7 Questions with Joe Niese

By Alison Wagener

As the World Series quickly approaches, what is a literary organization to do? Interview the Chippewa Valley’s only baseball and writing double-hitter, that’s what! 

Joe Niese is a local librarian and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. His articles on baseball have appeared in The National Pastime and Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. His first book, Burleigh Grimes: Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer, was published in 2013 by McFarland Press. He raised the funds to publish his most recent release, Handy Andy: The Andy Pafko Story, through a more nontraditional route.

I sat down with Joe via email to chat about his work, recent literary award, and predictions for the biggest baseball game of the year.

So why baseball? How does one find themselves in a career of writing nonfiction baseball novels?

First, I’d love to make writing my career, but, alas, I don’t think I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon. As far as baseball goes—it has been a part of my life and identity for as long as I can remember. I played it, watched it and read about it. About a decade ago I started writing articles about local baseball history. Several years ago, one of my articles snowballed into a book.

How do you think your stories resonate with your readers?

No other sport is as tied to its history as baseball is. In turn, fans enjoy reading about players from the past—whether it be a Hall of Famer, or a favorite player from their childhood. For my two books, I think it is fun to read about a person from western Wisconsin that reached the pinnacle of their professional. 

I hear that your latest release, Handy Andy: The Andy Pafko Story, recently won an award – could you tell us more about that?

Yes, the book won a bronze in Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award-Sports (Adult Non-Fiction). I had done things a little backwards. My first title (Burleigh Grimes: Baseball’s Last Legal Spitball), was published by a traditional publisher. For Handy Andy, I self-published through a successful Kickstarter campaign. It was a rewarding experience and nice to be recognized for my efforts.

You’ve now written books about two pretty extraordinary baseball players from Wisconsin. How did you choose who to write about?

Frankly, it was proximity that attracted me to Grimes and Pafko. Both grew up within an hour of my hometown, Eau Claire and both of them got their start in professional ball in Eau Claire, too. Of course, you start researching their lives and you ask “How has someone not done this already?” Both were a pleasure to write about. 

What should your readers expect from you next?

Oh, I have endless book ideas, but right now my efforts are focused on chronicling the life of Charles “Gus” Dorais from Chippewa Falls. He was one of the most influential football minds of the first half of the 20th century. His claim to fame is popularizing the forward pass at the University of Notre Dame with his good friend, roommate and receiver, Knute Rockne, but there is so much more than that. I hope that it will be available around this time in 2018. 

What’s your favorite local baseball story?

I don’t have one story that I can pinpoint, but, personally, I like to look back on the great times I had playing sandlot ball with my two brothers and the eight-ten guys from the neighborhood we grew up in. Every generation feels like theirs was the end of the innocence, but, those memories are wonderful. 

As the Chippewa Valley’s baseball expert, I have to ask—who’s going to win the World Series? 

Well, I don’t think I can take the crown of the area’s baseball expert. There are plenty who have forgotten more than I’ll ever know. But, as far as the World Series goes, I’d like to see the Cubs and Red Sox, with the Cubs winning in six. 

Well there you have it, folks! Be sure to check out Joe’s books, which can be found through his website and at the Local Store.