Two Spectacular Seasons

by William B. Mead,
288 pages,
ISBN: 0025837311

Men at Work:
The Craft of Baseball

by George F. Will,
224 pages,
ISBN: 0026284707

The Baseball Book, 1990

by Bill James,
ISBN: 0679724117

The Only Ticket Off The Island

by Gare Joyce
229 pages,
ISBN: 0886193249

Post Your Opinion
The Majors And The Minors
by Brian Fawcett

ON THE JACKET OF this year`s baseball bestseller, Men at Work, sits George F. Will in a dark suit, striped shirt, and bowtie. He`s holding a baseball bat, but he looks Much more like his name: a cross between a U.S. Undersecretary of Something Serious, and a figment from Triumph of the Will as conceived by the corporate sector. What he`s done in his bestseller fits the image, too. Hes dressed LIP baseball as a Paradigm of the new American business elan, a kind of In Search of Excellence goes to the ballpark. Will, who writes a widely syndicated newspaper column and appears frequently in Newsweek, is an acute observer of the game, and his analytical skills, along with his mastery of statistical juxtaposition, keep the reader interested through much of the book. Well, some of it, anyway. In the end, his political agenda starts to grate. Everybody, in his baseball universe, is just too goddamned earnest and serious in their enthusiasm for excellence. In one of his anecdotes, he has Ted Williams walking the streets of San Diego in the 1930s squeezing a rubber hall to strengthen his wrist and forearm. Will gives you the impression lie did this night and day for decades. It`s a stretch to believe it, but maybe, given Williams`s wacky personality, it might have been true. But when he has basketball great Pete Maravich going to movies and sitting in the aisle seat so he can practise his dribbling during the movie, he slips into the realm of propaganda. In most places, including all the truly polite and sane ones, people who bounce basketballs during movies get to do it just once before they`re forcibly restrained. The pithy aphorisms and portentous homilies that fill this book eventually become so oppressive that You`ll find yourself wondering why anyone would bother to play the game at all. And of course, Will has the answer. Baseball players make lots of money with their brand of excellence. Baseball isn`t a metaphor for life, and I wish baseball writers would stop trying to make it into one. Baseball is just a game, a very interesting one, and one of the really distasteful things about its recent evolution is that it has gotten too businesslike. However rich they`ve become, baseball players are arrested adolescents, not "men at work." Get real. One writer who has always been clear on this point is Bill James, who for a decade produced annual statistical Abstracts for baseball that were so innovative and thorough that they`ve influenced the way the game is perceived by fans and managers, and even the way it is played by the players. When his 1988 Abstract was published, James announced that he`d grown bored with mere statistics, and was quitting to embark on new and unspecified projects. His The Baseball Book 1990, without quite saying what its doing, launches what promises to lie the most ambitious project ever taken on by a baseball writer: an alphabetical encyclopaedia of baseball history. James is arguably the best anecdotist the game has had, and one of the most talented and interesting writers working in any field. fie is droll, opinionated, passionate, and astonishingly knowledgeable about his chosen field. The first volume of his encyclopaedia doesn`t even get through the letter "A." It also feature,,, a kind of almanac Of Current baseball issues and events. In the best of these he offers up an analysis of the Pete Rose affair that, startlingly, indicates that whether Rose is guilty of betting on the game, or guilty of income-tax evasion, he probably wasn`t guilty as charged by the Dowd Report that Bart Giamatti used to toss him out Of baseball. For James, giving up statistics to record all the interesting stories the game has kicked tip over the last century -- and continues to -- is a little like what Heidegger did late in his life when lie threw out everything in his library except the poetry. Given the obvious scope of the project, it will be a lifes work, and if it continues to be as interesting as the first volume, the project will be SO Superior to all the other writing being done about baseball that it will soon be placed in a category all its own. Rounding Out this review line-tip are two other books, both Of which make better reading than Men at Work. William Mead`s Two Spectacular Seasons is for statistics buffs. It examines the 1930 and 1968 baseball seasons when, respectively, hitters and pitchers temporarily got control of the game. The 1968 season has been written about a lot, but Mead`s analysis of the 19 10 Season, which centres around the 56 hoiner/190 RBI season of Hack Wilson, is both good social and baseball history. The author is no stylist, but the book iS unpretentious and well researched. Even better is The Only Ticket Off the Island, by the Toronto writer Gare Joyce. It`s, about baseball in the Dominican Republic, a subject of special interest to Canadian readers given all the Dominican players on the Toronto Blue Jays. Joyce is no lightweight, and be writes very well. He`s not Bill James, but he`s a better baseball analyst than George F. Will, who is so intent on his ideological program that everything he says leads to a single corporate conclusion. Joyce is mining a wonderfully rich and particular field in his book, and to his credit he never slips into either sentimentality or cynicism. His chapter on George Bell alone is worth the price of admission -and yes, George Bell is almost as big a jerk as he appears to be, albeit with mitigating circumstances. But there is it great deal more to this book than George Bell. Joyce clearly Understands and likes the Dominicans, and fie is able to he generous about them Without losing his focus on what makes them and their Country the way they are

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