the next pitches. Unless you hit him. And that’s not the idea at all. No pitcher wants the hitter to reach base; he just wants to loosen them up a little with a judiciously placed scare ball.

 

[Joey] Jay lined a bases-loaded double off Don Drysdale to break up the game and smash hell out of Drysdale’s disposition. Drysdale absorbed the shock of Jay’s double numbly, but well enough to retire the side. On the Dodger bench, he fumed, burned, and blew up.

To start the sixth he threw a fastball behind Blasingame’s head. Blazer popped up the next pitch, so Drysdale knocked Pinson down with consecutive pitches. Pinson hit the third pitch to left for a double, and Drysdale threw the rosin bag into the air in disgust. When it came down he dusted his fingers and threw three straight pitches at Robinson. The third one hit Robbie on the arm, and Boggess, the umpire, threw Drysdale out of the game.

“That’s enough throwing,” Boggess said to Alston and Hutchinson. “I’ve had enough.”

Drysdale’s tantrum had angered his own catcher, Roseboro, who said to Robinson, “you know I ain’t callin’ ’em.” (The catcher is subject to retaliatory pitches from the opposing side, which often can’t get at the pitcher.)

 

In the ninth [Joey Jay] threw two pitches over Amaro’s head in retaliation for a knockdown pitch that had bounced off Frank Robinson’s helmet in the eighth. Ed Vargo, the plate umpire, ran out to the mound to warn Jay not to throw at another hitter. And Hutchinson ran out to tell Vargo that he, Hutch, had told Jay to knock some Philly hitter down because “I’m not gonna stand by and see my boys hit in the head. I’ll do something about it. You umpires don’t seem to be able to!”

Hutch told Vargo to throw him out, not Jay, and when Vargo did just that, Hutch told him where he could stick the automatic fine that results from an umpire’s eviction order.

 

Sherman Jones shook his head at the suggestion that he picked the blue bill of a Cub’s cap as target number one.

“I can’t throw at a batter’s head. What if you would hit it? And killed him? How could you pitch again? Or live with yourself?”

His remarks sounded as if they came from a pitcher it less dedicated to Hutchinson then to his own conscience. Nice guys sometimes get hurt on the mound by line drives.

 

 

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