And Now You Know More: Thinking Baseball


By Thomas Best

Those who know me well may be asking: “Where are the podcasts about baseball?”  After all, as I write this in early March, spring training is upon us and opening day is not that far away.  Well, rest assured, I am reading about baseball, watching some spring baseball, and—oh yes—I am thinking about what this new season will hold for us die-hard baseball fanatics!

For today, I thought I would turn to the wit and wisdom of a man whose legacy ultimately rests more in the field of analyzing politics and economics. Nevertheless, many baseball fans also know him as a true fan of the Chicago Cubs and baseball in general.  This is, of course, the sage thinker—George Will. Raised in Champaign, IL, while his father was a professor at the University of Illinois, he grew up playing Little League and taking in games at Wrigley Field. I was recently given his short collection of numerous articles called “Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose and other Reflections on Baseball.”  This collection of his writings, dating to 1998, is filled with his thought-provoking quips, sharp witty diagnostics, and even some sarcastic commentaries on the game’s greats (think Pete Rose).

Some of his articles are filled with fascinating snapshots of the game.  Did you know that the always suited Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics had a career lasting 64 years, 50 of those as a manager and general manager. He was just one of just three, I believe, to ever hold that distinction (some of you Cardinal fans know that Whitey Herzog was another).  Here’s a second example: Tommy John, likely best known for the surgery that bears his name, once had three errors on one play. If you think that is unbelievable, try this one on for size: the record is five errors by one player in an inning of play.

Other aspects of Will’s writing is replete with pithy and richly meaningful commentaries.  Baseball is inherently a “severe meritocracy.” Baseball is “strenuously nostalgic”—that idea Will borrowed from the one-time commissioner, Bart Giamatti. Or consider how the sound of using metal bats —and that ping when struck with a ball, versus a crack—is to purists—like a baseball purist hearing the sound of fingernails scratching across a chalkboard.

Will also loves making comparisons of favored eras of the game or significant years. Will relates the “golden age” of the 1950s game as less spectacular “station to station” and “one-dimensional game. ” Even Ted Williams never came up with 200 base hits in this era, due to the fact that he was walked so much. But who remembers the aggressive base running?  No one? Well, that’s because there wasn’t a lot. Dom DiMaggio led the whole league in 1950 with a mere 15 base swipes. Even the fleet Willie Mays only stole 40 bases to lead the league in 1956.  Finally, his appraisal of the pitcher in 1968 stands out.  This was the year with 4 no-hitters and 17 one-hitters, plus 44 1-0 contests. This was the year when Bob Gibson of the Cardinals posted a 1.12 ERA, started 34 games and completed 28 of them, and one went 70 innings in a row without giving up a single RBI. The decision-makers decided such low scoring baseball was bad for the game and lowered the mound. 

I could go on, but we’ll leave this discussion on these comments.  I am smelling the freshly mowed turf and I can smell the popcorn being popped in the concession stands.

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