I have written before about Joe Posnanski, a baseball writer for the Kansas City Star, and one of the finer baseball bloggers actively posting. JoePo started his baseball blog, The Soul of Baseball, in part, to advertise for his most recent, eponymously titled, book. He also started it to talk about and celebrate my favoritest sport in a way that he is unable to in his columns. The blog is wonderful. His columns are wonderful. His book is, well, cheap, so I decided to buy it, despite knowing little about (and thus having little interest in) Buck O’Neil, and being generally wary of full-length books penned by people who are used to 800 words at a time.
TSOB has a simple premise. It is merely a series of roadtrips, with Joe and others accompanying Buck O’Neil as he travels around talking about life, and baseball, and the Negro Leagues. To hear that this is a book about a sportwriter taking down the ramblings and actions of a 90-some year old man is to make the book sound like Mitch Album’s literary abortion, Tuesday’s With Morrie. TSOB is not like that. It’s a largely celebratory thing, and not an “here’s some ‘invaluable’ and immeasurable cheesy advice about life and love and sex and shit” book.
There are certain biographical elements to the book, but these are needed for the larger context. Buck is a man who adored baseball and baseball players. He loved the community of it, the generational aspect of it, and the sizzling technical excitement of it. While Buck certainly misses some of his fellow Negro Leagues, this is mostly because Buck was born just after the turn of the century, and most of his fellow Negro Leaguers are long gone. The only time the book gets nostalgic is when an interviewer asks Buck if he misses anything about baseball from the old days, and Buck wistfully remembers how baseball games used to get played on Sunday afternoons, and so everyone in the stands would come straight from church. Buck misses looking out into the stands and seeing everyone decked out in their Sunday finest. The game, though, is still the same, he says.
By the end of the book, I felt a bit ashamed that I wasn’t aware of Buck’s place in history, and like many who were previously familiar with him, felt outrage that Buck was omitted from the Hall of Fame. The book is a very quick read, and well written and interesting. Worth picking up for any baseball fan.
The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America
Hardcover: 288 pages