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Book Review: Why We Love Baseball by Joe Posnanski

I have not had the time to do a lot of book reviews here on the blog in the past ten years or so, but when I saw Joe Posnanski was titling his latest book Why We Love Baseball, I knew it would be a moral imperative for Why I Like Baseball to review it.

I’ll state my conclusion first, lest anyone get the wrong idea when I go on and on about this book, (which you know I will, because that is my way): Why We Love Baseball is a terrific and enjoyable book and I recommend it wholeheartedly whether you are a diehard baseball fan or a casual one. It takes a lot of chutzpah to title a book this, but Joe Posnanski has absolutely succeeded in creating a book that is the answer to its own question: if you love baseball you will absolutely love this book.

My urge now is to state something true, but to add a touch of irony by making a slightly obscure pop culture reference, which is also my way, and also Joe Posnanski’s, so perhaps it is a Gen X thing: I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.i

While we’re on the subject of Generation X, I’d say Joe Posnanski is a strong contender to be my generation’s Roger Angell.ii Once upon a time I thought about trying to throw my own hat into that (imaginary) ring, but accolades awaited me in other genres of writing, and my baseball scribery has remained a sideline—especially since I became publications director for SABR. It’s always difficult to play both sides of the ball—writing and editing—and some of our best writers have, like me, taken up editorial posts, like Christina Kahrl ( a founder of Baseball Prospectus, now leading the sports desk at the San Francisco Chronicle). Various contenders emerged from the early internet heyday, like Jay Jaffe (who climbed all the way to Sports Illustrated before being downsized, now at Fangraphs) and Rob Neyer (ESPN, SB Nation), while some (like Joe) went the traditional newspaper beat-writer route, like Howard Bryant (Bergen Record, Boston Herald, etc. before landing at ESPN) and Tyler Kepner (still soldiering on at the New York Times after 23 years, now technically at The Athletic, since the Times bought the Athletic and then shut down their sports desk, in a move I can only call heinous.)

Add JJ Cooper and King Kaufman to this age cohort, as well, and look at all of our resumes, and it will become clear that we of Gen X are a generation of sports writers that have had to contend with unprecedented contraction of the print media, continual die-offs of venerable publications, eternal “disruptors” rising to prominence and then shrinking again (Sports on Earth, Grantland, Deadspin) or being bought and merged (The Ringer, The Athletic). Joe Posnanski has lived through all that, done his time as a beat writer, and now finds himself succeeding under the “JoeBlogs” banner in the newest of the newfangled forms of publishing: the Substack newsletter. And by succeeding I mean absolutely crushing it, with daily articles—some free, some only for paying subscribers. While much of his output is about baseball, he also writes about football, sometimes other sports, and even ventures into pop culture: one of his finest essays is about taking his daughter to see Taylor Swift. As he puts it, “JoeBlogs is basically an open door into my mind.” (And I haven’t even mentioned the podcast or YouTube channel…)

But this review is not about Joe’s blog/podcast/etc. That’s merely the context, the groundwork that says this guy is not the type of writer who has ever been content just sticking to basic game recaps or profiles. He draws together wide-ranging interests and perspectives as part of how he goes about his business, and he’s not shy about delving into the vast field of baseball history. And a great book is the result.

Let’s get the knocks out of the way, because there are a few (but only a few!). I don’t feel I could hold my head up in public as SABR’s PD if I let these two sentences slide by without mention:

“There are four players in the Hall of Fame with 3,000 hits, 400 home runs, and 200 steals. They are Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, and Dave Winfield.”

We all slip up sometimes. One possibility is the book didn’t undergo a final fact-check, which popular nonfiction books rarely do, because it’s expensive and time consuming. (My own book with Wiley & Sons inadvertantly mixes up Joe and Frank Torre’s names, something a fact-checker would have caught.) Sometimes changes get made after the fact-checking. It wouldn’t be too difficult to have rearranged or reworded some sentences to end up with the bald error stated above. Maybe it was a Freudian slip. At any rate, last I checked, Alex Rodriguez was not in the Hall of Fame. (Perhaps when a new generation of Hall of Fame voters comes along and potentially re-thinks the PED era, that sentence will become true?) There were also a couple of spellcheck fails (e.g. “curosity” for “curiosity”) which also make me think the book got some last second edits/rewrites. If Dutton does a paperback edition, I expect these little blips can and will be fixed. They did not detract otherwise from my enjoyment of the book.

Usually when I say a baseball book needs a fact-checker it’s because there’s too much parroting of the unsubstantiated myths of the sport. I’m very pleased that WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL is actually the complete opposite. Posnanski includes the romanticized myths alongside many eye-popping and amazing facts, but is always clear about which is which. After all, it wouldn’t be “love” without romance, and I highly appreciate that he writes from a stance of awareness that the tall tales and stories are culturally important, even when he deconstructs them.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that it’s not limited to Major League Baseball, the corporate entity that combines the American and National Leagues. There are moments and stories in here from Japanese baseball, the Negro Leagues, the minor leagues, and from women’s baseball history, as well. Posnanski doesn’t even just limit himself to reality, for that matter, mixing in discussions of key moments in the canon of baseball films, too. This might seem an odd choice at first, but once I grasped that baseball-as-pop-culture is part of the book’s tapestry, it felt natural (in a very Gen X way).

I do wish there was a wee bit more of actual women’s baseball in here, and less of Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, but that is a very particular preference of mine, and is not really a knock on the book.

Another thing that struck me when I was about halfway through the book is that, although I don’t think Posnanski has stated that it was intentional, it feels like many, many moments included have happened within his (and my) lifetime—and that’s not often the case with baseball history books. At that point in my reading I figured the Merkle Boner and the Shot Heart Round the World were probably coming up in the latter half of the book — and they do — but it felt notable to me that the balance had swung toward the late 20th and early 21st centuries. So many of our predecesors have concentrated on the history of the mid-century “golden age” (say 1927 to 1957) that the Expansion Era and afterward too often gets short shrift. Not here! Thank you, Pos! It’s high time we were lionizing Bo Jackson as much as Joe Jackson, Kirk Gibson as much as Bob Gibson.

Another thing about the book that is a feature rather than a bug is that every chapter is quite short. Pithy, you could say. Posnanski exercises remarkable restraint in crafting each episode. This doesn’t mean it’s bare or minimalist. It’s not. There are plenty of side stories, footnotes (actual footnotes!), and asides in the telling of each “moment,” but (unlike this blog) nothing ever goes on too long. At one point Posnanski quotes another writer in saying a game was like a box of Cracker Jack that is all prizes.iii This book is like that, too. The subtitle is “A History in 50 Moments,” but there are far more than 50 packed into it, with bonus chapters and asides. Another feature, not a bug, is that these moments aren’t necessarily all “great” or “epic” in the classic sense, but more in the fratboy sense. I mean, the ball bouncing off of Joe Canseco’s head is in here, for example. So is Norm Cash bringing a table leg to the batter’s box to face Nolan Ryan. Come on, that’s epic.

In the book, Posnanski describes the contrast between the poetry of the master Vin Scully, and the folksy heart-on-his-sleeve outbursts of “your uncle” Jack Buck. If Roger Angell was Scully, Posnanski is Buck, just telling you how he sees it and how he feels about it. You’ll want to read parts of the book aloud to whomever your with, and then just when you think you’ve run out of good bits, along comes another one.

To sum up, this book would make a terrific gift for the baseball fan in your life. It was absolutely perfect beach- or vacation-reading: the short chapters and vivid storytelling meant frequent interruptions didn’t detract from the pleasure.

Go get it at your favorite indie bookseller, or even from Joe’s favorite indie bookseller, Rainy Day Books in KC, who has autographed copies on sale ( or from ( or wherever books are sold (cough cough Amazon cough).



i Posnanski and I were born a few months apart. How about that. If you don’t get the reference, it’s from SNL of the 1980s, which is also to blame for several of my generation’s colloquialisms.

ii Almost every writer I mention in this blog entry is within a year of my age except Tyler Kepner, who is several years younger. As for who Gen Y’s Roger Angell is, I’m thinking perhaps Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated? Her 2019 article on Roy Halladay’s family is absolutely outstanding: Ben Lindbergh, runner up? I better stop now because I should really mention a dozen more writers and this review is not about that.

iii I couldn’t find the reference again skimming through the book to find the writer’s name. I should have noted it, but I was on a beach in Aruba at the time, and having more fun reading the book than in thinking about reviewing it.

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