I am certain that Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is not a regular reader of Illinois Times. But there are some residents of Springfield who may, on occasion, speak with him. If you do, please make certain you tell Jerry that, despite what he told author Joe Posnanski, he should read Why We Love Baseball, Posnanski's latest book, an adoration of baseball that goes directly to the heart of why we love the game.
Posnanski formerly wrote for the Kansas City Star and Sports Illustrated. Just as others in his trade have done, he has left regular hard-copy journalism and now writes an independent blog. He has also written six books, including The Baseball 100, an informal ranking of the 100 all-time greatest baseball players in history.
Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments, follows the format of The Baseball 100, as the author roams far afield from his discussion of great moments in baseball history to discuss moments not so great. Along the way he highlights many personal moments experienced by players, teammates and fans. Regardless of which team you cheer for, or in which generation your baseball experience began, you will find something in Posnanski's paean that will pull strongly on the emotional strings that tie you to baseball. Pauline Kael once described the movie Star Wars as like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. Why We Love Baseball is not only all prizes, but also every one of them is something you really wanted.
Of course, Bobby Thompson's "shot heard round the world" – the event that broke the baseball heart of 15-year-old Brooklyn Dodger fan Jerry Reinsdorf – is one of the moments that Posnanski covers. It is number 16 on the list, which, in all fairness, includes far more than 50 moments. But the three-run home run that came in the bottom of the ninth inning and gave the Giants a victory and a National League pennant in 1951 is discussed with far more detail than just the fact that for many people it was a triumphant baseball moment and for an equal number their worst baseball memory. The Giants, who were the home team that day, had earlier in the season embarked upon a campaign of sign-stealing from their center field scoreboard. Did Thompson know what pitch Ralph Branca was going to throw? If he did, did it really matter? And what about the reaction of other players as the ball disappeared over the fence? I have seen Bobby Thompson's home run hundreds of times. I even have a bobblehead with Russ Hodges' call of "The Giants win the pennant." But reading Posnanski's account was a fresh view that added to my baseball knowledge.
Baseball fanatics' intensity for the game endures at many levels. A few can name every starting pitcher in the last decade of the World Series. Some can quote you the wins above replacement for everyone on their favorite team. But most are far less ardent. They enjoy the game and have some sense of baseball history. Why We Love Baseball is a book for fans ranging from fanatical to indifferent. It is also a wonderful book for fans whose memories extend from the 1950s to the present day. The great baseball moments: the called-shot, DiMaggio's 56-game streak, the Merkle "boner" and Aaron's 715th are all part of the story. Discussing these events, Posnanski always seems to find a new twist or new information to add to the story you thought was complete years ago. Local fans who support the Cubs, Cardinals and White Sox or other teams will also recall great moments for their squads.
Cardinal fans will gain additional insight into David Freese's World Series heroics. White Sox fans will once again recall and enjoy the 2005 season as well as Mark Buerhle's perfect game. And Cub fans might gain some additional insight into the famous Bartman game, as well as the historic rain-delay speech, which now ranks alongside "win one for the Gipper" and "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" as inspirational speeches.
Several years ago, visiting a bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, I had a brief discussion with the manager. He told me the joy of going to a bookstore comes from purchasing not only the books you came to buy, but the books you didn't know you wanted until you discovered them on the shelf or table. Why We Love Baseball is that kind of book. Chapter after chapter yields a new discovery. I learned about a wonderful baseball movie titled Fastball, a 2015 documentary with a cast of baseball legends and scientists who explore the magic within the 396 milliseconds it takes a fastball to reach home plate and decipher who threw the fastest pitch ever. I also learned that the full broadcast of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series that ended with Bill Mazeroski's famous home run is available on YouTube and I watched it. I realized what I recalled about the game is far different than what in fact occurred.
I could continue with numerous tiny morsels that Posnanski drops into discussions of baseball moments, many that are also recounted in The Baseball 100. But to continue the discussion is to destroy for the reader the joy that might come from learning for the first time an unknown fact in baseball history. That is one of the joys of baseball: Each game presents the opportunity to experience something never experienced before. Not only can it be an experience for you, but it might also be an experience with another baseball fan in your life. Reading Why We Love Baseball is a joy beyond description. Read it, treasure it and share it with your baseball fan friends. It's what baseball was meant to be.
Judge Stuart Shiffman of Springfield retired in 2007. He reviews books on sports, law, history and a range of subjects for Illinois Times and other publications. Last season, after attending baseball games since 1955, he caught his first foul ball. He immediately gave it to his grandson.