In this New York Times
bestseller, Pulitzer Prize-winning author George F. Will returns to baseball with more than seventy finely honed pieces about the sometimes recondite, sometimes frustrating, yet always passionately felt national pastime. Here are Will's eulogy for the late Curt Flood ("Dred Scott in Spikes"), Will on Ted Williams ("When Ted Williams retired in 1960, a sportswriter said that Boston knew how Britain felt when it lost India. Indeed, Britain felt diminished, but also a bit relieved"), and Will on his own baseball career ("I was a very late draft choice of the Mittendorf Funeral Home Panthers. Our color was black"). Here are subjects ranging from the author's 1977 purchase of a single share of stock in the Chicago Cubs to the memorable 1998 season, which is discussed in an all-new essay.
For fans of Men at Work and Will's other baseball writings, this book is as pleasurable as a well-executed bunt.
"Bunts," explains peripatetic political commentator and baseball rhapsodist George Will, "are modest and often useful things." So is his latest, fittingly titled foray into the National Pastime. Unlike his splendid Men at Work
, which offered long, detailed exegeses on the way Tony Gwynn, Orel Hershiser, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Tony La Russa sweat the details of mastering specific aspects of the game, Bunts
is a less unified, but wider ranging collection of Will's shorter baseball journalism--columns, essays, and book reviews--assembled chronologically from 1974 through the 1997 season. Each piece may be brief, but taken individually or as a whole, the collection is certainly useful, and like a good outfielder, it covers plenty of territory.
Will, to be sure, is an elegant writer, a little verbose at times, but dependably knowledgeable, stirringly erudite, thoughtfully opinionated, and, here and there, delightfully personal--as in the volume's leadoff hitter in which he traces his own conservative principles to growing up a Cub fan. His lineup continues with a breezy ode to Louisville Sluggers; encomiums to Casey Stengel, Camden Yards, Ripken, Gwynn, and Curt Flood; a startling about-face on the DH; an early homage to statsmeister Bill James; and indictments on the selfishness of Ted Williams, the callousness of the owners in labor- and fan-relations, and the sordid personalities of Pete Rose and Billy Martin. The volume ends with a pair of doubles in the form of larger essays on Jon Miller and the distinctive craft of broadcasting, and a concluding one on the state of the game.
"Baseball," Will observes, "is a habit. The slowly rising crescendo of each game, the rhythm of the long season--these are the essentials and they are remarkably unchanged over nearly a century and a half. Of how many American institutions can that be said?" The answer, of course, is not many, which is why Bunts provides a necessary and pleasing public service. --Jeff Silverman