Thursday, July 3, 2014

To Absent Friemds - Jim Brosnan and Louis Zamperini

Two notable deaths to talk about this morning, Jim Brosnan, 84, and Louis Zamperini, 97.

Jim Brosnan had what can be described at best as a journeyman career as a pitcher in the major leagues - nine seasons from 1954 to 1963 with four teams and a record of 55-47, 3.54.  However, Brosnan proved to be a bit more erudite than the average major leaguer at the time when, in 1960, he published a book called "The Long Season".

The book was written in diary form and it covered the 1959 baseball season that Brosnan spent with the Cardinals and Reds.  In it, Brosnan told about the life of a major league ballplayer during the course of a baseball season.  It was not the typical baseball book that the public had been used to reading.  It talked about the insecurities of being a ball player, what it's like to get traded, what it was like to negotiate a contract in what was then a completely one-sided system, the highs and lows, and what guys talked about while sitting in the bullpen.  

"The Long Season" didn't dwell on all behaviors of professional ballplayers.  Jim Bouton's "Ball Four", published ten years later, would do that, but it was a trail-blazing book in terms of sports journalism.  

I remember reading "The Long Season" back when it came out, when I would have been 11 or 12 years old.  I reread it again about five years ago, and I recall that it held up very well some 50 years after it was published.  Brosnan also wrote a second book, "Pennant Race", about the Reds drive to the National League pennant in 1961, but it is "The Long Season" for which he will be forever remembered.


The story of Louis Zamperini was told compellingly in Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 book, "Unbroken".

This is what I wrote in The Grandstander on February 22, 2011, and it will serve as my remembrance of this extraordinary man:

Let's start with a book, Laura Hillenbrand's #1 bestseller, "Unbroken." I just finished reading the incredible story of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was a young member of the 1936 American Olympic track team in Berlin, who was looking to be right on track, no pun intended, to win a gold medal for the USA in the 1500 Meter race in the 1940 Olympics that were scheduled to be in Tokyo.

Of course, WWII intervened and those Olympics never took place. Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps and therein lies an amazing story. In 1943, Louie's plane crashed over the Pacific, he survived for 47 days floating in a raft in the ocean, was captured by the Japanese and then spent two and one-half years in several POW camps.

It is a most compelling story of perseverance and the triumph of the human spirit, and an incredibly sad and depressing story of man's inhumanity to man. At times while reading the book, I felt like I couldn't take much more of this story, but in the end, you are in awe of what Zamperini and his fellow POW's withstood.

Not to give too much away, but here is one statistic that will give you some idea of this. In WWII, 1 in 100 American POW's held in Germany and Italy died. Of the Americans held as POW's in Japanese camps, 1 in 3 died.

No doubt, this is an important and worthwhile book, but Hillenbrand's book of a few years back, "Seabiscuit", was a lot more fun to read.

RIP Jim Brosnan and Louis Zamperini.

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