Picks and Pans Review: Men at Work

updated 05/14/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/14/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by George F. Will

If you are someone who finds the game of baseball an annoying summer ritual, time-consuming and childish, as shallow and meaningless as any Judith Krantz novel, then give this one a pass. If, however, you are someone whose idea of a good time is sitting through a twi-night doubleheader on a muggy evening at the Stadium and washing it down with a nightcap of late scores and highlights on TV, this book will fit as snug as an old glove—preferably a Willie Mays 1962 model.

Will, who writes a syndicated political column, is a baseball fan in the truest sense. He finds solace and security in the mounds of daily statistics, recording everything from home runs to put-outs, that are as much a part of baseball as the hit-and-run or a Baltimore chop. He thrives on the game's history, accurately coming to the conclusion that as much as baseball has changed through the years, it is still a simple game of hitting, throwing, running and scoring. More important, Will understands that baseball players are craftsmen/artists, as talented and gifted at their work as any carpenter or sculptor is in his arena.

To prove his point, Will has chosen to write about four men who, he feels, epitomize the craft of baseball.

Tony La Russa, manager of the world champion Oakland A's, is seen as the nuts-and-bolts CEO, studying charts, sizing up opponents, devising strategy. Orel Hershiser, pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is seen as a man working a position in which he truly holds the game in his hands. Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres is a batter with a surgeon's precision.

Finally, infielder Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles is portrayed as the prime minister of baseball defense: "It takes Ripken about two weeks to break in a glove and he usually uses two a year. He changes gloves during the year because he wants a glove that is still somewhat stiff, because he does not want it to close too easily." The book, like the game itself, has its flaws. The writing is flat and bogged down with Bill James-like stats. A more colorful quartet could have been found—Tommy Lasorda would have provided a few needed laughs, and Ozzie Smith is more of a skillful showman than the earnest Ripken, who often comes across as exciting as an extra-inning Mariners-Indians game. But arguing about choices made is an important baseball ingredient.

Will has packed his book with historical insight, everything from the evolution of the catcher's position to the birth of the stolen base. He does delve into far too many boring and presumptuous asides. But his pen manages to connect more often than it misses. So then, pencil him in at, say, second, a dependable .260 hitter with no power, no speed, slow hands, but reliable, with lots of grit. The bow tie, however, needs to go—ballplayers hate bow ties. (MacMillan, $19.95)

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