Book Review: The Baseball 100

The Baseball 100
Joe Posnanski
Avid Reader Press
Copyright 2021 by the author

It started out as a project on his personal blog. Essays on who longtime baseball writer Joe Posnanski felt were the 100 greatest baseball players of all time. He never got around to finishing it. Then, when he moved over to The Athletic, he started the list again. This time, presumably because he the site was paying for his contributions, he finished it. Along the way, commenter after commenter begged him to collect them all into a book. Many said they’d buy it whatever the price.

A little hesitant, Posnanski wasn’t sure people a book that merely collected his online essays would sell. He gave in, and a publisher was found. Another writer and baseball fan, George F. Will, heard about the book and demanded to write the introduction.

The book was an instant success, rocketing to the top of the charts.

How could a simple collection of biographical essays (with minimal photographs and about as plain a cover as you can imagine) on great baseball players become a best seller?

Largely because it’s not just a bunch of biographies in some specific order. You should note right off the bat that there’s no Table of Contents. If you want to read about Nolan Ryan, you’ll have to flip through the whole book – and get distracted by essays on Tom Seaver or Johnny Mize. A lot of people have also complained about the actual order. “How can you rank this player higher than this one? So-and-so is too low on the list!” Again, it’s not really about the “position” on the list. If you can’t understand why Joe DiMaggio is at #56, for example, there’s no hope for you (if you MUST have a “list”, the appendix giving the photography credits should suffice).

There are players whose careers started before 1900, and players who (as of this writing) are still active. Posnanski includes players from the Negro Leagues, because people like Oscar Charleston deserve to be included, even if we don’t have accurate numbers for their careers and can’t really rank them accurately. The essays aren’t just dull recitations of biographical data, anyway. There are stories of Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinal’s “Buddy Walk” Days, how Dick Allen helped Mike Schmidt loosen up that dull day in April when the Phillies were getting blown out in Chicago, how Clayton Kershaw honored Joe by giving him an extra one minute and forty-three seconds in an interview….

There’s a lot of musing on why a player is great, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. He looks at Miguel Cabrera’s “Triple Crown” season, and compares it to the Triple Crown seasons of the past. For Ferguson Jenkins, he muses on how the expectations for starting pitchers have changed. With players like Rogers Hornsby and Curt Schilling, the discussion is about how you can be a great player and a bad person at the same time.

One thing that pops up often is the relationship between the player and their father. How they learned a skill from them, or their father drove them to succeed. One suspects that a lot of the purchases were by sons for their fathers, or fathers for their sons….

Posnanski, a multiple award-winning writer whose previous books include profiles of Buck O’Neil and biographies of Joe Paterno and Harry Houdini, has turned his considerable skill to crafting what can only be described as portraits of one hundred baseball legends. He captures the essence of baseball Greatness in a way no mere list of numbers could.


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