Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reading Rainbow: The Machine by Joe Posnanski

I feel like I should set this entry up just a little by stating that before I go anywhere else on the internet I check my RSS tab on my browser to see if Joe Posnanski has written anything new. More often than not, he has. If there isn't a new entry in the feeder, I go to the blog anyway to make sure the RSS is up to speed. If the first step fails to turn up a fresh entry, the second step almost always does.

This is somewhat remarkable in that he is so prolific in his writing that one would think the quality would suffer under the burden of his hyperproductivity. I can categorically state that it does not.

Seemingly each day, Joe* gives his loyal followers a blog entry like this, or this, or this, or this. And those are just a few that go back to the U.S. Open (tennis, not golf). To think that he does this while juggling being a husband and father of two, writing for Sports Illustrated (and before that he was a two-time AP Sportswriter of the Year as a columnist at the Kansas City Star), and writing his second book is mind-blowing to me.

*And I read his blog so voraciously that I really do feel like I am on a first-name basis with him despite the fact that there is no way he has more than a fleeting idea as to who I am--although it was my question about The Catcher in the Rye that led to a poll question a couple of weeks ago... Hell, it's even where I took this use of the asterisk (Pozterisk) to off-set tangential trains of thought.
So with that rather lengthy and not entirely relevant introduction reeking of self-indulgence perhaps only paralleled by a Harry Knowles review, I finally get to the reason behind this blog entry:

Joe Posnanski's newest book is available in bookstores (and presumably at your public library). His first book was the deeply affective The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neill's America, which you can find a review of here. You certainly wouldn't need to start there, but if you haven't read it yet, do so immediately.

As for that newest book I mentioned, it might just be as good as TSOB. Briefly titled The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, Posnanski recounts with colorful detail (and language) the storied season of one of the greatest teams to ever take the field.

Now, I am not a Reds fan. I have no feelings about them one way or the other. My level of interest in the subject matter going into the book was limited to being vaguely intrigued by the figure of Pete Rose and hoping that Joe Morgan came off as at least a bit of a jerk (thus further validating the disdain I feel towards Joe Morgan, the Color Commentator).

The returns I got from this book exceeded my expectations one-hundred-fold. Posnanski shapes the on- and off-the-field goings-on into an immensely entertaining and compelling narrative. Where some baseball books come of as a bit dry and over-burdened with clichés and purple prose, The Machine achieves an seemingly effortless engagement of the reader's attention. With only vague notions as to who these men were, I found myself often deciding that I would read five more pages and then do whatever task I needed to do only to grant the commencement of that chore another reprieve when I felt like I needed to know what happened next for Don Gullett or Ken Griffey.

The preseason stage-setting pitting the Los Angeles Dodgers against Sparky Anderson's Reds is perhaps the most surprisingly compelling section. Without any games being played, Posnanski sets the stage for the season at hand masterfully, pitting their failures up to that season against the continual expectation that the supremely talented Reds should be winning it all.

Posnanski also captures the fascinating duality of a successful clubhouse, with its friction and its camaraderie. Imbuing the book with a healthy dose of blue language (these are ballplayers we're talking about here) to insert the book comfortably into the appropriate time and place, he gives the reader the sense of actually being a fly on the wall in the '75 Reds clubhouse.

In all, this book is about as far from a chore as possible and makes for an enveloping journey from the beginning to the end of a baseball season culminating in a hard-earned and long-awaited World Series win filled with drama and suspense.

For the doubters, all you need to do is read the Prologue in which Pete Rose storms up and down the length of the dugout in Game Seven with his Reds on the ropes, feverishly cussing his teammates out. If that passage does not grab you, you have got a serious character flaw.

Regardless, the book is a fantastic read, one that should appeal to even the most casual of baseball fans.

But you don't have to take my word for it.

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