Posnanski and Paterno

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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:

 

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.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.