Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: The Soul of Baseball

The lovely Mrs. Orel was kind enough to gift me with a Kindle this Xmas. My first e-book purchase? The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America by Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski (not pictured at the left. That's Jeff Bezos).

SoSG readers know we are big fans of Posnanski, who marries a sharp and rational baseball mind with a skill for lucid, convincing writing. He's now one of my favorite sportswriters (along with Gary Smith, Steve Rushin and pre-repeating-himself Rick Reilly). Combine Posnanski's considerable talents with a subject as worthy as Buck O'Neil and the Negro Leagues, and you get one must-read book. Naturally, I got to it three years after it came out.

No matter, as The Soul of Baseball is timeless, despite viewing the Negro Leagues, which had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, through the eyes of O'Neil, who was 93 when Posnanski decided to write a book about him. While the pairing came naturally — Posnanski wrote for the Kansas City Star, and O'Neil played for and managed the Kansas City Monarchs (and later scouted for the Royals) — the exact focus of the book was not quite as straightforward.

As Posnanski describes it, his project started as a recollection of one particular Negro League game and morphed into a Buck O'Neil travelogue. History buffs will still find plenty of Negro League-era details; the book does an effective job of detailing the gameplay and personalities of the time. But its shining strength is simply being a first-person account of spending time with Buck O'Neil.

How to describe Buck O'Neil? Words like survivor and irrepressible and optimist come to mind, but they diminish the complexity of a man who played so many roles on and off the field, who endured more than is imaginable — and who nonetheless came through it all with a self-awareness, a sense of humor and a giving nature. Reading about Buck O'Neil will make you want to be a better person.

And reading Joe Posnanski's work will make you weep — either from emotion or despair, because how can we hope to write half this well? Conversational but not casual, Posnanski's writing eschews sentiment — the word plainspoken, but only in the most positive sense, comes to mind — yet his writing somehow makes you feel sentimental.

As an example, please see his non-sports, Harry Potter-related blog post:

If that didn't move you a least a little bit, then you, sir or madam, are a total hardass. But if you liked it, then you'll love The Soul of Baseball. Get your mitts on a copy and get jazzed for a good book, for baseball, and for life in general.

Other book reviews at SoSG:


Fred's Brim said...

I am working my way through My 66 Years in the Big Leagues, the Connie Mack autobiography I found on the shelf when I went home for Christmas. So far, it been mostly Connie talking about how good the good players were, especially Ty Cobb. Considering how reviled Cobb was, I am surprised to read Mack shower praise over him.
The other interesting thing so far has been the stories of Rube Waddell. I had heard the name but didn't realize he was such a cuckoo bird.

I am excited to finish this book so I can read something else

Fernie V said...

Cool Orel, I thought I was the only sports fan who read book. Next how do you like your Kindle. I am interested but afraid I will miss turning pages and adding books to my library.

Orel said...

@FV Strangely enough, those seem to be the only features the Kindle lacks. The convenience of accessing just about any book instantly is huge (especially when you're traveling), and it's got nifty features like a built-in dictionary so you can look up any word on the page.

I think a Kindle can still be compatible with library-building, especially if you're the type who always likes to have reading material handy.

spank said...

Rube Waddell is my hero.

I have a Leo Durocher book called "Dodgers and Me" that recounts shenanigans from the 1940's. It's a good, quick read in 4th grade writing fashion,which I prefer.

Fernie V said...

I am a Feinstein guy. Not intentionally just looked at my books and have a couple of his books.

karina said...

@Fernie there are lots of book lovers around this blog!.

Thanks Orel, for the finding of the day,my eyes got wet, specially because I do understand Elizabeth. Katie the Prefect rocks!

However, there's a comment that caught my attention:

"FYI, houses of Harry Potter in baseball terms:
Hufflepuff: Kirk Reuter
Ravenclaw: Greg Maddux
Gryffindor: Brian Wilson
Slytherin: Roger Clemens"

I got slightly pissed because this person used two Jints to set examples of Hogwarts houses,though Roger Clemens as a Slytherin is PERFECT.

who would you choose if you were the Sorting Hat? I, for starters, would choose Koufax as a true Gryffindor.

karen said...

I have read Weisman's "100 things..." as well and really enjoyed it. I thought I knew just about everything where the Dodgers were concerned and found out how little I really did know.

Nostradamus said...


I second what Karina said, you're definitely in the right place. I've got a pretty decent little library started on my iPad, but it's not really a perfect substitute.

I dig the convenience of the e-books, but I can't imagine ever completely switching over from paper-and-ink.

Fernie V said...

I started reading "Shit My Dad Says" (spanky you would love it) on my phone and had to buy the book. Then I tried reading "Brain Rules for Baby" and had to buy the book. So I am hesitant to buy a reader. I had a friend and Oprah say they had the same reservations and now love their reader. Any suggestions out there?

Fernie V said...

I am just wondering, am I holding onto my books like the old guy holding onto his records and CDs.

Josh S. said...

Joba, Andruw, and now Bartolo.

That sound you hear is the Yankees' chef screaming, "Oh, fuck ME!"

Nostradamus said...


No, there is unequivocally something appealing about analog books. If it's a good enough read, I'm guaranteed to buy it to put on the shelf.

However, the e-reader can't be beat for travel convenience, and you don't have to lug 50 pounds of paper to keep yourself entertained.

Given the choice, I'll always opt for paper, but I'm not always at home with my library at my disposal.

Nostradamus said...

Then again, I may be holding onto my books like the old guy holding onto his records and CDs.

Josh S. said...

I love love love our Kindle.

The one thing I wish it had was a better variety of fonts (or for the Kindle books themselves to come in the same font as the print version). The right font can go a long way toward establishing the "personality" (for lack of a better word) of the book.

Fernie V said...

Hey DB, you ever read books on your iPad. How many of you use a different reading device? No one commented on how Oprah and I are on a first name basis.

Fernie V said...

Karen, gave your Harry Potter post some deep thoughts. Then realized I haven't seen a full movie or read a Harry Potter book.

spank said...

Thanks for the tip,Ferns.Looks like someone beat me to writing that book.

@ Everyone

Damn, you peeps read that much you need a device to get you through your travels and stuff? Either you really are nerds or I'm an idiot. I'll bet on the former but I'm sure of the latter. BTW,I'm the guy who still listens to records and cassettes. But if you call me old I'll beat you with a Steel Reserve 40oz bottle.

Orel said...

@FV I liked your Oprah name-drop. It shows you are Living Your Best Life™®.

If you're considering an e-reader, be sure to hold one in your hands first. The Kindle screen isn't backlit — they've given it a flat, non-reflective surface, not unlike actual paper. And you turn pages with a button click. The iPad screen is much brighter (you can read it in the dark) and you turn the pages by swiping your finger across the screen, which is much more satisfying than a button click. But then again, you're paying a few hundred more bucks for the privilege.

Kyle Baker said...

Sorry just now getting to your question FV-

I read books all the time on my iPad. loveLoveLOVE it. I also have a Kindle which I rarely touch any more. I also have old skool books (and lots of them).

I have no hesitation to go digital and read most books on my iPad. The distinction I'd make is that if there is a book I know I like or am going to want to keep for posterity, then I will likely get a paper version, For instance, a coffee table book (this seems obvious) or a reference book, or just a cherished classic. But I see no reason why if I'm reading something like, say, a current affairs book, I won't almost exclusively buy these in digital.

Kyle Baker said...

Beard Mode - engage!


spank said...

I could have used a Kindle for the last 4 hours.