I am often amazed when great people take the time to speak with
me and participate in an interview for the In My Backpack
web site. A bit of that is being too hard on myself… because in
reality, I’d like to think I ask some good questions, and overall
do a pretty solid job on these pieces that in some small way rewards
their participation. More to the point, these are busy people,
with a lot of demands on their time, and… quite honestly… because
I respect the hell out of them, and I’m honored by their participation.
Which brings us directly to the man working with us here…
Posnanski is an exception to the rule.
first became aware of him thanks to the internet. He was working
primarily with The Kansas City Star when I began reading
his material. Later, when he launched his web site, his work became
a regular treat for me. (His site has routinely been referred
to as Joe Blogs, though it is located at the more recognizable
home of joeposnanski.com,
and works as a blog though there is more going on than that.)
time, he has often waded into waters beyond sports. By following
him, you get to know A LOT about sports… while also learning about
Joe, his family, and his interests. That exception to the rule
part works in one way because he does let his readers into some
personal interests. But it’s more than that. Basically, it’s because
he stays so darn busy.
most people that have followed sports for the past three or four
decades know, sports media hasn’t just exploded and expanded,
it has been multiple tidal waves of impressive size and scope.
It is television, launching from regional and syndicated shows
into EPSN and on to multiple networks and stations. It is radio,
from those local sportscasters you know and love transitioning
into prime broadcasting spots in major markets. It is newspapers
becoming web sites becoming subscription blogs becoming podcasts.
thing though… most — for lack of a better defining word — personalities
tend to get lost in the shuffle and move away from the place and
material that connected them to their audiences. Someone with
a radio show leaves the local market for a national show. A great
announcer doing play-by-play for your team gets moved to a network
gig and rotating assignments. A columnist becomes an editor (and
a producer and a content designer and a…). And suddenly, the faithful
audience is left without those two or three weekly columns or
three-hour nightly broadcast.
we’ve been blessed with that not happening to Joe.
being named by multiple groups as their sports writer of the year…
and after stints with Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports following
his days at The Kansas City Star… and as he ventured
into new challenges on the internet… Joe has continued to produce
work. Often. Regularly. A reliable friend and a comforting voice.
We get to share his love and knowledge of sports. And we continue
hearing about Margo, Elizabeth, and Katie. (And Bruce Springsteen
and Snuggies and…)
has joined MLB.com now. And he is still providing us with material
all over the place. Now, I am beyond grateful to be able to say
that Joe has stopped in here… visiting Backpackville for a bit.
I hope you enjoy. (Time to meet Joe…)
~ ~ ~
am constantly amazed by the professional journey Joe Posnanski
has traveled. It’s all good… often great… and yet, I don’t know
many people that would trace a professional path from Ohio to
North Carolina before heading off to Kansas City and eventually
back to Charlotte.
is, somewhat devotedly and often unapologetically, a big supporter
of the underdog. He was born and raised in Ohio, and spent many
years working at The Kansas City Star as a columnist.
You will find many… measured by each and every definition of the
word many… of his writing efforts cover baseball, football and
more with a focus planted firmly in the Midwest. Even more specifically,
it covers the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Browns, and other
professional organizations from those cities and states along
with — both literally and figuratively — those playing, supporting,
recording, preserving, and way too much to describe out in the
sandlots and along the streets of these amazing places.
here’s a little secret… and it’s perhaps the biggest thing in
understanding Joe… he loves it. He loves his life. He loves his
family and his career. He is passionate about it. All of it. And
that enthusiasm shows.
from the well-known and often celebrated city of South Euclid,
he moved with his family to North Carolina in his teenage years.
Eventually attending the University of North Carolina, he earned
his degree in English. This eventually led him to The Charlotte
Observer, where he began his journalistic endeavors as so
many do for newspapers… by doing a little bit of everything for
far too many hours and early on for very little credit.
building his resume with stints at The Cincinnati Post
and The Augusta Chronicle, he eventually arrived at The
Kansas City Star, and that is where the story begins to rapidly
pick up speed.
spent almost fourteen years with The Star. A collection
of his writing for the paper was assembled and released as The
Good Stuff. During his time with the
paper, the Associated Press twice named him the best sports columnist
in America. In addition to these honors, his work has been recognized
with awards and praise for his columns, sports coverage, features
writing, and web content and efforts. In 2014, the National Academy
of Television Arts and Sciences named their winners of the Sports
Emmy Awards, with Joe part of the group winning for Outstanding
New Approaches in Sports Event Coverage. The Missouri Press Association
named Joe the best sports columnist in Missouri ten times.
is good… very good.
2007 he published a fascinating, mesmerizing, and, frankly, one
of the best sports books ever written. The
Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America
is a brilliant work. Joe teams up with Buck O’Neil, as the legendary
ballplayer (and true gentleman) journeyed around the country in
2006. The content includes stories from the trip, a history of
O’Neil and much of the Negro Leagues, and spotlights some of the
most incredible and often underappreciated contributors in history…
not just baseball history or sports history, but American history.
leaving The Kansas City Star, Joe has made some pretty
interesting moves. He and his family headed to Charlotte, North
Carolina. Professionally he worked with Sports Illustrated,
NBC Sports, and Sports on Earth (a web site project from USA
Today and Major League Baseball Advance Media).
a personal level, you can enjoy his postings about his wife, Margo,
and daughters, Elizabeth and Katie. (Something he enjoys doing,
though according to his web site, even their dog at times wishes
he would stop.)
posts on his website are… in a word… brilliant. One of my personal
favorites is “Katie
The Prefect,” which covers a trip to Universal
Studios in Orlando (and more specifically, The Wizarding World
of Harry Potter in their Islands of Adventure theme park). It’s
a favorite of mine because it shows Joe in a somewhat unguarded
moment… having fun, with his family, observing his surroundings,
all while documenting the importance of a park-employee named
Katie and her impact upon the world (and, most significantly,
upon a child). Another often celebrated piece is “The
Promise,” which dives into Bruce Springsteen
territory (and I’ll just recommend you read it while saying no
books have been released, all of which have received solid reviews
and praise. The Machine covers the 1975 Cincinnati Reds…
Paterno is quite likely the most comprehensive biography
of Joe Paterno that will ever be produced… and The Secret
of Golf dives into the lives and rivalry of legends Tom Watson
and Jack Nicklaus. He is currently working on a book about Harry
Houdini that is targeting a publication in 2018.
2017, Joe joined the official online baseball world, so to speak,
as an executive columnist for MLB.com. (Joe has always had baseball
in his writing, so consider the official part simply a nod toward
it being on the league’s web site.) But as he covers during our
interview, that is far from the only place you can find his work.
with a tip of the cap to his history complete, let’s thank him
for his time and get to the interview…
~ ~ ~
stories are always best when they are given the chance to play
out. Cleveland got its title in 2016 with the Cavaliers, and the
city almost celebrated a second. (And the NBA playoffs are approaching
with spring training starting for the Indians.) Tiger Woods entered
the year with whispers and hopes, which seem to be diminishing
as The Masters draws near. What events and potential stories are
you looking forward to as 2017 moves along?
true, the last couple of years have had some pretty remarkable
writing opportunities for me personally. Last year, the Cavaliers
won Cleveland’s first championship in more than a half century,
and the Tribe made it to Game 7 of the World Series. And two years
ago, the Royals won the World Series for the first time since
1985, and after many, many, many years of ineptitude — most of
them I was there to write first hand.
for that matter, writing the Cubs championship last year was pretty
the great thing about sports is that there’s always something
new coming along. My focus is baseball these days, of course,
and there are so many terrific young players in the game. It’s
about as exciting as I can remember. Mike Trout has been the best
player in baseball for a few years now, and he’s only just turned
25. And there are a bunch of other young players — Correa, Lindor,
Seager, Machado, the list goes on and on. So that’s really exciting.
always like writing about golf — I don’t know what’s next in the
sport. There are also a lot of terrific young golfers, and the
hope is that one of them will emerge as a dominant player, someone
to measure against all the rest. I think all individual sports
are at their best when there are one or two players at the top,
giving the sport order. For golf, that will never be Tiger Woods
again. I’ve known that (sadly) for years now, though I’m as vulnerable
to dreaming about Tiger reemerging as anyone else. It won’t happen.
His body will not let him compete at the top level anymore, I
think that’s become entirely clear. And even if he COULD somehow
get healthy enough to succeed, I don’t know that the will is there
to do it. He’s at a different phase of life. He’s won all the
championships. He’s played golf better than anyone ever. He will
never be THAT Tiger Woods again… and I’m not sure he would want
to settle for anything less.
be missing an opportunity if I didn’t ask for your opinion about
the way Major League Baseball is adjusting rules (both literally
at the highest level, and then with testing at lower levels).
I get that removing throws for intentional walks and adding baserunners
in extra innings isn’t specifically about attacking the length
of games, and is more about excitement and practicality. But,
I can’t help but think of Rollie Fingers, Johnny Bench, and an
often lost to history moment from the World Series as an example
of what might be taken away with some of the adjustments. Do you
have any thoughts about these changes, and perhaps suggestions
about ways the league could improve the game for fans?
of two minds on the changes coming to baseball. One part of me
is the ultimate traditionalist because as a devoted baseball fan
I don’t really want to see ANY changes. Oh, sure, I’d like to
see a bit of the dead time taken out of the game, a few fewer
pitching changes, shorter commercials, whatever. But in general
baseball fits my eye, it’s at the pace I love, and I don’t need
there’s the other part of me that realized the game IS losing
younger fans. And I want them to love baseball the way I love
it. In that way, yes, I’m completely on board with making some
changes to speed up the game a bit, make it more appealing to
younger fans. I don’t think the new intentional walk rule will
do that, and I don’t think the extra base-runners thing will ever
I do think there are things baseball CAN do — miking the players,
virtual reality things, connecting the fans to the game more —
that absolutely could make it a bit more fun for fans. I think
baseball is a game of connection, maybe more than any other sport.
You want to KNOW the players, talk to them, get their autographs,
connect somehow. I think that’s where baseball needs to go. And,
sure, I think that having fewer mound visits, cutting the time
for pitching changes, keeping hitters in the box, having a strike
zone that inspires action, these are good general ideas. The details
are trickier, but I think baseball will figure that part out.
follow that up with one of those attempts at a unique question
that any interviewer hopes to create. Normally I might try asking
about what you’re reading or about movies you can’t wait to see.
But this effort provides me with a chance to ask something a bit
different. Ground rules. Baseball offers up some tremendous opportunities
since every field includes obstacles and measurements and more
that change play from location to location. It’s the ladder on
the Green Monster. It’s flagpoles and catwalks and fish tanks
and signage. Are there any ground rules in major league parks
that fascinate you, and do you have any stories about when these
ground rules have actually been involved in game play?
I think it would have been easier to ask about books I’m reading
and movies I want to see. I don’t know that there are any specific
ground rules that fascinate me — I, of course, love the green
monster, love the Ivy in Chicago, love the fountains in KC, love
when ballparks have their own specific dimensions and character.
I love the humidor in Colorado. Baseball, it seems to me, should
celebrate that every park is different. Teams, it seem to me,
should build their character at least somewhat based on their
favorite green monster story remains the camera man who was on
top of the wall for the 1975 World Series. The story goes — and
it might be apocryphal but he has told it — that he saw a giant
rat up there and it caused him to turn his camera in such a way
that instead of following the ball, he followed Carlton Fisk running
up the first-base line. That shot of Fisk waving his home run
ball fair from the 1975 World Series remains, in my view, the
most iconic shot in baseball history.
I believe The Soul of Baseball is one of the best sports
books ever written. Fascinating effort, with a great foundation
built around Buck O’Neil. Could you introduce Buck a bit for those
reading this and share some of what inspired you to write the
book, and maybe add a story about him or the project that stunned
you while working on it?
you for that. Buck was one of the most extraordinary people I’ve
ever known — a second father to me in so many ways. What inspired
me to travel the country with him and write a book about him was
his indomitable optimism about life and the world. Few had more
of an excuse to feel some bitterness. He was a fine player in
the Negro Leagues — but he should have gotten a shot to play in
the Majors. He was a fantastic manager in the Negro Leagues —
but he should have been hired to manage in the Majors. He was
a wonderful big league scout — signing, among others, Ernie Banks
and Lou Brock and Joe Carter and Lee Smith. He was the first African
American coach in major league history. He was baseball’s greatest
story teller, keeping alive the memories of all those great Negro
Leaguers who people never got to see play.
all the while — though he endured racism, though he was denied
chances to chase his dreams, though he was ignored for so much
of his life — he continued to believe in the goodness of people
and the joy of living. He was not naive. He understood, better
than anyone, the challenges of being a black man in America, the
illogical hatred. He was the grandson of a slave. But he insisted
on rising above it, insisted on believing. That’s what I wanted
to understand and, if I could, capture on the page. I traveled
all over the country with him, saw him at high moments and low,
and it was the honor of my professional life. He died a few months
before Soul of Baseball came out. The last time I saw
him, in the hospital, I promised that I would read it to him.
I never got that chance. I hope I got some of his spirit in the
book, and it means a lot to me that you and many others liked
grew up believing the 1975 World Series was the greatest baseball
championship series ever played. You produced a really good book,
The Machine, about the Cincinnati Reds and that World
Series. Do you think the media and fans often get swept up in
the moment and too quickly award greatest-ever status to things?
And where would you place the ‘75 World Series now compared to
of course, anytime a good Super Bowl ends we all call it the greatest
ever. Every time a good baseball game ends, we all call it the
best ever. It’s natural. We are looking for a way to describe
how thrilled we are with what we just saw. Words like “awesome,”
and “incredible” and “unbelievable,” have been used so much that
they no longer mean what we want them to mean. So, we say, “That
was the best game ever.”
think the 1975 Series is the best ever, but of course I do, I
wrote a whole book about that Reds team. We’ve been lucky enough
to have some great series in recent years, including this Cubs-Cleveland
series. Funny story that I’m actually just about to write — Theo
Epstein’s son was eight years old this year as they watched that
World Series together. I think (and so does Theo) that 8 is a
magical baseball age for baseball, an age where you are just beginning
to understand what the game is about but are still filled with
awe and wonder. For Theo’s son, this will always be the greatest
World Series ever played.
was 8 years old in 1975.
with The Machine, are there any notes you have from your
research that were surprises to you?
think there were a few surprises — I was surprised that most players
really saw Tony Perez as the leader of that team, not Rose or
Morgan or Bench. I was surprised how much that team struggled
in the early part of that season. I was surprised how much other
players on that team liked Pete Rose as a teammate. I was surprised
just how big a role Sparky Anderson played on that team, I mean,
yes, obviously he was the manager, but he made several moves that
year that really put his imprint on the team. I was surprised
how much Gary Nolan went through in his career. I was surprised
how deeply Ken Griffey felt about the way he was treated.
were a lot of other little surprises — that was really a fun book
to write because I really lived that season. While I was writing
it, I only listened to 1975 music. I tried to watch 1975 TV shows.
I didn’t want to necessarily put that stuff in the book (though
there is some pop culture stuff in there) but I wanted to feel
what it was like, remember what it was like, to be in 1975.
about ten years removed from what I consider to be a very interesting
moment in baseball history… the Kansas City Royals signing Gil
Meche. There are a lot of great stories that go along with that
contract, including how Meche finished it. But for this question,
I think it stands out as a moment where a free agent and what
we might consider a small-market team came together for a fairly
astonishing splash. Since that signing, teams like Kansas City,
Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee have all had some interesting runs.
Have we reached a point where there’s a bit of parity in baseball
rosters, or perhaps a bit better phrased, where signings like
Meche by the Royals aren’t as unexpected? And, are some of the
teams that get that small-market label now in a place where they
can compete for longer stretches than the short window they usually
are recognized as having while their young talent is playing on
Meche signing was surprising — though I suppose how it ended,
with Meche walking away from his last year of the contract, was
even more surprising. People around baseball will every now and
again call that “Meching out of a contract.”
think small market teams have figured out, a little bit, how to
compete in a tough environment, with less money to spend on free
agents and to retain their own players. You have seen several
teams (and you see some now) completely strip down to the bone
and try to rebuild through the draft. You have seen some try to
get in on big names in the free agent market.
salary structure is weird because the highest paid players are
almost never the best players. The best players tend to be so
young that they have not yet hit on the free agent market. Kris
Bryant was probably the best player in the National League last
year, he got paid $650,000 — roughly 42 times less than Alex Rodriguez,
who was so bad he actually retired rather than get released. That’s
just how baseball goes. So developing your own young group of
players, the way the Royals have, the way Houston has, the way
Atlanta and Milwaukee and others try now, that’s the way to win.
Signing Gil Meche can help if you’re far enough along in the process,
but it won’t help if your counting on him to turn things around.
are some of the changes in your profession since you started?
have been too many changes to go over — technological changes,
social media, blogs, the financial difficulties of newspapers
and magazines, etc. It’s a very different world from the one I
started in some 30 years ago. Fortunately, I think the core of
what we do remains. It’s still about reporting. It’s still about
observing. And it’s still about storytelling. You just have to
find your way through the rest.
have been a few changes in your efforts recently. Some involve
where your by-line appears on new work, and some involve things
like an effort about Harry Houdini. What are you working on now?
I’m now executive columnist at MLB.com
and a contributor to MLB Network. Don’t ask me what “executive
columnist” means — I have no idea. I just know that there are
so many talented people at MLB.com (including Dinn Mann, editor
and my lifelong friend) and they are giving me a chance to write
baseball every day, which is all I ever really wanted.
yes, thank you for mentioning it — I am writing a book about Houdini.
It’s a fascinating project, one that has led me into a world I
knew nothing about. I get to talk with magicians, talk about wonder,
talk about death-defying feats… I mean that’s pretty good stuff.
There are have been many books about Houdini. I want to believe
there’s never been one quite like this one, a book where I’m writing
not so much about Houdini’s life (though there will be plenty
of biography in there) but about what Houdini means to the world
still write at my blog, joeposnanski.com,
though not as often as I once did because I’m so swamped elsewhere.
got another project I’m really excited about… I’m not entirely
sure I can talk about it yet but over the next few weeks I will
be able to give the details.
I still do The PosCast with my great friend Michael Schur, who
is executive producer and creator of “The Good Place” and “Parks
and Recreation,” as well as the legendary Ken Tremendous from
the old Fire Joe Morgan site. We do stupid things like draft pieces
of furniture and street signs. It doesn’t make much sense.
following that up… where can people find your work and enjoy your
hopefully the Houdini book will be in bookstores in early 2018.
That is assuming I write it.
MLB.com stuff is here: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/columnists/?id=joe_posnanski
MLB Network appearances are scattered throughout.
the PosCast is everywhere the podcasts can be found, I think.
~ ~ ~
huge wave of appreciation, gratitude and applause are extended
to Joe and his assistant, Jennifer, for all of their help with
this project. I am always thankful for the time people invest
in these efforts, and the two of them lived up to everything I
hoped to receive (and then offered up a bit more, and certainly
exceeded what I deserve).
so… to them… a sincere thank you.
you would like to read some of the things Joe is working on now,
dive into some of the material he has written over the years,
learn more about him, or purchase any of his books, check out
Joe Posnanski web site
Posnanski at MLB.com
books are available from most major booksellers, both online
and in stores. The link provided for books here will take you
to a section of his web site, where you can investigate each
title and find connections to purchase options.)