Sports Collectors Digest: False Spring

By Marty Appel

We lovers of baseball books grew up clinging to every word in Jim Brosnan’s two diaries and to Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four,” but in 1975 came a different sort of first person account, one that might have been titled, “Portrait of a Baseball Failure.”

It was a fascinating book actually called “A False Spring,” written by Connecticut native Pat Jordan, a highly touted pitching prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers organization who never hurled a single inning in the big leagues.

The cover of the first edition, a painting of a lonely figure on a minor league mound, makes you think the book is a novel. But in fact, it’s not only a true story; it is really the story of 98 of every 100 minor league players – the guys who don’t make it.

For all of the computerization we’ve seen with baseball records, no one has yet compiled the all-time roster of minor league players, based on the annual records shown in each season’s Baseball Guide. I wish I had a nickel for everyone I’ve ever met who told me they played minor league ball, unaware that such things could be researched. Somewhere in those books from the ’50s, Jordan, Pat, appears, hurling in various seasons for McCook, Davenport, Waycross, Eau Claire and Palatka. He was the real deal.

It was 13 years later that, having discovered a talent for writing, he delivered to Dodd Mead his third book, his own story of hopes and dreams snuffed out.

His first book, “Black Coach,” was about a black coach of a white team. His second, “The Suitors of Spring,” contained reprints of magazine length articles he had done for Sports Illustrated. Then came “False Spring” and people noticed.

“The best of the bunch this season is ‘A False Spring’ by Pat Jordan” wrote Joe Durso in the New York Times Book Review. ” {It is the story of Jordan} who got into the whirlpool of professional sports as a teen-ager and escaped four years later with broken dreams and no control of his fastball. He did develop control of his literary style, though, and he gets right to the point early.

“For the next 276 pages, Jordan remembers how his illusions started: how he had a $30 glove at 11; how he was excused from school on the days he pitched in the Little League; how he rewarded his elders with four straight no-hitters at 12. Best of all, he remembers how his illusion ended: in the boring little towns where 14 young hurlers clutched at a career in one summer but only one named Phil Niekro made it.”

Although the book has stayed in print through most of the last three decades through various publishers, (currently through University of Nebraska Press), it was never a big seller; more of a cult classic. Jordan says that none of his books ever really sold much, (“I’m a cult failure”), although his later autobiography, “A Nice Tuesday,” is actually his favorite, “a more natural look back at that period of my life, when I wasn’t trying to adapt a character to be Pat Jordan.”

A fascinating insight is offered into the Braves’ treatment of a chubby catcher named Joe Torre, who received a similar bonus to Jordan’s, and Pat himself. During a spring training session, Jordan, favoring a tender arm, was not throwing hard and the hitters were complaining. Torre, catching Jordan, strode ten steps toward the mound to voice his displeasure. As he turned his back to walk to the plate, Jordan clocked him in the back of his mask with the baseball, dislodging the mask. Off went Jordan to a lower minor league the next day.

“Torre’s brother was a big leaguer. He was going places. They already knew I wasn’t.” he says.

Still, Torre knows Jordan to this day on sight (despite the white beard and ever present cigar), for Jordan continues to arrive on the baseball scene from time to time, working on stories for The New York Times Magazine. He has also written for Playboy, GQ and AARP, and in fact, “I do whoever pays.” He counts the magazine articles in the “thousands.”

In fact, his own website,, is a feast for his fans – lots of unpublished material, the opportunity to buy his old books, the opportunity to leave feedback, and a chance to read some unreleased gems, like the 44-page “Devil in Eric Show,” available for $1.99 on the site.

Pat and his wife (actress Meg Ryan’s mother), live in Ft. Lauderdale today. At 65, he tends to his website, continues to write, and pops up occasionally at big league ballparks, where of course, fewer and fewer people are around with whom he played. But while most of his minor league teammates long ago stopped being productive, Pat is still working his craft, and finding new fans with each new story.