This has no connection to baseball, but it deals with the guy who happens to be the best baseball writer in the business, so I figure it’s fair game. Anyway, if you’re weary of this subject, please move along.
A couple of years ago, Joe Posnanski set out to write the definitive Joe Paterno biography. At the time, it was — to quote Posnanski’s own book proposal — supposed to “tell the remarkable story about a man who could have been anything but decided that the best way he could help change America was one college football player at a time.” It was to be “the most amazing football story ever told.”
All that came to light last year caused that to go right out the window, obviously. At the time the scandal broke huge, the always popular and rarely if ever controversial Posnanski had perhaps his worst experience in the public light, when he referred to Paterno as “a scapegoat” to Penn State students. Posnanski was roundly criticized for this. For my part, it struck me as an instance of a man whose greatest strength is finding the positive and interesting in things reacting too soon and with too little information to a situation that was so horrific that it caused most people’s gravity to be lost, however briefly.
Since then, two things have happened that I suppose are related. First, Posnanski’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, moved the publication up nearly a year in response to the story blowing up, and it comes out in August 2012 instead of June 2013. Second, Posnanski largely went to radio silence. I presume the nature of the new story and crazy new deadline pressure would demand that of anyone. As of now, this is all we know:
I dedicated myself to write the most honest book I could about Joe Paterno. Everything I have to say about his life is in it.
— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) July 12, 2012
So the book is written and now, presumably, an epilogue incorporating the Freeh Report is being appended. And I’m having a hard time imagining what the book will look like.
Posnanski is my favorite baseball writer, full stop, and I also believe he’s the best. But I also worry that his gifts are not necessarily compatible with the sort of story the public wants or maybe needs so soon after the full horrors of the Jerry Sandusky saga — and Joe Paterno’s complicity in them — became fully known. I could see Posnanski writing National Book Award stuff about all of this a few years from now, but I feel like the world is currently demanding something decidedly un-Posnanskian at the moment. Something raw and bloody and newsy and quick, for better or for worse. If that’s what they want, I worry about the reception of the book he does put out, both critically and commercially. Which probably doesn’t matter to most people, but it matters to me as, like I said, Posnanski is my favorite baseball writer and I’d like to see this work out well for him.
I hope Posnanski surprises. I think he’s smart enough and talented enough to do so. I also think that even though this was not the book he ever thought he’d be writing when he set out to do it, he has it within him to write something worthy and interesting and good.
But I, as a lesser writer, can’t think of how one does that. Unless of course he goes all Charlie Kaufman/Hunter S. Thompson meta with it and we wind up with something sorta gonzo and explosive. A story which builds on the copy from his publisher’s press releases about how the Sandusky scandal “eventually consumed” Paterno and talks about how the scandal also threatened to consume Posnanski too. After all, who wouldn’t it threaten to consume in that situation?
Again, that’s not exactly the first kind of story you think of when you think of Joe Posnanski. But after being so overwhelmed with the horrors of the Paterno/Sandusky story, it’s the sort of story I’d be very interested in reading and I hope that, even if he can’t tell it in the book which comes out next month, he does tell it eventually.