Joe Posnanski. The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, 282 pp., $13.95 (cover price). ISBN 978-0-06-085404-1
I have been smitten with Buck O'Neil for a long time. We've been treated to his twinkling eyes, bright smile, and smooth voice in just about every baseball documentary made. If they discussed the Negro Leagues, he was there, joyfully reliving great memories. He always told great stories. Every time I saw him, I'd imagine how delightful it would be to take him out for pie and coffee and talk baseball.
Sadly, Buck's gone now, but Joe Posnanski's Soul of Baseball is the next best thing. In fact, it's probably better. The book chronicles a year's worth of Buck's appearances, autograph signing sessions, and publicity trips. Buck was a great advocate of the Negro Leagues. While he didn't want folks to forget about the hard times and grotesque indignities the Negro Leagues players endured, he mostly wanted to emphasize what great players they were. Posnanski followed him as he spread that message.
But this book is more than just an agenda of public appearances. Posnanski illustrates how Buck captivated everyone he met and how his optimism and joy infected others. He also skillfully told great stories of Buck's, and his teammates', glory days.
This book is a good, comfortable read. Posnanski does a fabulous job of getting out the way of the stories and just letting them tell themselves -- he's always present, but Buck's clearly carrying the events. I was drawn in and could feel Buck's positive energy. I also enjoyed Posnanski's friendly writing style.
I can't recommend this book strongly enough. This is my new favorite. Grade A+.
I think it would be delightful to take Mr. Posnanski out for pie and coffee and talk baseball, and Buck.
Oh, and you should watch this for a smile (h/t @JoshsThoughts).