Interview: Joe Posnanski

Joe Posnanski is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He’s written three books, wrote for The Kansas City Star from 1996 to 2009, has twice been voted as the Sports Columnist of the Year by the Associated Press, and has been nominated for a grand total of 21 sports writing awards. 

Posnanski covers many sports, but he’s well known for his baseball writing, and in recent years, his name has become even more widespread to Twins’ fans. He’s been very passionate about two causes that relate to Minnesota Twins fans in particular: Joe Mauer and the MVP, and Bert Blyleven and the Hall of Fame. 
Joe took some time out of his busy schedule to talk Mauer, Blyleven, writing, the Metrodome and more.

Voice From Twins Territory: Growing up, what was your favorite baseball team, and who were some of your favorite players? 

Joe Posnanski: Well, I was a hardcore Cleveland Indians fans in the 1970s and my favorite player, without question, was Duane Kuiper, a gutsy second baseman who could not run fast or hit with power or hit much at all. But I loved him just the same. Loved pretty much all those Indians – Buddy Bell, Andre Thornton, Rico Carty (who would keep his wallet in his baseball pants and would not slide), Len Barker, Frank Duffy, Rick Manning, … well, just say all those Indians players. 

VFTT: What was your childhood dream, did you always know that you wanted to be a sports writer? What influenced this decision? 

JP: My childhood dream was to play second base for the Cleveland Indians. And if that did not work out, I was willing to be an overachieving wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. And if that didn’t work out, I had an image of myself sprouting up so I could be a point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite all my backup plans, none of those things quite worked out. I did not think about becoming a sportswriter until college … my decision was basically influenced by flunking out of accounting. 

VFTT: What has it been like in the past year to have the opportunity to join Sports Illustrated as a senior writer covering Major League Baseball? 

JP: Well, the great thing about my job at Sports Illustrated is that I get to cover everything. Baseball is my calling card, I think, and I love it. I also love that when baseball season ends I’m writing football and when football season ends I’m writing basketball and golf … I love the variety of my job. 

VFTT: What are your thoughts on sabermetrics? How do you feel they change the way people look at players and baseball in general? 

JP: Well, sabermetrics, as I understand it, is the analysis of baseball through objective measures – so my general thoughts: I love that. I don’t agree with everything I see, and I don’t understand everything I see, but I like the idea of trying to find truth in baseball rather than just throwing out an opinion without some effort behind it. 

VFTT: Regarding sabermetrics, where do you cross the line? When is the time to ‘ignore’ them in certain cases when looking at players? 

JP: I don’t think you EVER cross the line in an effort to find truth in baseball or any sport. I think people can use statistics in a misleading way to prove a pre-determined point, and so I suppose that’s crossing the line. But that’s not really sabermetrics. And I don’t buy for one minute that the enjoyment of the game is in any way hindered by numbers. I get a huge thrill out of Albert Pujols’ wide stance, Carlos Beltran chasing down a fly ball, Tim Lincecum painting the outside corner with a 98-mph fastball, Evan Longoria making a diving play to his left, and a guy hustling up the line to beat out a double play. I love the big and small details of baseball. But that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to challenge what I see and know more than my observations can tell me. 

VFTT: You lobbied hard for Joe Mauer’s Most Valuable Player candidacy this season, what made you feel so strongly about him winning the award? 

JP: He was clearly the best player in the American League. I just thought it was so obvious that I had to write about it again and again – imagine, a catcher leading the league in batting, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It had never happened before, and it’s one of the great accomplishments in baseball history. I hoped it would be rewarded, and I’m glad that it was rewarded. 

VFTT: You have stated that you felt Mauer should have won the Most Valuable Player award in both 2006 and 2008, did this make you push for him harder in 2009? 

JP: No, I don’t think so. I’m a big Joe Mauer fan. I love watching him play. I think he was underrated in 2006 and 2008 – I voted him MVP in 2008 and would have in 2006. But I think 2009 was a year apart even from those two seasons. 

VFTT: What do you feel Joe Mauer’s future holds? Do you see any way that Mauer is not a Twin after the 2010 season? 

JP: Well, I see a way, of course. If he pushed it, he could probably get $30 or $35 million a year. But I HOPE he stays a Twin because he means so much to the town and the Midwest in general. At the end of the day, I hope I would never tell anyone how to live their life. I would love to see Minnesota pay Mauer fair market value and I would love to see him stay there for his whole career. But that’s up to Mauer and the Twins. 

VFTT: You have a Hall o
f Fame vote and it’s been said that you are ‘obsessed’ with the process of filling out your ballot, is this true? 

JP: I would say that’s probably true – but I don’t think it makes me different from many Hall of Fame voters. Most of the voters I know take the process very seriously. 

VFTT: You watched Bert Blyleven growing up, what were your impressions of him at that period in time? 

JP: I thought he had the best curveball I had ever seen. It was a Bugs Bunny curveball that would start at your eyes and end up at your toes. I know that generally he was not viewed as a big star, but I thought he was just awesome when he pitched for some lousy Cleveland teams in the 1980s. 

VFTT: You voted for Blyleven the first year you had the opportunity to vote, how strongly do you feel about him being in the Hall of Fame? 

JP: Well, as strongly as I can feel, I guess. I vote for him. I push for him. I probably won’t handcuff myself to Cooperstown doors … I leave that for Rich Lederer, who feels even more strongly than I do. 

VFTT: What are your key arguments of why Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame? 

JP: Well, there are countless arguments both ways. I guess at the end of the day, my feeling is that a pitcher who is fifth all-time in strikeouts, ninth all-time in shutouts and 27th all-time in victories belongs in the Hall of Fame. 

VFTT: What do you think other voters who don’t vote for Blyleven see? Why has it taken so long for people to begin to vote for him? 

JP: Well, there are arguments against Blyleven. He didn’t win 300 games, which is probably a silly line to draw but it is a pretty clear-cut line – if Blyleven had won 13 more games he would have gone to the Hall in one of his first three ballots, I bet. He only won 20 games once – another silly line in my mind but it’s there. His winning percentage is low for a great pitcher, and fairly or unfairly he really did not have a reputation as a great pitcher. It just takes a while for all that to flush through the system, I think. 

VFTT: After getting 74.2 percent of the vote, is it a guarantee that Blyleven will get in next year? 

JP: There are no guarantees in life, but I’d say he’s 99% sure. 

VFTT: You’ve twice been named the best sports columnist in America and have been nominated for over 20 other awards, what has that all been like? 

JP: My mother always says that with all my awards and 4 bucks I can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It is really nice that people have thought enough of me to give me some awards and I’m very appreciative. But I also know that’s not what this is all about. 

VFTT: What is your favorite part of covering major league baseball on a daily basis? 

JP: Well, I don’t quite get out there on a daily basis, but I love the whole thing – love watching batting practice, love watching infield (when they do it), love everything about the daily process of baseball. 

VFTT: What is the best event that you have witnessed in person in your time covering baseball and sports in general? 

JP: I’ve been to so many great things. The Jeter home run shortly after 9/11 was incredible. But I’ve really seen a lot of great stuff. 

VFTT: The Minnesota Twins will be outdoors next season, have you seen the new stadium, and what are your impressions? 

JP: I have seen the stadium, and it looks absolutely beautiful. I know people talk about the weather a lot, but I know that June and July and August in Minnesota are about as beautiful as anyplace in America, and it always made me sad to go inside and play ball on those days.  

VFTT: Do you think weather will be a factor in Minnesota any more than it is in Detroit, Cleveland and other colder cities? 

JP: Probably not. I was lectured by my friend Jeff Shelman on that very subject when I brought it up. Early April could be brutal, late October could be brutal, but generally it is not much different from my own Cleveland hometown. 

VFTT: As the team leaves the Metrodome, what are your impressions of the facility and your greatest memories of the park? 

JP: Well, it’s weird … I always liked the Metrodome in an odd way. It was a great place to cover a baseball game – ev
erything was easy there. It may not have been a great place to watch baseball, but for a writer who just wants access to and good sight lines and all that, it was pretty great. And I liked the possibility that a player would lose the ball in the roof. 

My greatest memory there, without question, was Buck O’Neil Day. I was traveling with Buck then to write my book “The Soul of Baseball” and they had Buck O’Neil Day – gave out baseball cards with him on it, brought in celebrities like Tony Oliva – and it was just beautiful. Minneapolis is one of my favorite places in the world, and that’s a big reason why.

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