You may have some of his cards in your vintage collection and never knew much about Jim Brosnan, who passed away last week. While not many average fans remember Brosnan, he had a big impact on the game through his writing. I guess you could say he was Jim Bouton before Jim Bouton.
Brosnan was a fine reliever for several teams in the 1950′s and 1960′s but is better known for his first two books: “The Long Season ” and “Pennant Race.” Although these books did not have the cuss words that Ball Four had nor some of the humanizing of superstars such as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. And as we discovered 20 years ago, Mantle was all too human. Brosnan’s books were very honest in telling his stories about a typical major league season.
While some people believe these books were responsible for the early end of his career, I think if you look at Brosnan’s age, I’m not sure that’s the case. While some may have shied away from giving him another year or two, there is little doubt his career pattern fit a fairly normal reliever pattern of that time. To me, what is more interesting is how Jim Bouton has maintained a much higher level of interest among collectors dating back to the 1970’s.
Bouton’s Ball Four was certainly a seminal piece of baseball literature, showing the human aspects of players from their constant interest in women to the coarse language used on a seemingly minute by minute basis. In thinking more about the difference in the two players, Bouton’s book come later and built upon what Brosnan had done. Bouton was much more “media savvy” and although Brosnan wrote some more books and also was a sportscaster for a while, Bouton did all that and more. In addition, Bouton even made a return to the majors late in the 1970′s. In retrospect, it would have been cool if Topps had produced a 1979 Topps Jim Bouton card.
Today, Bouton’s cards still command a decent premium (and he does have some reasonably difficult Topps cards) while you rarely hear anyone ever ask for Brosnan, who had a 1955 Bowman rookie card and a long run of Topps (and Post Cereal) cards after that.
So while we celebrate the life of Jim Brosnan and wonder why he is not as famous as Jim Bouton, we can look at both of their card careers and thank them for the groundwork they did in showing just how normal the average major leaguer really is.
And while Brosnan’s book never developed the cult following that Ball Four maintains to this day, you can read those books and compare what Brosnan thinks of Stan Musial to what Bouton wrote about Mickey Mantle. We can thank both of these authors for what they did for sports journalism and for making card collecting a little more fun, too.