Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Joe Posnanski's so-long column, the Kansas City Kid leaves home... Don't miss it

Before you read anything else, go to the Kansas City Star’s Web site and read this goodbye column from Joe Posnanski. As my buddy Kevin Scobee (who says he threw 88 but I swear looked 92 from behind the screen) says, bring a hankie.

Of course, it may be more poignant for him because Kevin has moved to California to find himself and his fortune and he misses his home town. He should miss it, but he should also be adventurous and brave and he should do what young writers do: live and see in order to write. You aren’t writing just when you’re at the keyboard; you’re writing every damned time you really look at what’s going on around you. As Least Heat Moon says, writing is "witnessing," and the key to witnessing is seeing. Seeing in bold ital.

So Posnanski’s words are sharper for Kevin, but they're anything but dull for me. He loved my city, he noticed its charm, he immersed himself in it the way I wish I had. I mean, Lord, he made friends with Buck O’Neil. I can’t even get anybody to recommend me for Buck's seat at the stadium. Posnanski did exactly what a columnist should do: he became one with his city in the tradition of Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin ... and Joe McGuff before him at the Star.

(If only he’d followed McGuff to the editor and publisher's desk at our hapless local newspaper.)

And he wrote from his heart but also from his mind. He wrote opinion, of course, but he wrote opinion from fact and observation and by actually talking to people and taking notes about what they said. This is a lesson for all who venture into the murk of column writing and blogging. The point of the column was never Joe. Well, it was never Joe until he became obsessed with the cute-ness of his writing voice, then it was about Joe. But, he recovered from such lapses quickly. Red Smith once compared column writing to baseball. If you wrote five columns a week, you simply could not be expected to have five hits in five at-bats.

I’d say, off hand, Joe hit about .300. And I mean that as high praise. His on-base percentage was probably a hundred points higher. This is why you never missed his column and if you did, somebody sent it to you with a note that you really must read this.

I’ll tell you something about Joe Posnanski that should impress you. I sat across from him in another booth once at D’Bronx on 39th Street. It was a pleasant summer afternoon. He was alone in the booth next to the brick wall scribbled with names and dates and messages. And he did this thing that was so generous and – if you know D’Bronx – so out of place for the place. He tipped the guy who brought his sandwich over. He tipped him five bucks. I mean, the sandwich didn’t cost five bucks. The guy was surprised but happy and Joe made another friend in the city, this time without writing a word.

He made me happy, too. I wanted to like him but I was afraid I wouldn’t. I’ve always said, ‘If you like a musician, don’t meet him.’ I was afraid he’d be arrogant. He’d be a jerk. He’d be the kind of person who gives journalists a bad name.

He wasn’t. He was, after all, a Kansas City kid by then.



  1. The Royals foul-tipped me one too many times back in ‘94 –what, a manger can’t throw things at sportswriters without getting fired?- so I quit going to the stadium. When the organization slid further downhill, I even quit watching the games on the tube.

    But I always read Joe’s columns on them.

    Even the one he wrote every spring, the one I hated because I knew it to be a lie ( hell, Joe knew it to be a lie), the column where he shared his belief that this was the year the Boys in Blue would win it all.

    And every spring I’d peruse Joe’s reasons and find myself buying into his logic, even as my hindbrain screamed, NO WAY! YOU’RE BEING HUSTLED! AGAIN!!!

    But for a week after that column, maybe more if the Royals had read Joe and found themselves inspired to play above their historical station, I’d follow the sports pages with hope and anticipation.

    I’m going to miss that, damn him.