How To Escape The Highway Patrol: An Interview With Joe Posnanski
June 30, 2010
Since 1996, Joe Posnanski has sweetened the dulling pain of thousands of Kansas City sports fans.
His columns at the Kansas City Star, single-handedly ushered me through two of the darkest eras in Kansas City sports: the Tony Pena Jr./Angel Berroa fiasco and the post-Saleaumua decline of the Chiefs.
In 2007, he won the CASEY award for his book The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America. Mr. Posnanski is now a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. Recently Mr. Posnanski took the time to answer some questions about his newest book The Machine.
How did The Machine get written? I know that you have a unique relationship with the subject matter growing up as an Indians fan, but how did this project get started? Did you approach Harper Collins? Did Pete Rose approach you?
Also, would it be responsible to compare an Indian’s fan’s fascination w/ the Reds in the ‘70s to a modern day Clevelander dreaming of Skyline Chili?
-- The idea definitely originated with me. I really wanted to write a book about baseball when I was a kid ... I tend to think that time period is pretty dramatically under-appreciated. I, of course, would have preferred to write a book about the 1977 Cleveland Indians, but I figure that the only people who would buy it would be me and my hero and former Indians second baseman Duane Kuiper. Unfortunately, that's not enough to sell a book (though I think it should be).
So I thought about the most dominant team in my memory -- that was the Big Red Machine. They towered over my childhood. They towered over baseball in general. It wasn't just that they were good. There were other good teams. The Baltimore Orioles of the late '60s and early '70s were great. The Oakland A's that won three championships in a row were great. The Reggie Jackson Yankees were great. But the Reds were great AND they were star-studded. Pete Rose. Johnny Bench. Joe Morgan. Tony Perez. And so on. I tell a story in the book about getting pulled over for speeding in Indiana, and the patrolman, noticing all the Reds books in my car, asked if i was a fan. I told him I was writing a book about the '75 Reds and he promptly said: Rose, Concepcion, Morgan, Perez, Foster, Geronimo, Griffey, Bench. That's the Machine. And then he let me go. The team stirred those sorts of passions, even in a poor Cleveland Indians fan living four hours North.
I take a lot of heat in Cleveland for loving my Cincinnati Skyline Chili ... but I can't help myself. It's beyond addictive.
Throughout the book you do a great job of giving cultural context in the book, is there a definitive soundtrack? If so what would it be? You’ve already got Linda Ronstadt, Bruce, Earth Wind and Fire, Elton John, and B.J. Thomas, so no double-dipping.
Funny, you should ask: I put together an iPod playlist of 1975 songs that I would listen to while writing the book, to keep myself in the moment. So, without going into the others: Jive Talkin' by the Bee Gees, Sister Golden Hair by America, Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell, Love Will Keep Us Together by the Captain & Tennille, Bad Blood by Neil Sedaka, Magic by Pilot, The Ballroom Blitz by Sweet, It's A Miracle by Barry Manilow, Fame by David Bowie, Old Days by Chicago, Pick Up The Pieces by Average White Band, Jackie Blue by Ozark Mountain Daredevils ... I could keep going. The playlist is quite long.
What would Pete Rose’s soundtrack be? Sousa?
Pete would probably be happy listening to the sound of a crack of a bat again and again and again.
In ’73, Nolan Ryan has arguably his best year ever, meanwhile Gary Nolan pitches in two games. The next year Gary doesn’t suit up at all but Nolan Ryan tosses 332 innings. (I really think you could do a sci-fi spin-off from The Machine featuring a cyborg named Nolan Nolan.) Have you explored the statistical relationship between Gary Nolan and Nolan Ryan in 1973 and 1974? I never did make the connection between Gary Nolan and Nolan Ryan. You don't want to forget Joe Nolan either. It actually amazes me that Nolan Ryan, in addition to all the amazing stats, was until 2008 the only player in baseball history with the first name of Nolan. Then Nolan Reimold came along and ruined the whole thing.
Which is worse Pete Rose playing with Montreal or Joe Morgan wearing an Astros’ uniform, (1980)?
Pete in other uniforms really doesn't seem all the strange to me ... he was so hungry for the hit record he would have played anywhere. I think Tony Perez in a Montreal uniform stands out more to me than any of the others.
Did Sparky Anderson cut any players with long hair who would go on to great careers?
No. He generally cut the players with long hair who were already more or less at the end. It's like Pete said: "If Johnny would have wanted to grow a mustache or wear long hair ... what would Sparky have done? Nothing."
If the Reds were the Machine, what does that make the Oakland A’s of the mid-70s’? The Green Genies? Where does this Reds Teams fit in as far as baseball dynasties? I think it depends how you judge dynasties.
I think the eight men on the field for the 1975-76 Reds made up the best team in baseball history. But other teams had better pitching. The amazing thing about the Oakland dynasty is that they were underdogs going into the playoffs or the World Series every year. But they knew how to win in the postseason. Funny that the Billy Beane A's later were the exact opposite -- great during the regular season, but as Beane himself said: "My $#$% doesn't work in the playoffs."
Blyleven’s stock is rising. He got a lot of votes last ballot, do you think that his inclusion to the Hall is inevitable?
Inevitable is a strong word ... but I think he's a virtual lock to get into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Is Darrell Evans cut in the Blyleven mold? The guy hit 40 in 1985 at the tender age of one thousand. (Also the year the Balboni curse began.) Hit 414 homeruns as a wandering bat. Two All-Star games, one twelfth place finish in MVP ballot. Least known bomber of the last thirty years?
Bill James calls Evans the most underrated player in baseball history. I would tend to agree. He was more than just a bomber too. He was a good and versatile defender. He walked a ton. He has never gotten his due.
One thing I have appreciated thoroughly throughout the years has been your awareness of the importance of baseball cards. I grew up memorizing the stats on the backs of Topps. Cards are best when they are cardboard and the gum also tastes like cardboard. What contributed to the downfall of the value of cards? Was it the creation of those weird inserts with like game -used socks and eight dollar packs? Or was it just another victim of the steroids era?
I always thought the baseball card bubble was not sustainable ... but, yeah, I do think they ruined it with the gold-plated cards and inserting Craig Biggio's fingernail in specially marked packs and whatever else they've done. I guess they figured that kids needed more excitement from their baseball cards, and maybe they're right. I haven't studied it. But yeah, for me a few cards and that sandpaper gum was enough to thrill me as a kid.Tags: interviews, sports, Books