JOSEPH BOSCO has emerged as a ``phenom'' author of the current baseball season - a writer who connects on his very first trip to the big-league publishing plate. An amateur baseball coach for many years, he decided to write a novel on the minor leagues. Earl Winn, a Chicago Cubs scout and friend from Mississippi, chided him out of writing ``make-believe'' to get the real story on what happens when prospects enter the Bermuda Triangle known as baseball's farm system.
This subject, Mr. Bosco says in a phone interview, let him ``fill a gap'' and make a contribution to the sport's already-rich literary legacy. There are other modern works on the minors, but this one attempts to give a ``picture of how an organization works, how a corporation such as the Chicago Cubs manages its liquid assets - flesh-and-blood young men.'' While not an authorized book, Bosco's project was given the supportive nod of the Cubs in spring training two years ago, when players and coaches were encouraged to cooperate with him.
And they did, judging from the no-holds-barred picture that emerged from free access to the everyday affairs of the Peoria Chiefs, a lower-level minor league Cubs' farm club. Bosco followed the Chiefs throughout the '88 season, a ubiquitous presence in team meetings, at practices, in the locker room, and on the team bus. The clubhouse language quite often is coarse and the depictions sometimes unflattering. In fact, Bosco's name is mud with Pete Vonachen, who owned the team at the time.
``Pete never figured out I was a serious writer,'' Bosco says. ``He thought the book would glorify his ball club and would be sold at the souvenir stand.''
Bosco is pleased when his book is compared to Jim Bouton's ``Ball Four,'' the tell-all classic from 1970. Bosco, however, is quick to draw an important distinction. ``Bouton [a former major league pitcher] wrote his book on the sly. I wrote mine in the open and everyone knew what I was doing.''
His notebook and tape recorder were ever-visible tools, and Bosco claims he even set down the ``rules with Pete [Vonachen], the ballplayers, and the whole Cubs organization. I said anything that you do on or off this field that affects your career, this ball club particularly, or the Chicago Cubs system as a whole, we're going to write about it.'' As a result, he revealed some of the womanizing that went on, but he tried to do this judiciously. ``I think Bouton gratuitously destroyed some marriages, I did not,'' Bosco says. ``That is where I drew the line.''
Bosco says he's learned that most of the player reaction has been positive to his book, but from the beginning, he was concerned about offending people in print. ``[In fiction], whatever I make characters out to be, they never come up to me in a bar and want to punch me in the nose.''
Halfway through the project, his resolve to write an honest account was strengthened by Jimmy Piersall, a former major leaguer. ``He sat me down one day and said, `Joe, I've done two of these [frank books], and they raised a few hackles, but if you're going to spend this amount of time and have this opportunity that no one else has had, you've got to tell the truth.''