You know how they say a child inherits his athletic ability from his mother? I’m going on record to say a child also inherits his love of reading from his mother. I know I did. My father taught me to love baseball. My mom showed me how to love reading. My mom is a world class reader, consuming upwards of 50+ books a year. She recently joined a club where she can buy books by the pound. She’s giddy about the deal, much like I would be if I could buy donuts by the pound. I don’t have the time to read 50 books a year, but on a one-week vacation, I can easily read five-to-six books, blowing through them like some people blow through six packs.
Against that backdrop, the box arrived late last week containing my copy of Joe Posnanski’s “Why We Love Baseball”. I tore through the box like an over caffeinated kid on Christmas morning. It was lovingly packed by Rainy Day Books in a sheet of bubble wrap. I immediately went to the signature page, where I’d asked Joe to inscribe a couple of lines. He one upped me by adding another line to the end, an unexpected cymbal crash that only Joe can pull off. And Joe, if you should read this, thank you for that.
I grew up reading Jim Murray, a titan in the sports writing business. If you didn’t like reading Murray, you need to turn in your library card and find another hobby. Later I moved onto the great Lewis Grizzard, who wrote about sports in the south, and many other things. He was followed by John Coit, a columnist with the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, until his untimely and early death. Coit was followed by my Jim Harrison phase. I call these phases, though obsessions would be more accurate. Harrison’s words were like a supernova going off in my brain. When I latch onto an author, I tend to read everything I can find by them. After Harrison’s death, I was left wandering the desert, looking for a writer whose works spoke to me.
My dear friend and former high school classmate, Tracee Hamilton, who was the longtime sports editor of the Washington Post, sent me a couple of boxes of baseball books. Most were classics and it took me about a year to digest those. Now I’m on a read it as they come out basis. I spend many Saturday mornings haunting my local Barnes and Noble, making sure I didn’t miss anything interesting.
Like many of you, I started reading Joe when he was a columnist at the Kansas City Star. Thanks to the power of the internet, I’ve been able to go back and read most of what he’s written in his career and in my opinion he’s the best sportswriter alive today. In fact, I think he’s the best writer, period. Joe could write about the local city council meeting, and I’d probably read it.
“Why We Love Baseball” is an instant classic, told in a way that only Joe can pull off. The book reminds me of another baseball classic, “The Glory of Our Times” by Lawrence Ritter.
I’m not going to delve into the book, in case you haven’t read it, other than to say after I read the first few chapters, I became a bit sad and nostalgic that it would come to an end. That’s how good the book is. If you’re a semi-serious baseball fan, and have read Joe for several years, you’ve heard some of these stories before, but believe me, there is plenty of fresh material. Some of them are fascinating, some of them are sad, some of them are hilarious. The book runs 363 pages and I continue to be amazed at Joe’s ability to craft stories out of thin air. If you haven’t subscribed to his blog, you need to pronto. It’s the best sports reading value out there. Joe somehow manages to produce a classic story almost on a daily basis. Simply amazing.
I’ve never met Joe, but it seems like we have a lot in common. Many of you probably feel the same. I think that’s the mark of an excellent writer. His story about Dan Quisenberry, fighting cancer, written in 1998, still makes my eyes well with tears. Joe’s wife Margo is from Cuba, Kansas. I spent some childhood years in nearby Concordia. Joe’s written often about Kansas State, my alma mater, and their incomparable coach Bill Snyder. He’s written tens of thousands of words about the Chiefs and Royals.
The Posnanskis live in North Carolina. I lived in North Carolina for a spell. We both spent some time in Georgia. Joe is from Cleveland. My oldest son lived in Cleveland for a while, and we visited the city often. I’m quite possibly one of the few people alive who will cop to actually liking Cleveland. I always thought Cleveland got a bad rap. When James lived there the Browns had just drafted Baker Mayfield and another stiff in the first round. Anything seemed possible for the Browns. The Indians were just down the street from James’ apartment. LeBron James was coming home. The Cleveland sports scene was hopping. Being a roller coaster fanatic, I loved going to Cedar Point. The Cleveland Art Museum is one of the best in the United States. Little Italy is a blast. I even enjoyed The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a place I’d been loath to visit, since they’ve been inducting a variety of musicians who were definitely not rock and rollers.
Can you believe that Kansas and Grand Funk Railroad are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Anyway, you get the idea. When Joe writes about Cleveland, or any other place, I can relate. I too had grown to love the city of Jim Brown, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Bob Hope, Travis Kelce and Otto Graham. And Joe Posnanski.