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Posnanski and Paterno

Jul 13, 2012, 6:00 PM EDT


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.

  1. wetmorepsu12 - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    as my name suggests, i am biased on this subject. but i would like to see this blog stick to baseball related material. if you wanna talk psu and paterno, go write about it over at CFT.

    • sgoodmantzak - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:33 PM

      If you don’t like it then don’t read it. If a top tier baseball writer is writing a book about the top story in the news, Calcaterra has every right to comment about it.

      • khuxford - Jul 13, 2012 at 8:55 PM

        I really don’t think a baseball writer writing a non-baseball book warrants inclusion on HardballTalk for any other reason than the author of the article just wants to find a way to shoehorn it in for the hits and his own desires.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 13, 2012 at 9:32 PM

        This blog started in April 2009. Since that time, the writers and the writers alone have decided what should be included as proper subjects for coverage. And it shall always be that way.

        As an aside, I will note that “the author of the article just wants to find a way to shoehorn it in for the hits and his own desires” almost perfectly defines the guiding principles of this and any other good blog. That which (a) may be of interest to readers; and (b) interests the writer is all that matters.

        If you’d like something less expansive than that, I suggest you subscribe to the Associated Press newswire.

    • wetmorepsu12 - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:34 PM

      no where in my post did i defend paterno for his inaction. its indefensible. i just asked that if a post such as this one is published, it stay with its genre-specific website. i come here to read about baseball, not college football.

      • sgoodmantzak - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:42 PM

        That’s fair enough. However, I like this blog a lot because Calcaterra and other bloggers tend to think outside-the-box and aren’t afraid to cover topics that aren’t purely about baseball. Sportswriters are so formulaic these days and I find this blog to be a breath of fresh air.

      • wetmorepsu12 - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:48 PM

        after re-reading the post a few times i rescind my initial and follow-up comment. with everything that’s been going on the past few days i jumped to conclusions and didnt take the time to comprehend the gist of the article.

  2. Kevin S. - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    In defense of Posnanski’s comments at the time, his point was that people were attributing things to Paterno that were not publicly known when the scandal broke. That they later turned out to be correct about them doesn’t change the fact that Pos’ point regarding the rush was inaccurate. Were he to still stand by those sentiments today, knowing what we know, it’d be an entirely different story, but I can’t blame him for not wanting Paterno buried based on what we *thought* he did.

    • Kevin S. - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:30 PM

      Ugh, “doesn’t change the fact that Pos’ point regarding the rush was accurate.


      • micker716 - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:00 PM

        I disagree. Since the facts weren’t known, he should have kept his mouth shut and let the justice system run it’s course. I believe Posnanski didn’t want the accusations toward Paterno to be true. They didn’t match his narrative or the man he thought he knew.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:10 PM

        I believe Posnanski didn’t want the accusations toward Paterno to be true.

        That’s cool, and I believe that Kate Upton is about to knock on my door and promise me the best sex of my life.

        But just like your comment, it’s completely untrue. Kevin S is right. All Pos asked is for people to wait for more details to come out. Your comments are unwarranted, and downright ignorant.

      • samu0034 - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:14 PM

        As I recall, Posnanski only said anything at all after the continued clamoring by his audience for him to make a statement. Poz basically refused to join in on the hatchet job, dog pile journalism that was going on at the time based on woefully incomplete evidence. So I guess if that’s your definition of having not “kept his mouth shut and let the justice system run its course”…

      • Kevin S. - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:15 PM

        Because the facts weren’t known, he shouldn’t have told people to wait until the facts were known?

      • micker716 - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:55 PM

        My opinions may be considered unwarranted or ignorant, but not “untrue”. They are after all my opinions. You might agree with Kevin S., but that doesn’t mean he’s right, it means you agree with his opinion. Publicly calling Paterno a “scapegoat” without having all the facts was irresponsible…in my opinion. That quote was just the tip of the iceberg. I recommend that everyone read some more choice quotes by Posnanski from the Deadspin article Craig referenced:

        “I think [Paterno] is a scapegoat. I definitely think that…I think he tried to do the right thing, and the right thing didn’t happen.”

        “The rush to judgment here has been extraordinarily. The lesson to learn might be that we screwed this thing up.”

        “I’ve never seen anything handled worse. Maybe how New Orleans, post-Katrina….Paterno was always dangled by this university.”

        “The only thing people remember about Woody Hayes is that he hit a player. I don’t want that to happen to Joe. He didn’t hit a player.”

        “If this happened at the University of Miami, no matter how bad it was, it wouldn’t have elevated to this level.”

        “A lot of people came here to bury Joe. As a writer, I’m mad with that, as someone who’s come to know the Paternos, I’m heartbroken.”

        Best of luck to you and Ms. Upton.

      • Kevin S. - Jul 13, 2012 at 8:06 PM

        Actually, calling Paterno a scapegoat even without the facts is fair – it’s the way he was treated without the facts that made him a scapegoat. Him being or not being a scapegoat had absolutely nothing to do with what the facts were, and everything to do with how Paterno was treated before the facts were know. Again, that the facts ultimately vindicated that treatment does not change the fact that it may have been premature. Posnanski gave some opinions on Paterno, based upon what he did know. Those opinions turned out to be wrong. That does not mean he was wrong to say that we all needed to slow down and wait for the rest of the facts before condemning him. *That* was a true statement, and one he was unfairly vilified for. I find also find it patently unfair to assume, as some have, that Posnanski’s opinion of Paterno wouldn’t change given the new information.

        Actually, I’ll amend my comments on Posnanski’s scapegoating comments. I don’t remember if he was referring to the university or the general public. If it was the university, we don’t know how much of the details revealed in the Freeh Report they were aware of, and the university was right to fire him even based on the limited public information we had at the time. If that’s who he was referring to, he was off base. But if he was referring to the general reaction to crucify Paterno, well, no, we didn’t know then what we know now, and it was absolutely fair to call a large part of what happened in November scapegoating.

  3. schlom - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:24 PM

    I’m shocked that this book is coming out. At best it’s going to be a whitewashed version that will make Posnanski look like a dupe or pawn or at worst an attempt to gloss over Paterno’s failings. The only thing that mattered to Paterno was winning football games, everything he did in life was to further that goal.

    • Kevin S. - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:29 PM

      You really aren’t familiar with Pos if you don’t think he’s capable of coming out with a non-whitewashed version.

      • schlom - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:38 PM

        Are you serious? He obviously supported Paterno at the time because he like the guy and believed in him. Do you think it’s possible for him to write an objective book? And are you going to believe anything Paterno said in any of their interviews? Everything from 1969 (when Paterno hired Sandusky) is tainted because we’ll never know how far back the molestation goes and how much Paterno really knew. For all we know he started right after he started there and Paterno covered up for him for 40 freaking years!

        All that will probably be in the book, right?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:48 PM

        All that will probably be in the book, right?

        Probably not because there doesn’t seem to be an evidence of it. And if you think Posnanski is the type of writer to discuss unsubstantiated events like this, you really haven’t read anything by him.

        But then again, you have no qualms about passing judgment on something you’ve never read so…

      • Kevin S. - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:56 PM

        He supported Paterno in the heat of the moment when we didn’t have all the evidence we have now regarding his complicity in Sandusky’s assaults and his active role in the cover up. That does not mean that with months of time to review and digest this information that he’ll be just as defensive. I do find it deliciously ironic that you’re rushing to judge Posnanski without knowing the details that are going to be revealed in his book, though.

      • schlom - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:09 PM

        You’re right, I thought the book was the same with a postscript added although now I see that he probably rewrote it.

      • davidpom50 - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:16 PM

        “He obviously supported Paterno at the time because he like the guy and believed in him. Do you think it’s possible for him to write an objective book?”

        No, I don’t. I expect the relevant parts of the book to be personal and painful, I expect it to be wrought with Posnanski’s own feelings of sadness and betrayal. I expect it to be very powerful.

        I also expect it to be a very small part of the book that will mostly explore the football parts of Paterno’s unprecedentedly long career.

    • dan1111 - Jul 14, 2012 at 4:56 AM

      Ironically, Posnanski is being scapegoated for writing a bad book before the facts are known…

  4. keithbangedyermom - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    First, Posnanski is not the best baseball writer on the planet. Most of the guys at Baseball Prospectus are better than him. Posnanski has NOTHING on Jason Collette or Jay Jaffe.

    • paperlions - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:19 PM

      Yes, he is.

      No, they aren’t.

      Yes, he does.

    • Charles Gates - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:34 PM

      Writer statistician.

      • Charles Gates - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:35 PM

        Ahh…i used a to signify ‘not equals’ and the html deity took me to task there…

    • IdahoMariner - Jul 14, 2012 at 12:41 AM

      Wow…I was waiting to finish reading the comments until I wrote something…but keithiwontdignifyyournamebywritingitagain, wow. Just… Wow. Pretty sure the guys at baseball prospectus would also be floored by your claim. Because, yeah “person who understands statistics and is really good at explaining them” is great, but not the same as a great writer. Pos is a great writer.

      More than that, he is a human being. An especially thoughtful, observant, fully-formed human being. Yeah, I didn’t like what he said last fall. But I respected that he was In a unique, insane situation, and he did the responsible thing. He shut up about it. I like to think the intervening months gave him time to step back and get some perspective, and more information. But as I have said here already today…he had access and trust at a time when no one else did. So, in addition to the perspective, maybe, as Craig says with better words, we will get some insight, both into what a man like Paterno tells himself, and the world, about why and what he has done…and insight into what it was like to be in the middle of all that, and what the journey from adoring biographer to (likely) disappointed chronicler was like. Pos has it in him to write something GREAT. I just don’t know I’d the accelerated publishing schedule will give him time to reach deep and get there. I am hoping for the best.

    • jasoncollette - Jul 14, 2012 at 3:34 PM

      Yes, he pretty much is.
      (company line) thanks for your patronage!
      Yea, I wish my entire body had as much writing talent as Posnanski’s left pinky.

  5. MattJanik - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    I wish they would’ve kept the date in 2013; there’s no doubt the story could be better told with another year to process it from here.

    That said, a lot of people seem quick to assume what will and won’t be in the book, or quick to assume they know exactly what’s going on in Posnanski’s mind… Here’s a novel idea; how about we, you know, wait to actually READ the book before we decide whether it’s a good piece of writing or not?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:26 PM

      Here’s a novel idea; how about we, you know, wait to actually READ the book before we decide whether it’s a good piece of writing or not?

      I might repost this until the stupid chat softwares blocks me for being a spam account. QFMFT

  6. paperlions - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    I agree with Craig’s sentiments. I am worried a bit about how the book will be received. If Poz tries to cover all of Paterno’s life, including all of the good things he did, and if he goes with the assumption that Paterno didn’t do other cover-up type things prior to the Sundusky horror story….people will rip it to shreds. Right now (and in August it’ll still be true), no one wants to read anything good about Paterno (whether it was true or not), and no one wants to read anything that celebrates the life and accomplishments (such as they are) of Paterno.

    In 5 years, the book would have better perspective (for both the writer and readers)….right now is simply horrible timing for a Paterno biography.

    • tombando - Jul 14, 2012 at 10:17 AM

      Timing is everything. Book sales will be better now, book quality better in a year am sure.

  7. hojo20 - Jul 13, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    Posnanski is a bum for believing Paterno. I refuse to read him anymore and wonder if he knew about Sandusky before the news broke.

    • DJ MC - Jul 14, 2012 at 12:02 AM

      Look, I’m sorry that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and it wasn’t right for your parents to keep telling you he did for all of those years. But don’t you think that talking so poorly about someone else who believed what they were led to for as long as the lie could hold is the wrong way to react? Don’t take out your own anger on someone else.

      • Kevin S. - Jul 14, 2012 at 1:27 AM

        It would depend upon the individual contract. Although even if they were to get some royalties from it, I wonder if the Paterno family would want them if the book does indeed paint Paterno in the light the Freeh Report shone on him. They’re pretty clearly in denial about it all right now.

      • Kevin S. - Jul 14, 2012 at 1:28 AM

        Gah! Reply fail. Obviously meant for sawxalicious below.

  8. sawxalicious - Jul 14, 2012 at 12:40 AM

    Don’t know if biographical books like this pay any royalties to the subject (or in this case the estate of that subject), but I would hope not. If it contributes one penny to the Paterno estate, I would hope this book’s sales fail miserably.

  9. dirtyharry1971 - Jul 14, 2012 at 12:45 AM

    Posnanski a great writer? Please…

  10. schlom - Jul 14, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    The thing the only important detail that could possibly come out of this book is when exactly did Paterno know that Sandusky was a serial child rapist. Personally I find it hard to believe that he didn’t find out until 1998 considering that they worked very close to each other for 30 years before that. If Sandusky was molesting boys in the 70’s or 80’s and Paterno knew but chose to do nothing to protect the football team and his legacy, than his entire life was a sham. Nothing he did could possibly overcome that. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that Posnanski’s book will uncover this detail.

  11. tombando - Jul 14, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Seems to me that Joe Poz is too close to the story to be objective. His and Bill James’ reactions to this sordid tale have been surprisingly dunderheaded. Somewheres Hornsby and Dick Allen are smiling, but no one else is. James had a column in the 80’s Historical Abstract titled When Smart People(Einstein etc) should shaddap about things they donno about. Here James should heed his own advice. Joe Poz too.

  12. offseasonblues - Jul 14, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    The story of institutionally sanctioned child abuse is so much bigger and more important than football or baseball or sports writers. I too love Posnanski’s work, but if he is any less sorry than Rick Reilly in this link:, I will have a hard time ever reading anything he authors afterwards.

    • flynnie321 - Jul 17, 2012 at 6:23 PM

      Thanks for the link, offseasonblues (love the handle). Reilly’s article is the best I’ve read on the subject, and I don’t see how Joe Pos can do better. I love Pos, but what is required is not his line of country. His leaving Kansas to write this book has to go down as one of the most unfortunate decisions of all time. Craig is justifiably concerned about the publication date.

  13. iseedumbpeopleeverywhere - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    Craig Calcaterra is as clueless as the people who post here, but what is one to expect from people who spend their time watching and fretting over the games of highly-paid mercenaries playing for billion-dollar corporations that, “convince,” your elected representatives to give them your tax dollars in order to build themselves stadiums as your local communities crumble around you? Yeah, I’m talking to you baseball fans. You’re not men. You’re arrested-development lemmings who smile as you pay your entrance fees to a marathon with a finish line located at the edge of a cliff.

    The Factfreeh Report’s contention that Paterno was guilty of conspiring to keep Sandusky’s actions secret has been shredded by every legal mind in the country. Yep, if you’d actually read it, and if you have the mental capacity to think critically, you’d also see that it is nothing more than conjecture and opinion, because anyone with a brain who has read it in its entirety knows that it includes ZERO evidence of Paterno’s complicity in any cover up. You can say that he should have known all you want, but there is no evidence to support you.


    Reality? The report was a 6.5-million-dollar whitewash, bought by PSU’s Board of Trustees, and paid for by the University, or should I say, by everyone who has attended or who is attending PSU, who has contributed to PSU, does business with has or worked for PSU, etc., etc.

    So put up of shut up dummies; i.e., read the whole report and then come back with some facts, and no, that would not include a few emails that were neither written nor received by Paterno, and which indicate NOTHING specific whatsoever. Otherwise, go back to watching baseball as the real world becomes increasingly hostile toward your way of life.

    Oh sure, you can tell me who has the highest lifetime batting average. That’s great. Now wake the **** up and take care of some real business, instead of reveling in the fact that someone whose shoes you were never fit to shine has been demonized by the same media that tells you what to think in every other aspect of your lives.

    Seriously, wake up.

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