Obituary: Jim Brosnan / Relief pitcher changed style of baseball writing

Oct. 24, 1929 - June 28, 2014

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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 Saturday in Park Ridge, Ill. He was 84.

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

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 -- but only slightly -- 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.

James Patrick Brosnan was born in Cincinnati on Oct. 24, 1929.

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, Anne Stewart Pitcher, who would be his wife.

Anne Brosnan died last year.

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."

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