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Remembering Jim Brosnan

A look back at a literary baseball life

Jim Brosnan, Cincinnati native, major league pitcher, author, Army veteran, husband and father has passed away. He was 84, and is survived by his three children and four grandchildren. As a major league pitcher, Brosnan spent time with the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and White Sox, mostly serving as a relief pitcher or swingman, capable of relieving or making the occasional spot start. He is primarily known today as the author of two books about his baseball life, The Long Season and Pennant Race.

James Patrick Brosnan was born on October 24, 1929, in Cincinnati to John Brosnan, a lathe operator, and Rose Brosnan, a nurse and piano teacher. He was one of five children. Brosnan attended Elder High School, where he only played one year of baseball. Instead, he played on a very successful American Legion team, where one of his teammates was the recently deceased Don Zimmer. Brosnan’s team made the national finals in 1946, and in November of that year, at the age of 17, he signed with the Chicago Cubs.

Brosnan’s rise through the Cubs’ minor league system was a difficult one. As a bookish and shy young man, he struggled to fit in with his fellow players. At one point he packed his bags and left his minor league team to return to Cincinnati. Further complicating his minor league career was the fact that it was interrupted by two years of service in the Army. Fortunately, he was not sent to Korea, but in fact spent his time at Fort Meade, Maryland. Even more fortunately, it was there that he met his future wife, the coincidentally named Anne Stewart Pitcher. The two married only six months after they first met, and stayed married until her death in 2013.

After he got out of the Army, Brosnan returned to the Cubs’ system and made his major league debut on April 15, 1954 at Wrigley Field against his hometown Cincinnati Reds. He pitched two innings, giving up two runs on two hits and a walk. Even as a major league player, Brosnan’s intellectualism often set him apart from his teammates, but he had decent success with the Cubs, and was even their opening day starter in 1958. Later that season, though, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for former Rookie of the Year and multiple time All-Star Alvin Dark.

The next season, after being encouraged by a friend who wrote for Sports Illustrated, Brosnan kept a day by day diary which would be published as the book The Long Season. The book was revolutionary when it was published in 1960, as it was the first truly honest account of the life of a major league ballplayer. For the first time ever, Brosnan wrote about extracurricular activities among ballplayers on the road, although he kept things appropriately vague. Most notable about The Long Season is how clearly Brosnan’s warmth and humor shines through the entire book, and how obviously devoted he was to his wife. Although the book was (and remains) remarkably well received by critics and the general public, some of Brosnan’s contemporaries were unsurprisingly outraged by his breaking of the unwritten rules that forbade such honesty.

During the course of the 1959 season, as described in the book, Brosnan was traded to the Reds. He was reunited with his friend and former manager Fred Hutchinson, and in 1960, he put up the best statistical season of his career. Also, he was on the 1961 Reds team that won the National League pennant but lost the World Series. Even more fortunately, he had chosen that year to write another day by day diary of the season, which was published as Pennant Race. Those two books are a must read for any Reds fans, baseball fans and especially anybody who enjoyed Jim Bouton’s later, similar, more ribald Ball Four.

In 1963, the Reds traded Brosnan to the Chicago White Sox, who the following season demanded he take a pay cut and sign a contract promising not to write anymore. By that time, however, he had carved out a respectable career as a freelance writer, contributing to several major magazines of the day. Brosnan stood up for his convictions and refused to agree to the stipulations, so the White Sox released him. Despite the fact that he was only 34 and was still an effective Major League caliber relief pitcher, no other teams signed him, likely because he had been branded an untrustworthy troublemaker.

After his baseball career ended, Brosnan worked for an advertising agency and continued to write for various magazines well into the 1970’s. He also published a few baseball books for children. He and his wife remained in the home in suburban Chicago they purchased together just after their marriage. Between his family, his playing career and his writing career, by all accounts Jim Brosnan led an exceptionally rich and rewarding life. Today he is remembered as a very good baseball player, a wonderful writer and a devoted family man. He will be missed.