Joe Paterno loved the Brooklyn Dodgers. He didn’t endorse the building of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Penn State’s campus.
Those are among the collection of facts former Kansas City Star and Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski discovered while researching “Paterno,” the anticipated 412-page book released on Tuesday.
Because we’re on the subject of baseball, let’s simply say this book whiffs on many levels.
Don't look for Posnanski’s biography to determine whether Joe Paterno could have stopped Jerry Sandusky from abusing children. Posnanski, who injects himself into the story at annoying rates, writes early in the book: “The only thing ever asked of me was to write the truth as I found it.”
The only significant truth unearthed is that Paterno didn’t like Sandusky.
“The two despised each other from the start,” Posnanski begins the 14-page chapter about Sandusky.
The chapter represents the highlight of the book, a detailed account of why Paterno and Sandusky didn't mesh professionally or personally. Some of the chapter’s conclusions represent Posnanski’s attempt at distancing Paterno from Sandusky. Paterno makes it clear to Posnanski that athletic director Tim Curley negotiated Sandusky’s generous retirement package.
“People like to give me too much power,” Paterno told Posnanski. “That’s Tim’s department. I told Tim how I felt. He worked out the deal as he saw fit.”
The following chapter, which is titled “Adam” and describes the emotional toll former defensive back Adam Taliaferro’s gruesome injury took on Paterno, introduces one of the other main characters of the past nine months: former Penn State quarterback and assistant coach Mike McQueary.
Posnanski asked Paterno what McQueary told him about a 2001 incident involving Sandusky. But when pressed, Paterno offered vague memories of his conversation with McQueary.
“Mike didn’t give me any details,” Paterno told Posnanski. “I could just tell that he was upset.”
Paterno said he didn’t follow up on the conversation because he trusted Curley to handle the matter.
“I did what I thought was the right thing. ... If what they’re saying about Jerry is true, I think we all wish we would have done more,” Paterno said.
Curley and Gary Schultz, former vice president for finance, face failure to report and perjury charges for the 2001 incident. Their trial begins in January.
The legal drama of the past nine months altered Posnanski’s project, which he reportedly received a $750,000 advance to pursue. But Posnanski, it should be noted, received access to Paterno that no other journalist had in the later stages of the longtime coach’s life. Paterno died of lung cancer on Jan. 22.
He did little with the access beyond rehashing Paterno’s on-field results and offering anecdotes from former players. The “Joe did this for me” stories add no additional layers to the book.
Besides timing, nothing separates “Paterno” from other biographies about the coach. The final stages of Paterno’s life are among his most fascinating yet the book offers few visuals of last season other than scenes outside his house after his firing.
How did an 84-year-old in deteriorating health lead a team to an 8-1 start? What type of relationship did Paterno have with his final team?
Anybody who covered Penn State football in the past 15 years wanted nothing more than 15 exclusive minutes with Paterno. Many beat writers loathed the access Posnanski was granted.
Few will envy what the access produced.
Perhaps Posnanski was rushed. Publisher Simon & Schuster accelerated the release date from Father’s Day 2013 to Tuesday, 11 days before Penn State opened its first season since 1966 without Paterno as head coach. The events since last November tossed a blitz that Posnanski struggled picking up.
“Paterno” drops to No. 3 on Posnanski’s depth chart behind baseball books “The Machine” and “The Soul of Baseball.”
The football story with lasting possibilities reads like the typical sports biography. Posnanski describes Paterno’s upbringing, recaps life-altering moments, describes big plays and examines a few relationships.
After having one of the best seats in State College, Posnanski, under normal circumstances a terrific writer, struggled handling a nasty breaking ball.
It happens to the best of us.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy