The full title of this book is “Men At Work – The Craft Of Baseball”. It was written by George F. Will and was originally published in 1990. I read the 20th anniversary edition of this #1 New York Times bestseller, which the front cover identifies as “A Notable Book of The Year, as per The New York Times Book Review”
As you are probably already aware, author George F. Will writes a news column which appears in over four hundred newspapers nationwide. He also writes for Newsweek magazine. He appears on ABC News and has written twelve books in addition to “Men At Work”. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1977.
George F. Will earned my everlasting respect when he made a guest appearance on Stephen Colbert’s TV show. He handled himself and Mr. Colbert admirably. I’ve never seen anything like it.
And, George F. Will is a Cubs fan.
Mr. Will has constructed “Men At Work” with four major areas of attention: managing, pitching, hitting, and defense. Each of those topics are illuminated by the author’s presentation of one major individual practitioner: Tony La Russa, Orel Hershiser, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr., respectively.
This 20th anniversary edition was released in April of 2010, and contains a new introduction by the author. In it, Mr. Will allows that, were he going to write “Men At Work” today, he might choose as his four subjects: Mike Scioscia, Manager; Tim Lincecum, Pitcher; Albert Pujols, Batter; and Chase Utley, Fielder.
Among other things, the author points out that the baseball draft is a highly unscientific, uncertain plunge, because of which there is no shame in being selected deep in the draft. Two players picked in late rounds who turned out to be good investments include Andre Dawson (11th round), and Ryne Sandberg (20).
Mr. Will includes Ryne Sandberg’s terse summation of the prerequisites for a good infielder: “Quick feet and soft hands.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “To me, the secret of scoring a lot of runs is, as many times as you can get a guy into scoring position, do it.”
- “It’s not correct to sit and wait for extra-base hits.”
- “Speed comes to the park every day. The three-run home run doesn’t. Speed is the most consistent thing you have.”
- “If you execute the fundamentals, you can win.”
- “…the four important things in baseball, in order of importance, are: play hard, win, make money and have fun. The problems start when the third and fourth take precedence over the first and second.”
- “Spring Training is delightful everywhere but it is best in Arizona.”
- “’Don’t give this guy anything good to hit – but don’t walk him.’ That is what is meant by pitching around a batter.”
- “Control without stuff is far better than stuff without control.”
- “You don’t listen to parents when you are growing up, so my dad found other people for us to listen to.”
- “Throw strikes, change speeds, work fast.”
- “The beauty of the game is that there are no absolutes. It’s all nuances and anticipation, not like football, which is all about vectors and forces.”
- “Of course, sport includes some young men and some not-so-young men who have never grown up, who are self-absorbed, willful, vain and arrogant….but precisely because competition at the pinnacle of American sport offers many temptations, and because physical abilities can carry an athlete far without a commensurate portion of good character, the achievements of the genuine grown-ups…are all the more to be admired.”
- “Baseball is not an ‘enemy’ sport. You do have certain rivals and certain people you do not like. But for the most part it’s not a contact sport, it’s a pitcher-hitter confrontation more than anything else. The people who come into second base, you have so many things in common with them. It’s a friendly sport, I guess.”
- “As Casey Stengel would have put it, a lot of times people don’t always tell the truth.”
- “La Russa says, ‘Be aggressive offensively – when in doubt, push. But defensively, it’s the opposite. Be very basic, take the outs that are there, don’t gamble in a way that will open up a big inning for the other team.”
- “Then you hear somebody screaming in the dugout ‘How can you play me there?’ – to me, that’s more gratifying than getting a bases-loaded hit. That’s the game within the game.”
- “But as the Yankees (and Atlanta Braves) have recently shown, the absence of baseball acumen in the front office can be a great leveler, regardless of financial assets.”
My dad (“The World’s Greatest Living Cubs Fan”) read this book a few years ago. He said it was possibly the best book about baseball that he had ever read, but that there was so much in it, he couldn’t begin to tell me about it. Similarly, I have barely scratched the surface in telling you about all this book contains. You’ll have to read it for yourself.
I thank HarperCollins Publishers and Joe Aiello for making a copy of “Men At Work” available to me for reading and for review.