Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Soul of Baseball

It is a rare book that gets a second read in today's day-and-age. After all, there are so many books, magazines, on-line articles, blogs, and other pieces that have not yet been read. Yet, Joe Posnanski's Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America received that high praise - and right away. Shortly after finishing the book for the first time, I started over, and enjoyed it just as much.

What makes this book great is not the 'discovery' of Buck O'Neil - Ken Burns (and others) had already done so:

Posnanski has the fortune of traveling with O'Neil during the final year of his life. Despite his age (93), O'Neil continues to be a indefatigable speaker and supporter of the Negro League and its players. His travels take him to Houston, Minneapolis, and Nicodemus, KS. He remains upbeat and positive despite the bad breaks that baseball -- and its owners -- gave him. Despite never having the chance to play or manage in the Major Leagues, O'Neil's attitude is perhaps most reminiscent of Lou Gehrig.

But the book reaches a dramatic height in the last section, as Posnanski waits with O'Neil for the Baseball Hall of Fame's special committee -- chaired by former Commissioner Fay Vincent -- to select from a list of 39 former Negro Leaguers who were considered for admission. Sometimes a great piece of writing needs tragedy in the life of his subject.

In the end, O'Neil gives the speech on behalf of those who had died before admission. And he leads the audience in the same song he had sung in countless other venues: "The greatest thing in all my life is loving you."

As a sidenote: Posnanski has a website for the book (including a 'soundtrack' on iTunes), a blog (which includes a memory-invoking list of the sweetest swings that he has ever seen), and he writes regularly for the Kansas City Star. All are recommended.

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