Jim Brosnan, a baseball-hurler-turned-word-twirler, died last week, as the New York Times noted yesterday. From the estimable Bruce Weber’s obit:
Jim Brosnan, Who Threw Literature a Curve, Dies at 84
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 on June 29 in Park Ridge, Ill. He was 84.
In 1959, 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, shrewd 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.
That’s all well-deserved and good, but then Weber lets Jonathan Yardley get away with this quote:
“At the dawn of the 1960s the literature of baseball was paltry,” the 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.”
Except Yardley completely ignores the contributions to sportswriting of the great W.C. Heinz, whose work went way beyond “hagiographic biographies of stars written for adolescents . . . and once-over-lightly histories of the game.”
Heinz went deep, as his 2008 Times obituary noted:
W. C. Heinz, 93, Writing Craftsman, Dies
W. C. Heinz, the sports columnist, war correspondent, magazine writer and novelist who was considered one of the finest journalistic stylists of his era, died Wednesday in Bennington, Vt. He was 93 . . .
From the 1940s to the 1960s, Mr. Heinz was among America’s foremost sports journalists, but his writing ranged beyond the sporting world. His contemporaries included Red Smith, A. J. Liebling, John Lardner, Grantland Rice and Jimmy Cannon. A colleague at The New York Sun, Frank Graham, was quoted in a Sports Illustrated profile of Mr. Heinz as having said, “At his best, he’s better than any of us.”
Just read Heinz’s devastating Death of a Racehorse from 1949 to know that Yardley’s assessment is eight yards of eyewash.
Not to mention Heinz’s 1958 novel The Professional, which Ernest Hemingway called the only good novel about boxing he had ever read. Or go to your local public library, take out Once They Heard the Cheers, and read Heinz’s heartbreaking profile of Floyd Patterson.
Jonathan Yardley doesn’t know what he’s talking about.