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Book Review: Men at Work, by George Will

I have recently read the book Men at Work by the political and social commentator George F. Will.  Although Will is mainly known for writing about his conservative politics, he is also, as it turns out, a nearly fanatical baseball fan with an absurdly encyclopedic knowledge of its history and all manner of common and obscure facts and statistics.

I am a big baseball fan myself – though apparently that fandom is dwarfed by that of Will’s – and, as a Christmas gift due to my fandom, my friend and law firm associate Adam S. Bernick, Esquire gave me Men at Work.

In Men at Work, Will attempts to provide the reader an inside look into the internal mechanisms of baseball.  He divides the book into four sections: managing, pitching, hitting, and fielding.  In each section, he highlights a player which most typifies that aspect of baseball.  So, the sections are represented by, respectively, Tony La Russa, Orel Hershiser, Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripkin.

I could not possibly detail all of the things noted by Will in the various sections.  Suffice it to say that he conducted dozens of interviews and apparently combed an incredible amount of historical data and synthesized all of that information to assemble what could be considered the archetype of the optimal player in each of these sections.

I absolutely loved how “insider” the book gets; Will really draws out some really great details delving into the the nitty-gritty of the most minute decisions and observations made by players and managers before, during, and after each game and even during the off season.  Reading this book revealed to me, in all my years of watching baseball, just how much I do not see, notice, or even perceive when I watch games, either on television or in person.  For a sport that many claim is boring and “slow” moving, there is an incredible and almost unbelievable amount of data being processed and applied with each pitch, and Will tries to describe it all.  Will also delves into the history of the sport comparing and contrasting eras and players from each era so the reader can gain a good understanding of how players across the years compare and why.

One of the fun parts of the book, for me, is the fact that it came out in the early 1990s.  All of the “modern” players contemporary with the book were those players from my childhood who I have such fond memories of getting to know so well as my fandom initially developed and whose baseball cards I voraciously collected.

As a note of interest, also, is that this book was written when the so-called Moneyball experiment was being conducted.  As a result, Will looks into the then new phenomenon of “sabermetrics” and provides contemporary commentary on it which one can consider when looking at sabermetrics through modern eyes.

This book may be a fun curiosity for the average reader, but for a baseball fan, this book is a so-called “must have” as it really helps a fan delve deep into the sport and mine all of its intricacies.  Great book!

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