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Friday, February 14, 2020

Baseball as Workplace Documentary

Recently I reread Jim Bouton’s Ball Four (after nearly 50 years!). Then I read Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season, because I had heard several times that Brosnan’s book was the best (and first) book ever written by a major league baseball player.

First, perhaps. But certainly not the best. Ball Four is better by the distance of a Mickey Mantle home run. The New York Public Library thought so too. In 1996 it named Ball Four one of its best books of the preceding century. Think of that. When Bouton died last year, his obituaries praised the work, which I hadn’t recalled as being so rich.

If Rotten Tomatoes rated literature, Ball Four would score 98. More about that later. First a little about Brosnan’s The Long Season: The Classic Inside Account of a Baseball Year, 1959 (available on Amazon in paperback, for $9.99 before shipping).

Jim Brosnan wanted to be a writer more than he wanted to be a baseball player. Because he grew to 6-foot-4, he was pushed into sports, and he turned out to be good enough to pitch in the major leagues. He lasted nine seasons and was above average at that level (55 wins, 47 losses, a career ERA of 3.54, 68 career saves), but marginal enough to get traded three times in an era when better players tended to spend most of their careers with a single team. The Long Season is his diary of a season pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals and then the Cincinnati Reds.

A consideration of two books on baseball- would you agree with the assessments of them offered here?

QLE Posted: February 14, 2020 at 01:15 AM | 16 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: ball four, jim bouton, jim brosnan, literature, the long season

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   1. Hank Gillette Posted: February 14, 2020 at 02:55 AM (#5924375)
The author seems unaware that Bouton had a ghostwriter, Leonard Shecter. Bouton may have provided the raw stories, but Shecter was an experienced sportswriter and author, and turned them into a very readable book.
   2. PreservedFish Posted: February 14, 2020 at 09:26 AM (#5924389)
Ball Four has a very interesting form, and I'd be curious how much of that was Shecter, and how much Bouton.
   3. SandyRiver Posted: February 14, 2020 at 10:53 AM (#5924408)
Before working on Ball Four, Shecter wrote a book called The Jocks in which he displayed his utter contempt for professional sports and those who played them. He styled himself as an iconoclast but I'd call him a dirt hound, always looking for and highlighting the worst in people. Ball Four has a lot less of that character than The Jocks but still a lot more than I cared for, though I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

The Long Season remains my favorite baseball book, slightly ahead of The Last Boy. (Mick was by far my favorite player during his career.) Brosnan called himself a cynic but couldn't hide his love for the game and a competitive spirit. I prefer quiet wit to slapstick humor, which helps to push TLS to the top. When I first picked up the book at the store (in 1960, IIRC), I began reading JB's droll definitions on the book's early pages and reached for my money immediately.
   4. Perry Posted: February 14, 2020 at 11:23 AM (#5924410)
I agree with the author. Ball Four is better by miles, regardless of whether that's due to Bouton's talents or Schecter's. The Long Season is perfectly okay, I've read it twice, but I wanted to like it more than I did. Not even in my top 20 baseball books, while Ball Four is easily in the top 5 and maybe (like Brian Clough) in the top 1.
   5. pthomas Posted: February 14, 2020 at 12:00 PM (#5924416)
If you can't recognize how the USA in 1959 was different from the USA in 1969, you can't put these books in perspective.
I enjoyed the heck out of Brosnan's book when I read it at 15 or so.
Ball Four pretty much changed my life and my entire perspective about baseball when I read it at 17.
   6. winnipegwhip Posted: February 14, 2020 at 01:47 PM (#5924436)
I have read neither Ball Four nor TLS but I read Pat Jordan's A False Spring and thoroughly enjoyed it.
   7. DL from MN Posted: February 14, 2020 at 02:12 PM (#5924444)
If you like this type of book you should read Dirk Hayhurst's Bullpen Gospels.

I thought this was going to be about a TV show that would be The Office meets a major league baseball team.
   8. Morty Causa Posted: February 14, 2020 at 04:15 PM (#5924494)
The voice of Bouton in Ball Four (as well as the followups) seems authentic as hell. BF is my #1 baseball book. I can't speak for certain, for I know nothing of Shecter's work, but I suspect he did what editors do--offer a dispassionate reading, tell the writer what's clumsy and doesn't sound right, repetitive, merely inchoate, and inconsistent in tone. After that, it's about parsing credit to the parties. There is nothing like BF in baseball, or in sports, for that matter. The book gives a real sense of the game, the players, and associated personnel and hangers-on. It comes across as very real. You feel the sun, smell the grass and the locker room, and feel the sting of the taunts and horseplay, just like when you were in high school. It's a fine piece of literature as well. Ranks with the great diaries.

Brosnan's books are fine, workmanlike examples of the sports books. Bouton's book blows the whole genre up. It's a whole 'nuther smoke.
   9. Hank Gillette Posted: February 14, 2020 at 04:51 PM (#5924499)
If you can't recognize how the USA in 1959 was different from the USA in 1969, you can't put these books in perspective.
I enjoyed the heck out of Brosnan's book when I read it at 15 or so.

Brosnan undoubtedly could have told the type of stories Bouton did, but at the time, it just wasn’t done. The sportswriters who covered the teams and traveled with them protected the players from bad publicity and ignored bad behavior. As mild as Brosnan’s two books were, he retired rather than sign a contract that specified that he would not write another book about his baseball experiences.

That was the big breakthrough of Ball Four. It was the first sports book to let it all hang out. Anyone reading The Long Season after reading Ball Four would likely find it a little dull.

That said, in the succeeding 50 years, I don’t know of anyone who has done it better than Bouton and Shecter, perhaps because theirs was the only baseball book where the players/coaches/executives were relatively unguarded. After Ball Four, they suddenly realized that the things they did and said could end up in a book.
   10. Zach Posted: February 14, 2020 at 05:48 PM (#5924509)
Ball Four isn't just a tell-all book, though. It's not even that salacious by today's standards. It's more like a diary covering an interesting place and time.

Not a baseball book, but Andre Agassi's Open is really good. It's a really interesting story of somebody who is an all time great at his sport, but doesn't really like it. I'm sure the ghostwriter contributed a lot of the actual writing, but the stuff that makes it interesing is all Agassi.
   11. Zach Posted: February 14, 2020 at 05:50 PM (#5924511)
Veeck as in Wreck and Nice Guys Finish Last also illustrate how authorship is more than just putting words on paper. Two very different stories and attitudes toward baseball with the same ghostwriter IIRC.
   12. Zonk Begs Your Pardon, Mr Blago Posted: February 14, 2020 at 05:53 PM (#5924512)
I'm disappointed there are not yet any The Office suggestions...

I would probably nominate Brian McCann as Dwight Schrute... A-Rod is almost certainly Michael Scott... Jeter would be Jim Halpert, depending on whether your relative feelings towards both.
   13. Perry Posted: February 14, 2020 at 06:27 PM (#5924523)
Veeck as in Wreck and Nice Guys Finish Last also illustrate how authorship is more than just putting words on paper. Two very different stories and attitudes toward baseball with the same ghostwriter IIRC.


Yes, the great Ed Linn, the best baseball writer most people have never heard of. Everything he wrote or ghost-wrote was great, and he made Veeck sound like Veeck and Durocher sound like Durocher.
   14. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 14, 2020 at 06:28 PM (#5924526)
I would probably nominate Brian McCann as Dwight Schrute... A-Rod is almost certainly Michael Scott... Jeter would be Jim Halpert, depending on whether your relative feelings towards both.
Ryan Howard would be Ryan Howard.
   15. PreservedFish Posted: February 14, 2020 at 06:44 PM (#5924531)
I think Ball Four is a triumph. When I read it (at age 21, 40+ years after it was written) I was not prepared for how well-written and compelling it was going to be, nor how unconventional it was stylistically. I love the jaunty, disjointed pace, the way it flits between moods and subjects. In some ways it seems like a time capsule, but at other moments Bouton speaks with ageless clarity. Sometimes about baseball, sometimes about other things.

Not a baseball book, but Andre Agassi's Open is really good. It's a really interesting story of somebody who is an all time great at his sport, but doesn't really like it. I'm sure the ghostwriter contributed a lot of the actual writing, but the stuff that makes it interesing is all Agassi.


Agassi supposedly paid one of the highest ghostwriter fees of all time, to the author J.R. Moehringer, who wrote much-lauded The Tender Bar. I've wanted to read this for a while.
   16. Zach Posted: February 14, 2020 at 08:01 PM (#5924539)
Agassi supposedly paid one of the highest ghostwriter fees of all time, to the author J.R. Moehringer, who wrote much-lauded The Tender Bar.

If he did, it was worth it. It would be easy to come across as a prick, a whiner, or a spoiled brat when you're writing about how you never really enjoyed your Hall of Fame career. Instead, he comes across as vulnerable and honest.

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