The Professor (1929-2014)

In 1960, the U.S. Air Force, ever on the alert to avoid waste—except on cost overruns for faulty aircraft—decided to feed the troops c-rations from World War II. I was a raw 19-year-old when I dined on the canned delicacy one evening at Stead AFB in Nevada. In the middle of the night my stomach rudely reported that the cuisine lacked nutrition. I got food poisoning.

After a day or two in the base hospital with an iv pinned to my arm, I felt much better. But like Yossarian in Catch-22, I grew to love lying about in the hospital, so I settled in for a stint of gold-bricking. The librarian at the base library where I worked brought me a new book that had just arrived. The Long Season, by Jim Brosnan, still remains one of my favorite baseball books. Brosnan, a relief pitcher for the Cardinals and Reds, kept a diary of the 1959 season and turned it into the book. I just found out that Jim Brosnan died six weeks ago. He was 84.

He pitched for 10 seasons (1954-63), mainly in relief, compiling an ERA of 3.54. His best years were with the Reds. He helped them win the pennant in 1961, publishing another great book, Pennant Race. Brosnan, unlike other athletes, wrote the books without help.

James Patrick Brosnan was born in Cincinnati on October 24, 1929. His father was a lathe operator and baseball fan who took his son to Reds games His mother, a nurse and piano teacher, taught young Jim to play. Before long he was playing classical pieces. He also studied Latin for seven years and took an interest in philosophy as he honed his baseball skills. After finishing high school at 16, Jim pitched in American Legion games in the late 1940s. A scout for the Cubs signed him at 17 and sent him to the minor leagues.

He may have been smart, but Jim was still immature. In the midst of a bad outing in 1948, he walked off the mound and quit baseball. After returning to the game, he again had troubles. He quit again and joined the Army. Stationed at a post in Virginia, Brosnan met a civilian employee, Anne Steward Pitcher, who enjoyed classical music. He asked her to a concert, and six months later they got married. After Brosnan’s discharge, they bought a home in Morton Grove, Illinois near Chicago.

The Cubs signed him again and introduced him to Arthur Meyerhoff, a team stockholder. Meyerhoff saw that Brosnan was “brilliant and sensitive.” He urged him to seek counseling. After two years of therapy, while he resumed his baseball career, Brosnan said, “Analysis, my marriage, and knowing Mr. Meyerhoff,were the most important steps in my social readjustment.”

He might have mentioned another influence—his slider. It got him to the majors and launched his success as a big league pitcher. But Brosnan never abandoned his interest in philosophy and music. He carried books on the road—including Dostoevsky and Stendhal—and was often seen reading on the train rides. Frank Robinson, the great hall of famer and teammate, dubbed him “Professor.” The Professor loved talking jazz with Brooks Lawrence, a Negro pitcher with the Reds.

When The Long Season came out in 1960, the literary world lavished praise. Jonathan Yardley called it “The best ‘inside’ book ever written about sports.” The New Yorker: “Probably the best factual book in the literature of baseball.” The acclaim was not universal. The lords of the realm were not happy with references to the many “martini hours” and the inside-look at contract negotiations that revealed the master/slave relationship between owners and players. Even some players, perhaps whiffing on the irony, found the book and its author a mystery. Joe Garagiola called Brosnan “a kookie beatnik.”

In the end, the owners got their revenge. Traded to the White Sox after 1962, Brosnan’s pay was cut despite a good season, and he was told that he could not write or publish He quit baseball after the 1963 season when he posted an ERA of 2.84.

Brosnan wrote other books and scores of articles after his retirement. In 1966, he again ruffled some feathers—this time those of the hunting community—when he published in the Chicago Tribune Magazine, “Lo, The Impudent Bird,” a first-person account about his resistance to hunting.

Anne Stewart died in 2013, a year before her husband. They were married 61 years.

(The information for this post is excerpted from an article by Mark Armour, available in Baseball Reference.)

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