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.
- Katie the Prefect (Joe Blogs)
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:
- Dodgers Past & Present by Steven Travers (reviewed by Sax)
- 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Jon Weisman (reviewed by Orel)
- The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci (reviewed by AC)