GUEST POST Book talk: “The Soul of Baseball, ” by Joe Posnanski

Today’s guest blogger is posting his very first book review, so please be kind. However, his selection is pretty close to his normal sports-blogging turf, and I think he did pretty well with it – but then again, what do I know? I’m only his mother, but I hope you find his contribution as enjoyable as I did. Find out a little more about Chris at the end of this post.

It’s probably best to start this with a word of warning: I have no earthly idea how to do an actual, honest-to-God book review. I’m guessing it probably passes for heresy* in these parts, but …hey, that’s how it is. Can’t change that at this point.

*I don’t know if it actually does. Ultimately, I’m a bad kid – the kind that never visits his mom’s blog. Thankfully, the guilt implied by not reading the blog isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Although, in immediate retrospect, it might not be the best idea to say I don’t read something where my words are about to be written I love this place!

Oddly enough, not having any idea on how to construct a book review works for The Soul of Baseball – the author of which (whom? probably not) is attempting to get famous by trademarking that thing I did right up there, right above this; he’s calling it a Posterisk. It’s basically a random, tangentially related tidbit of information which exists to be entertaining. If you happened to learn something, it was probably by accident – although in my case, if it happens to be entertaining, that’s probably by accident, too.

That actually doubles as a semi-accurate description of Joe Posnanski’s book, although he doesn’t use it. It’s a retrospective on Buck O’Neill, but to call it a biography would be a misnomer. It’s a collection of anecdotes about O’Neill, but the story isn’t in his anecdotes; if anything, it’s almost meta-commentary about people wanting O’Neill to tell stories, people telling stories to O’Neill, or people telling stories about O’Neill. Yes, the stories they tell are interesting, but that’s not really the point. Buck O’Neill was a creature of his environment; the better the environment, the better the Buck.

Do you want a one-sentence summary of the book? Joe follows Buck around for a year and becomes a positive person. That’s it. On the surface, it doesn’t seem interesting, but if it doesn’t, then you don’t know Buck*. O’Neill played in the Negro Leagues, managed in them for even longer, and then spent the rest of his life as a scout and – eventually – an ambassador for the Negro Leagues. I’d guess that most people know him from that last stage, and while they probably know that he did play in the Negro Leagues, they probably don’t know the extent with which he played, which he managed, and where he was when he was doing this. (Okay, I’d guess a fair amount of people know he was with the Monarchs.) Even if people knew that, they may not have known that he was a scout – or who he signed.

*Admittedly, I didn’t know a whole lot about Buck until Ken Burns’ Baseball series …that was what, 12 years ago now? I just remember that I wasn’t too old when it was on, and they’d bring Buck on for something like 8 interviews a night, and we watched all of the episodes, my dad and me. For a while I thought my dad was the bigger fan of O’Neill; to me, he was just a really happy grandfather-type. I had no idea what kind of effect Buck had (and has) on the game, how he communicated, who he affected, and basically who he was. Somehow my dad figured it out way before I did, something I didn’t figure out until way later. (Dad would say that about a lot of things, but that’s really neither here nor there.)

Actually, terming O’Neill an ambassador is a misnomer; for millions of people (especially in the last 10-15 years), O’Neill was the Negro Leagues. He wasn’t the only person alive who played in the Negro Leagues, but he was certainly the most visible, and most of the reason we know so much about those players is due to him. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but it is. Consider that there were a generation-plus of ballplayers who were just as good as the guys in the Major Leagues, but we wouldn’t know anything about them were it not for Buck and his efforts. (Okay, we’d know something. But it just wouldn’t be as much.)

In a way, it’s perfectly okay to pick this book up without knowing anything about O’Neill. One of the things this book carries with it is the idea that it’ll all work out. I don’t want to spoil what passes for the climax of the book, but even though Joe probably gets the literary equivalent of heavy-handed right there, it’s not a bad thing. (Plus, it doesn’t last long.) I’ll say this about the climax: at the time, I was reading the book on the Metro while heading over to a friend’s house, and the way the climax just kind of …well, happens… drove me damn near to tears.

Even though this is probably reading like the grab-bag version of book reviews, that’s okay. I’d highly recommend this book to any fan of good storytelling – but not storytelling in the book sense, storytelling in the “you’re sitting next to a fire with three uncles and your grandfather and they’re all going back and forth” sense. It’ll put a smile on your face at worst. Honestly.


I have known Chris Pendley since July 9, 1984, when we met in a hospital delivery room in St. Petersburg, Florida. Chris grew up in St. Pete, Ithaca, New York, and Germantown, Tennessee, and graduated from the University of Tennessee (GO VOLS!) with a degree in Electrical Engineering last year. He lives and works in the Washington, DC area. He has been a sports nut for nearly all his life, and blogs not nearly often enough about college football, baseball, and the occasional hockey game at Left Field Bluffs.

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  1. Way to help out your mom. Now you don’t nerd to feel guilty about not going to her blog!

    Sounds like this book is a lot of anecdotes, and such. Probably a good book for people not too into stats and technical baseball jargon. In other words, for someone like me.

  2. Be careful about admitting you don’t read your mom’s blog or she’s likely to tell us more of your childhood stories. 😉

    This does sound like an interesting book. I haven’t read many books related to baseball but this sounds like one I would like. Maybe I can get a copy for my father-in-law for his birthday in August and thumb through it before wrapping it up for him.

  3. Thanks for giving Chris some positive feedback, Mike and Wendy! I’ve passed your comments on to him and hopefully he’ll come back and reply to them…but then again, I didn’t do a great job teaching him about thank-you notes :-(.

    I haven’t read this book either, but I just might.

  4. Who said I felt guilty about it? 🙂

    Yeah, this book isn’t structured for the stat nerd at all. (I have another book that more than makes up for that.) Posnanski’s a fantastic writer, and if it helps matters any, think of it as a character study about an ex-baseball player.

    Thanks for the feedback!