There is no doubt that George Will’s reputation as one of the most profound of the political pundits and prognosticators at either end of the ideological spectrum is secure. Equally beyond dispute is the fact that Will is so devoted to baseball that if aficionados were elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he would undoubtedly be installed in his first year of eligibility.
For those who possess only a nodding acquaintance with the game, baseball seems a rather simple operation. Men throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball, and retire comfortably at an age when their sandlot compatriots are reaching the ranks of middle-management. Not so, insists Will, with the fervor of the true believer. Rather, baseball is an activity which not only benefits the human soul but also provides positive benefits for society. It emancipates the viewer by allowing contemplation of beauty, courage, and physical grace and thus educates the passions of the individual. Nevertheless, if the umpire begins each game with the command to “play ball,” the fact remains that professional baseball is work.
To illustrate his point, Will examines, in sequence, the manager, the pitcher, the batter, and the defense. In a series of exhaustive interviews, Tony La Russa (manager of the World Champion Oakland Athletics), Orel Hershiser (1988 Cy Young Award-winning pitcher), Tony Gwynn (winner of three consecutive National League batting titles), and Cal Ripken, Jr. (Gold Glove-winning shortstop), reveal that baseball is far more than natural grace and style. Indeed, those who would succeed in this most demanding of professions must study, analyze, modify, and constantly remain alert to even the most minor of clues. Baseball, as Will continues to remind the reader, is a game of split seconds and fractions of distance.
MEN AT WORK is not for the casual student of the occasional spectator of the national pastime. This is a work for the dedicated, fanatic, compulsive devotee of the game. Only those who are inclined to contemplate and savor the intricate detail will be able to complete this book. Still, there are many people who occupy that category, and for them MEN AT WORK will be a pleasure. Moreover, the raw material assembled here will soon see the light of day, or so the reader is promised, in what may become the definitive literary examination of the game when Will completes the novel he began on January 24, 1990.