Men at Work

Men at Work

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Title:Men at Work
Author:George F. Will
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Edition Language:English

Men at Work Reviews

  • John

    A wonderful book full of vignettes. Stories of respect and love. In baseball there are no idle moments.

    "There is a myth of the "natural athlete" whose effortless excellence is a kind of spontaneous blooming. That myth is false and pernicious. It dilutes the emulative value of superior performers. It does so by discounting the extent to which character counts in sport. The myth is especially damaging to blacks. Sport has become an especially important arena of excellence-and a realm of upward mo

    A wonderful book full of vignettes. Stories of respect and love. In baseball there are no idle moments.

    "There is a myth of the "natural athlete" whose effortless excellence is a kind of spontaneous blooming. That myth is false and pernicious. It dilutes the emulative value of superior performers. It does so by discounting the extent to which character counts in sport. The myth is especially damaging to blacks. Sport has become an especially important arena of excellence-and a realm of upward mobility-for blacks. However, their successes have sometimes been tainted by a residue of racism, the notion that blacks are somehow especially "suited" to physical endeavors...." (pg 226)

    Only a few have the gifts necessary to become great athletes. However, no "gift" is sufficient for greatness. Greatness is never given. It must be wrested by athletes from the fleeting days of their physical primes. What nature gives, nuture must refine, hone and tune. We speak of such people as "driven." It would be better to say thay are pulled, because what moves them is in front of them. A great athlete has an image graven on his or her imagination, a picture of an approach to perfection." (pg 229)

    "...All players who make it to the major leagues are superior athletes. The different degrees of superiority in terms of natural physical skills are less marked and less important than another difference. It is the difference in the intensity of the application to the craftsmanship of baseball. Some people work harder than others, a lot harder."

  • Dick Peterson

    George Will is generally considered to be somewhat of a stuffed shirt. He is a well respected columnist and journalist, good enough to possess a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. To many it is surprising that such a serious conservative voice in the noise we call politics is a devoted fan of America’s Pastime. There are two dimensions that are evident in George Will, lover of baseball … the kid who fell for the game and the passionate student of its mechanics, nuances, strategies, and numbers. Even

    George Will is generally considered to be somewhat of a stuffed shirt. He is a well respected columnist and journalist, good enough to possess a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. To many it is surprising that such a serious conservative voice in the noise we call politics is a devoted fan of America’s Pastime. There are two dimensions that are evident in George Will, lover of baseball … the kid who fell for the game and the passionate student of its mechanics, nuances, strategies, and numbers. Even as a political commentator, some of his most precise analyses are framed in terms of the game he so loves. Deliver Will’s words through the voice of Bob Costas, another student and lover of baseball, and you have a marriage made in heaven.

  • Beth

    Before I dive into the review of the book, I should mention that this is not a book for someone that isn’t already an active fan of baseball. This is not a book to read if you are trying to learn about baseball. You will get utterly confused by the baseball language in the book and will probably drop it. I had to read it slower than I would normally so I could take time to pi

    Before I dive into the review of the book, I should mention that this is not a book for someone that isn’t already an active fan of baseball. This is not a book to read if you are trying to learn about baseball. You will get utterly confused by the baseball language in the book and will probably drop it. I had to read it slower than I would normally so I could take time to picture certain things in my head while I was reading. This book is more for the fans that already love the game and want to see it from the perspective of four important Baseball People.

    I gave this five stars from the beginning. It never went down from five stars and it never disappointed me. Will wrote this book in a way that made sense. There are four “chapters” in the book. The first is “manager” the second is “pitcher” the third is “hitter” and the fourth is “defense.” He had one man that is important to each of those categories and the chapter focused on them.

    I said that this book wouldn’t be as enjoyable for someone that isn’t an active fan because it’s a tag bit outdated. This book was published in 1991. To put that into perspective, there are five current major league players that were born after this book was published. If someone is not an active fan, they may not know a lot, or have even heard, of the men mentioned in the book. That’s no fun for readers.

    The manager that the book focused on was Tony La Russa. La Russa is the third winningest manager in MLB history. Obviously, Will did not know it at the time but he picked the best man for the book. La Russa mentions different styles of play for every different pitch and every different batter. As fans, we don’t see all the work that managers have to do before, and during, games. After reading this book, I appreciate managers even more now.

    But this book is not only La Russa talking about how he’s going to have his outfielders lined up against a power hitter with a runner on second (they go into detail about these types of things), it’s also a book about the awesome history of baseball. Things that I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t have read this book. Every chapter has a lot of quotes and stories from the man that the chapter is centered on, but it also has a lot of stories about history. And awesome quotes.

    When it’s put like this, it makes perfect sense and makes me love baseball a little more.

    And then, there is Orel Hershiser. Hershiser was one of the best pitchers in the early 90s and was also a great choice. I liked being able to read about pitching when it was coming from him. I also didn’t realize how many thoughts they have on the mound. They need to have great memory to remember how they got hitters out the last times and what pitches the hitters don’t like.

    An important thing to live by if you’re a pitcher.

    For hitters, Tony Gywnn was the main guy. This was probably my favourite chapter to read. Hitting mechanics are difficult and frustrating at times, but when they are explained by a great hitter, it’s a fun read. Gywnn and Will did a great job of making it understandable while also explaining the important parts of hitting. This chapter also talked a lot about the history of bats, home runs, and hitters slumps.

    I found it hilarious and ironic that I read stories about corking the bat and doctoring the baseball while the whole Michael Pineda pine tar fiasco was happening.

    The last chapter is about the most underrated part of baseball: defense. It should be obvious that Cal Ripken was the focal point of this chapter. At this point of the book, they had no idea that he would break “The Unbreakable Record” of most consecutive games played. If anyone is going to teach me more about defense, I would pick Cal every day of the week. After reading this chapter, it really hit me that defense is still not seen as important- not important enough in my opinion. Sure, we have guys that are great at defense, but not many of them are known for their defense only. The only person that comes to mind is Andrelton Simmons.

    This book is a must read for all baseball fans. Even though it’s old, there are still so many good stories in this book.

    When I finished the book, I thought of who the four men would be if this book was re-written this year.

    Manager: Terry Francona

    Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw

    Hitter: Miguel Cabrera

    Defense: Mike Trout

  • Jim

    is a brilliant distillation of the insights of several brilliant Baseball Men who Work very well indeed.

    As one might expect of the estimable Mr. Will, Men At Work is faintly scholarly in tone - but do not let that put you off - if the mechanics of baseball is of interest, this book is for you.

    An Example: Tony La Russa outlines nine basic ways to run the double steal - and the defense's proper response to them all. I had no idea! We didn't get this in Little League (on the other hand

    is a brilliant distillation of the insights of several brilliant Baseball Men who Work very well indeed.

    As one might expect of the estimable Mr. Will, Men At Work is faintly scholarly in tone - but do not let that put you off - if the mechanics of baseball is of interest, this book is for you.

    An Example: Tony La Russa outlines nine basic ways to run the double steal - and the defense's proper response to them all. I had no idea! We didn't get this in Little League (on the other hand they don't call it the Big Leagues for nuthin')!

    Here's another: An explicit split second analysis of stealing second base - it demonstrates almost beyond doubt that you steal on the pitcher - not the catcher.

    Will shows that when Tony Gywnn was pulling the ball, his timing was off, and why this was true.

    With managing and hitting covered, Will also interviewed the modern (post-Gehrig) Iron Man, Cal Ripken as an exemplar of fielding and Orel Hershisher, pitcher.

    With the A's, La Russa made sure that every pitch of every game was charted. From this we were reminded that in the 80s the American League strike zone ended at the belt (in the league that was said to feature the "high strike".

    Men At Work is not sentimental - for sentiment try

    . Instead in

    you will find uncommon insight from some of baseball's best presented by a clearly devoted and talented writer.

  • Ted

    This book, published more than twenty-five years ago (1990) by a noted columnist (but not a sports columnist) is a classic description of how baseball is played. (The author is noted for his

    in his syndicated column. I'm not holding that against him.

    George Will is a polished

    This book, published more than twenty-five years ago (1990) by a noted columnist (but not a sports columnist) is a classic description of how baseball is played. (The author is noted for his

    in his syndicated column. I'm not holding that against him.

    George Will is a polished writer, and one of the joys of this book is the very professional style that Will displays throughout. Perhaps a little too professional some might say; Will is not a writer particularly noted for his humor. Or perhaps more accurately, the humor he does occasionally display is typically biting, even mocking. That isn’t an issue in this book, however.

    The plan of the book is simple. In four sections, Will tells us about the intricacies involved in four different skill-areas of the game of baseball. Each section focuses on one particular individual, who, as Will shows convincingly, is an exemplar in that area of the game. These individuals are men who were active in the game at the time Will wrote the book.

    And what do they have in common? Will says, in his Introduction, that “What follows are the stories of four men who are happy in their work.” So, he has chosen players who not only excel, but who, being “happy in their work”, are content, friendly, affable – and who display the satisfaction that

    do, in the products of their labor.

    And it is worth noting that of these four men, two have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and one (Tony LaRussa) will no doubt be elected as a manager as soon as he is eligible. So, for these exemplars of their crafts that Will chose, years before any of them could seriously be talked about as Hall of Fame candidates – well, three out of four isn’t bad, is it?

    The rest of the review just presents the four men that George Will features in the book, with some info about their careers, both before and after the book was published.

    Tony LaRussa (born 1944) played major league baseball in the 1960s. He was not an all-star by any means, and played only five seasons in the majors. As a manager he was much more successful.

    LaRussa clearly had his finest years of managing after this book was written,

    for his chapter on the skill of managing a baseball team. In fact when LaRussa retired from managing after the 2011 season, his 2078 wins as a manager ranked 3rd all-time. His teams won three World Series titles, six league championships, and twelve division championships.

    Orel Hershiser was born in 1958. He pitched in the major leagues from 1983 to2000, most significantly for the Los Angeles Dodgers from ’83 to 1994. When he retired he had major league totals of 204 wins, 150 losses, and a 3.48 ERA. No doubt a successful baseball career. But not a Hall of Fame career.

    In the 1980s, the most successful major league pitchers (going by Bill James’ Win Shares statistics) were:

    1. Dave Stieb 140-109 [175 WS, 10 seasons, 17.5 WS/season]

    2. Jack Morris 162-119 [154 WS, 10 seasons, 15.4 WS/season]

    3. Dan Quisenberry (relief pitcher – 239 saves) [153 WS, 10 seasons, 15.3 WS/season]

    4. Bert Blyleven 133-118 [139 WS, 10 seasons, 13.9 WS/season]

    5. Fernando Valenzuela 128-103 [135 WS, 10 seasons, 13.5 WS/season]

    6. Charlie Hough 128-114 [134 WS, 10 seasons, 13.4 WS/season]

    7. Bob Welch 137-93 [134 WS, 10 seasons, 13.4 WS/season]

    8. Lee Smith (relief pitcher – 234 saves) [125 WS, 10 seasons, 12.5 WS/season]

    9. Nolan Ryan 122-104 [123 WS, 10 seasons, 12.3 WS/season]

    10. Frank Viola 117-98 [121 WS, 8 seasons, 15.1 WS/season]

    11. Orel Hershiser 98-64 [120 WS, 7 seasons, 17.1 WS/season]

    Hershiser hadn’t started pitching until the 1983 season, and even that season he pitched only 8 innings, all in relief. His figure of 17.1 WS per season is second on this list, indicating that he was definitely one of the star pitchers at the time Wills wrote the book. Even so, there are eight pitchers,

    , who pitched in 1989, and are now in the Hall of Fame:

    , Dennis Eckersley, Rich Gossage,

    , Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Randy Johnson. Now, there are several apparent reasons why Will would not have considered some of these pitchers. But why didn’t Will write about Ryan, or Blyleven?

    Well, obviously I don’t know. What I do know is that Hershiser was an intelligent, affable man who was much in the public eye in the late 1980s - mostly because his recent 1988 season had been one of the most remarkable in many years for a pitcher. In 1988 Hershiser pitched in his second consecutive All Star game; led the NL in wins (23), complete games (15), shutouts (8), and innings pitched (267); was a unanimous selection for the National League Cy Young Award; was selected as the MVP in the NLCS series, and won the World Series MVP award.

    But all that is not what most fans remember about Hershiser’s 1988 season. What they remember is that he set an all-time record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Over the last seven games in which he appeared (from August 30 to September 28), and the last 59 innings that he pitched in the regular season, no opposing team was able to score a run. This streak has frequently been called (in the U.S. at any rate) one of the greatest individual sporting streaks in history. (For hard core fans wanting to relive a bit of this, see

    .)

    So I think Wills can be forgiven for not having the foresight (in this case) to feature a player who went on to establish Hall of Fame credentials.

    Tony Gwynn, born in 1960, was one of the premier hitters in baseball in the 1980s, even though he didn’t hit his stride until the 1984 season. In the 1980s Gwynn played on the NL All Star team five times, led the NL in runs scored once, and in hits and batting average four times, including an average of

    in 1987. He was a bat-control, analytical hitter who constantly studied notebooks which he kept, and tapes of both his own swing, and of opposing pitchers.

    He had a somewhat pudgy body, that he admitted looked more like a football body than a baseball body. He used one of the lightest bats of any major league hitter in his era, so that he could wait as long as possible before starting his swing. Though he hit the ball to all fields, he liked to hit it to the left side (he was a left-handed hitter), between the shortstop and third baseman, rather than pulling the ball to the right.

    In the 1990s, after Will wrote this book, Gwynn got even better. He eventually played in ten consecutive All Star games (after not playing in the 1988 game), and after having “down” years in 1990-92 (in which he hit “only” .309, .317, .317), tore up the NL in the next five seasons, with averages of

    , the last four leading the league. His .394 average in 1994 was the highest in the NL since Bill Terry had hit .401 in 1930, though it must be qualified with the reminder that the baseball season ended prematurely on August 11 that year when the players went out on strike. (Through August aa Gwynn had had 467 plate appearances; he would have needed only 35 more over the 45 games that the Padres lost from their schedule to qualify for the batting title in the normal season.)

    Gwynn retired after the 2001 season, with totals of 3,141 hits (19th all-time), a .338 batting average (18th all-time), 15 All Star games, and 8 NL batting championships. He played his entire career with the San Diego Padres, and was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

    By the late 1980s, there was no real indication that the Baltimore Orioles’ shortstop Cal Ripken was bound for glory, though there was a bit of a hint. What the baseball cognoscenti did admit was that he had redefined the shortstop position. Ripken was the first of a new breed of shortstops, bigger (even slower) than the traditional player at that position, a better than average hitter with well better than average power for a shortstop.

    What Ripken did in playing shortstop was

    . He had good reactions, and a strong and accurate arm; but what made him different was his positioning, whereby through his thinking, analyzing, and studying of hitters’ tendencies, (plus almost always knowing the type and location of pitch that would be thrown), he was able to anticipate where the ball was most likely to be hit. This allowed Ripken, time and again, to be where he needed to be, without having to have the speed that a lighter, faster player could use to get to hard to reach balls. For Ripken, there were far fewer hard to reach balls – he was already there! (This of course is the sort of craft that was of supreme interest to George Will.)

    Through the 1989 season Ripken had hit 204 home runs. He was on the way (or perhaps already there) for setting the Al record for home runs by a shortstop. But that’s really not much of a Hall of Fame qualifying record in itself. He’d also played in seven straight All Star games. That’s certainly something worth folding into the HOF CV. What else? Let’s see … oh, he’d also played in over 1200 consecutive games. He was third on the all-time list! Looked like sometime in June of the 1990 season he would pass Everett Scott (1916-1925) to move into 2nd place. Well, people were starting to talk about that. Could he possibly play another 5 1/2 years without missing a game? If so, he could break the record that was once considered unbreakable – Lou Gehrig’s record of 2130 consecutive games played, between 1925 and 1939.

    Well, as we all know now, over the rest of Ripken’s career (every season with the Orioles) he did enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the first year he was eligible, 2007. He and Tony Gwynn went in together. I was there. ;)

    When Ripken retired after the 2001 season he’d amassed 3184 hits (15th all time), 431 home runs, two Gold Glove awards, nineteen consecutive All Star games, two All Star MVP awards (including his last AS game in 2001, when he opened the scoring in the third inning with a home run, in a game won 4-1 by the AL), and set the record for consecutive games played, upping it from 2,130 to

    - an extra three years of not missing a game.

  • Bart

    George Will's book on baseball was quite obviously the blueprint for Michael Lewis' later effort,

    .

    The two books compare like so: If chess is a simple game of complicated moves and checkers is a complicated game of simple moves,

    is a complicated book about a simple game while

    is a simple book about a complicated game.

    George Will, as a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist at the Washington

    , is arguably opinion's most authoritative voice; wherever a person falls alo

    George Will's book on baseball was quite obviously the blueprint for Michael Lewis' later effort,

    .

    The two books compare like so: If chess is a simple game of complicated moves and checkers is a complicated game of simple moves,

    is a complicated book about a simple game while

    is a simple book about a complicated game.

    George Will, as a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist at the Washington

    , is arguably opinion's most authoritative voice; wherever a person falls along the political spectrum - and Will is well right of center - a reader gets the feeling that whatever disagreement he has with Will is one that's best left in the agree-to-disagree world.

    That is, it would be hard to imagine reading a Will column and opining,

    Much of this same authority, and a certain amount of playfulness, comes through in

    (and also an unseemly number of parenthetical anecdotes [as if Will wanted to justify his research budget]). But finally, Will's objective is an honorable one: to celebrate excellence.

    He chooses a manager, a pitcher, a shortstop, and a .300 hitter, gives them each a chapter and seeks to show what persistent application of a certain attention to detail can do to separate one professional from another - even when both are supremely talented. At this, Will succeeds.

    The book is not as enjoyable as

    , but that may be best attributed to its status as a predecessor. Lewis could not have been nearly so quick and witty if Will hadn't done so much intellectual heavy lifting a decade before him.

    Anyone who thinks that the way sports are played can offer a serious insight into the human condition will enjoy

    quite a lot. Anyone who doesn't probably takes himself too seriously already.

  • Stan

    (Actually paperback, not ebook, fwiw.) George Will says he set out to write the book about baseball that he had tried unsuccessfully to find, and he presents us with a remarkable collection of baseball statistics and anecdotes, filtered through the unique perspectives of an outstanding manager (Tony La Russa), hitter (Tony Gwynn), fielder (Cal Ripken, Jr.), and pitcher (Orel Hershiser). Only occasionally does his wonderful writing lapse into dry laundry lists of stats. The unifying theme is that

    (Actually paperback, not ebook, fwiw.) George Will says he set out to write the book about baseball that he had tried unsuccessfully to find, and he presents us with a remarkable collection of baseball statistics and anecdotes, filtered through the unique perspectives of an outstanding manager (Tony La Russa), hitter (Tony Gwynn), fielder (Cal Ripken, Jr.), and pitcher (Orel Hershiser). Only occasionally does his wonderful writing lapse into dry laundry lists of stats. The unifying theme is that those who are successful in baseball today do it by thinking hard: breaking down a swing or a pitcher's delivery into its smallest parts, knowing the tendencies of what a manager likes to call in a situation or what the risk/benefit stats are for a particular strategy, managing massive amounts of available information to fine-hone a team's skills and chances of winning. He extends that idea for a brief consideration of how that approach might be applied in all walks of life to achieve excellence, and how Americans might have some room for improvement in that area. A must-read for baseball fans, and enjoyable for those with casual interest in the sport.

  • Brad Lyerla

    I meant to read MEN AT WORK 20 years ago, but got around to it only recently. It is excellent notwithstanding that it shows a tiny bit of age. Will is a conservative pundit of great influence today. But back when this book was written in the late 80s, he was widely regarded as the most influential journalist in America. Political journalism then was still a dignified craft. It caught me by surprise when Will published a major baseball book in 1990.

    If you have read any of Will’s stuff, then you k

    I meant to read MEN AT WORK 20 years ago, but got around to it only recently. It is excellent notwithstanding that it shows a tiny bit of age. Will is a conservative pundit of great influence today. But back when this book was written in the late 80s, he was widely regarded as the most influential journalist in America. Political journalism then was still a dignified craft. It caught me by surprise when Will published a major baseball book in 1990.

    If you have read any of Will’s stuff, then you know he is a serious writer. MEN AT WORK is serious too. Will’s main theme is that baseball players are intelligent and thoughtful about their craft. According to Will, success in baseball is not just a matter of athletic talent, it requires committed and patient study to master the craft of baseball.

    He organizes his book into sections corresponding to the principal activities of baseball: managing, pitching, fielding and hitting. He references as archetypes: manager Tony La Russa, pitcher Orel Hershiser, shortstop Cal Ripken and hitter extraordinaire Tony Gwynn. Apparently, Will interviewed each of the foregoing for hundreds of hours in order to write MEN AT WORK. Will also includes a good deal of baseball history, baseball statistics and wonderful anecdotes from other sources.

    The lone weird thing about reading MEN AT WORK today is that, in 1990, Will did not think in terms of the statistical metrics, that are commonplace today. Aside from that minor distraction, this excellent and thoughtful book is a joy.

  • Erik

    This book is quite literally “inside baseball”. In in-depth interviews with Tony LaRussa, Orel Hershiser, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. the author, conservative columnist George F. Will, uncovers details of managing, pitching, hitting and fielding respectively. As can be deduced from the aforementioned list of names this book is now almost a quarter of a century old. It captures major league baseball on the cusp of the steroid era. The chapter on Tony LaRussa, written when he was manager of the

    This book is quite literally “inside baseball”. In in-depth interviews with Tony LaRussa, Orel Hershiser, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. the author, conservative columnist George F. Will, uncovers details of managing, pitching, hitting and fielding respectively. As can be deduced from the aforementioned list of names this book is now almost a quarter of a century old. It captures major league baseball on the cusp of the steroid era. The chapter on Tony LaRussa, written when he was manager of the Oakland Athletics, contains several references to the prodigious physical feats of outfielder Jose Canseco. Of course we now know that those feats were achieved through the use of steroids. Through the interviews that he conducted the author is able to share a lot of detailed information that the average fan would not normally have access to. But at times the level of the minutiae that the author shares seems almost excessive. A section on the different types of webbing used in infielder’s gloves was really more than I wanted to know.

    Although the bulk of the book is comprised of information gleaned from players, managers and coaches my favourite parts of the book are when Will opines on various topics such as the Designated Hitter, (which he is in favour of) and aluminum bats in college baseball (which he is vehemently against).

  • Kay

    I borrowed it from a friend and slowed down immediately. I found it while cleaning one day and decided I needed to finish it. My goal was to finish it during playoffs and the World Series. I made it!

    This book is 45% statistics, 45% technical, and 10% history of baseball. As a baseball fan who just enjoys the game for the game itself, I bogged down with all the stats and technical stuff. I enjoyed a small section of the book and now know why the NY Yankees uniforms have stripes and where the 7th

    I borrowed it from a friend and slowed down immediately. I found it while cleaning one day and decided I needed to finish it. My goal was to finish it during playoffs and the World Series. I made it!

    This book is 45% statistics, 45% technical, and 10% history of baseball. As a baseball fan who just enjoys the game for the game itself, I bogged down with all the stats and technical stuff. I enjoyed a small section of the book and now know why the NY Yankees uniforms have stripes and where the 7th inning stretch came from. A guy who plays baseball or is into the real technical part of the game will love this book.

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