Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose and Other Reflections on Baseball

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George Will returns to baseball with more than seventy finely honed pieces about the sometimes recondite, sometimes frustrating, always passionately felt National Pastime. Here are Will's eulogy for the late Curt Flood, Will on Ted Williams, and on his own baseball career. Here are subjects ranging from the author's 1977 purchase of a single share of stock in the Chicago Cubs, a purchase brokered by Warren Buffett, to the collision between Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti, to the building of Camden Yards in Baltimore,...
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George Will returns to baseball with more than seventy finely honed pieces about the sometimes recondite, sometimes frustrating, always passionately felt National Pastime. Here are Will's eulogy for the late Curt Flood, Will on Ted Williams, and on his own baseball career. Here are subjects ranging from the author's 1977 purchase of a single share of stock in the Chicago Cubs, a purchase brokered by Warren Buffett, to the collision between Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti, to the building of Camden Yards in Baltimore, to the dismantling of the 1997 World Series Champion Florida Marlins.
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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
If you hadn't read Men at Work — and had never accidentally run into him making a guest appearance in the broadcast booth, you might be surprised to find that the staid, conservative political columnist George Will is a passionate fan of America's pastime.

You'd be forgiven for being surprised to find that George Will, the author of The Woven Figure: Conservatism and America's Fabric, has now written Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose and Other Reflections on Baseball, a collection of 80 short essays about baseball (including one by Yale classicist Donald Kagan, entitled "George Will Baseball: A Conservative Critique"). Many of the essays have appeared as Will's columns in Newsweek and The Washington Post. Others have been reprinted from other books, magazines, newspapers, and fanzines to which Will has contributed. A few are new, written for this book.

Collecting his baseball-themed columns in one volume illuminates the passion and intelligence Will brings to his appreciation of the game. He's committed to the sport and its place in American culture, but at the same time, he rarely lapses into nostalgic recollections of its glory days. In BUNTS he is as critical of the baseball of the past as he is of the current business of the sport. He brings some of the game's more colorful figures down a notch and celebrates underappreciated players.

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Product Details

First Chapter

March 28, 1982

Where is Trotsky, now that we really need him?

I have been done great injury by a malefactor of great wealth, a capitalist pest called CC Assets Distribution Corporation. That is the clanking, officious name for what until recently was called, melodically, the Chicago National League Ball Club.

The Cubs, who have notoriously few athletic assets, invented trickle-down baseball. They acquired aging players (Dizzy Dean, Ralph Kiner) as their careers trickled down to a level suitable for the Cubs, a team forever trickling down in the standings. And now the Cubs' pestilential new management has engaged in a rapacious business practice that makes me think the Russian Revolution treated capitalists about right.

The brutes at the CC Assets Distribution Corporation inform me that they are exercising their right -- a right, mind you: Is this America or Poland? -- to buy back my one share of Cubs stock. Because these robber barons are conscienceless, and because the law is deaf to the voice of justice, I am no longer a baseball owner.

If this is the capitalist system Ronald Reagan wants to save, bring on Walter Mondale to destroy it, root and branch. Peremptory letters from faceless financiers; mere money given in exchange for a piece of one's soul -- hell must be very like this.

But on a spring day, when all of Nature seems to shout "Play ball!" even Cub fans can enjoy one exquisite baseball pleasure. They can read Thomas Boswell's nifty new book, How Life Imitates the World Series.

Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence. So do sports pages when graced by Boswell's byline. He is the thinking person's writer about the thinking person's sport. Like baseball itself, he is graceful, subtle, elegant, inexhaustibly interesting and fun.

Baseball is for all of us who feel as Pete Rose does: "I was raised, but I never did grow up." Boswell is for all who like fine writing. Baseball, like Pericles' Athens (or any other good society), is simultaneously democratic and aristocratic: Anyone can enjoy it, but the more you apply yourself, the more you enjoy it.

Boswell has applied himself. His father works at the Library of Congress and one day he smuggled his son into the closed stacks, to the sacred precincts of deck twenty-nine, and said: "Okay. Here is every book on baseball ever written. Don't go blind." Heaven must be very like that.

Bill Veeck, who, like me, is a former baseball owner, thinks it is to baseball's credit that when the times were out of joint, baseball was out of step: "The sixties was a time for grunts or screams....The sports that fitted the times were football, hockey and mugging." One of Boswell's (and my) pinups, Earl Weaver, the philosopher-king who manages the Baltimore Orioles, says: "This ain't a football game. We do this every day." An Orioles coach says: "In this game it's never going to be third-down-and-one. You don't hit off tackle in baseball, and you can't play the game with your teeth gritted. Muscles are fine. But this is a game of relaxation, conditioned reflex and mental alertness."

That is why Boswell says a good team depends on "the ability to achieve a blend of intensity and underlying serenity which, in daily life, we might call mental health....Baseball is to our everyday experience what poetry often is to common speech -- a slightly elevated and concentrated form." Boswell, an English major from Amherst, says, "Each team's season is like a traditional nineteenth century novel, a heaping up of detail and incident about one large family."

Yes, but some teams' seasons call to mind Dickens' Great Expectations, an eventful progress toward a happy ending. The Cubs' seasons are Dostoyevskian -- Crime and Punishment and The House of the Dead -- full of angst and gnashing teeth. It is the Karamazov family at play.

But the CC Assets Distribution Corporation, a.k.a. the Cubs team, is about to erupt from the dugout for another crack at life without a safety net. Recently (since the days when fans drove to the park In Hudsons, Packards, Studebakers and Nashes -- since 1946) the Cubs have had two problems: They put too few runs on the scoreboard and the other guys put too many. So what has the new management announced that it is improving? The scoreboard.

Management recently chastised the players: "The Cubs have gained the reputation of being somewhat laissez-faire in their approach to work." Laissez-faire? At Wrigley Field, they handle words the way they handle ground balls.

Copyright © 1998 by George F. Will

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It was October baseball at its best, played in the lengthening shadows of late afternoon and in the shadow cast by the long season that had led to this dramatic moment. An autumnal sense of winding down pervaded Baltimore's Camden Yards, with the light and warmth of summer seeping away amid hints of winter. The lights were on and so were sweaters and game six of the American League Championship Series was scoreless in the bottom of the seventh inning.

During the 1997 regular season the Orioles had become only the third "wire to wire" team in American League history -- in first place from game 1 through game 162. But the Indians were leading the Series three games to two when shortstop Mike Bordick led off the seventh for the Orioles with a single. The next batter was Brady Anderson, who, on the first pitch, squared as though to bunt, but took a breaking ball for ball one. He did not want to bunt, but he wanted the Indians' pitcher, Charles Nagy, and catcher, Sandy Alomar, to think he might be bunting and to pitch to him with that in mind. Perhaps they did. The next pitch was a high fastball, a pitch easier to hit than to bunt. Anderson slapped it into right for a single. Bordick stopped at second.

If the Orioles could score Bordick, they would be six outs from forcing a seventh game. It would be a home game, so if they could advance Bordick 180 feet they would be favored to advance to the World Series. However, the Orioles were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in this game. The next batter, Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar, Sandy's brother and one of baseball's better hunters, would try to move Bordick the 90 feet to third base, from which he could score on a sacrifice fly.

The inning, and perhaps the game, and even the season were coming down to one taut moment, a test of anticipation and execution by Roberto Alomar, and by brother Sandy and the rest of the Indians. Would Roberto Alomar drop down a bunt? And if so, where? That would depend on which bunt defense the Indians chose, and that choice would depend on what the Indians thought Roberto Alomar and the Orioles were thinking. So the first task for both teams was to get some information.

To that end, after Alomar got set in the batters box, Nagy, a righthander, stepped off the mound and looked to second. He was signaled to do so from the Indians' bench. Nowadays, managers call for "step-offs" -- for the pitcher to step off the rubber -- and throw-overs to first base, and pickoff plays. (Until relatively recently, managers did not involve themselves in such micromanagement of games. In 1948, the Indians won the American League pennant and the World Series under a player-manager, shortstop Lou Boudreau, who had a spectacular season, batting .355 with 18 home runs and 106 RBI. It is inconceivable that he could have called step-offs and throw-overs while playing shortstop.) Usually a step-off is called to see if some motion by the batter or by a base runner betrays the intentions of the team at bat.

Reflecting about that play, Davey Johnson, the Orioles' manager, recalls thinking that the Indians might be looking for evidence that the Orioles were going to try a hit-and-run. Such evidence, betrayed just before Nagy stepped off or in response to his doing so, might be some slight lean or start by Bordick or Anderson, or some adjustment by Alomar of his stance, or some slight movement of his bat.

The bat control that makes Alomar a deft bunter also makes him adept at the hit-and-run. Besides, Johnson does not often call for a bunt. On the other hand, in situations like this Alomar sometimes bunts on his own. He has been in baseball since he was in diapers (his father had a fifteen-year major league career) and he has abundant confidence in his situational judgments. Furthermore, he spent his first three seasons in the National League (with the Padres). In that league, for a number of reasons (principally, tradition, and bigger parks, and the absence of the designated hitter) there is somewhat less of an emphasis on "big bang," long-ball baseball, somewhat more willingness to give up an out to advance a runner 90 feet.

In any case, when Nagy stepped off, neither Bordick nor Anderson nor Alomar did anything that looked like evidence of a hit-and-run, or a bunt. But Mike Hargrove, the Indians' manager, was not suspecting a hit-and-run and did not doubt what Johnson had in mind and what Alomar was going to do. "The situation," Hargrove says, "was screaming bunt." If ever there was a time to play for one run, this was it.

Thinking back on this minidrama, Hargrove says the rush of decisions concerning Alomar's at bat is "a little bit of a blur," but he says the Nagy step off might have been part of a pickoff play at second: The shortstop breaks for third, and perhaps the runner on second thinks he can and should lengthen his lead. The second baseman darts in behind the runner to take the throw from the pitcher. However, the pitcher does not have to throw to second when that play is put on, and Nagy did not throw.

Now it was time for the first pitch to Alomar, and it was Alomar's and the Orioles' turn to try to learn something. Alomar shortened up and partially squared to bunt, but he took the first pitch, a buntable breaking ball. His eyes were less on the pitch than on the left side of the Indians' infield, third baseman Matt Williams and shortstop Omar Vizquel. Both are among the best defensive players at their positions; both have won Gold Gloves. Together, they give a manager confidence to put on the "wheel" or "rotation" play in a situation like this.

But Mike Hargrove had not done so. Yet.

On the "wheel" or "rotation" play the third baseman charges the bunt, as does the first baseman, as the pitcher covers the middle of the infield. The second baseman sprints to cover second. And the shortstop breaks toward third, racing the runner on second and arriving at third -- if all goes well -- in time to force the lead runner. However, on the first pitch to Alomar, Williams had, in Johnson's words, "played it regular." Playing it "regular" means, Johnson says, that "the third baseman doesn't come until he sees [the ball] coming toward him." Williams had not charged. He had been edging in toward Alomar as Nagy prepared to deliver the first pitch, but then had held back.

So what information had the Orioles acquired? Precious little. They had learned that the wheel play was not on. Not on the first pitch, at least. Which did not surprise Johnson: "Our reports were that they did not run the wheel." When told that Johnson had assumed the Indians did not use that play, Hargrove said, laughing, "That's what you get for assuming."

The trouble is, in baseball, as in the rest of life, we live by assuming. We act all the time on assumptions about how children, the weather, stocks and other things are apt to behave. And in fact the Orioles' reports had been basically right. Hargrove says the Indians only use the wheel play "two or three times a year." But, he says, "we work at it all the time." They were about to work it for what Hargrove thinks was only the second time in 1997.

After Alomar took that first pitch, Williams looked in to the Indians' dugout on the third-base side of Camden Yards, then turned toward his teammates and went through a series of signs. Next, he went to the mound and, with his glove over his mouth to frustrate any lip-readers in the Orioles' dugout, spoke to Nagy. As Johnson said later, "Williams is a National League guy." He had spent the ten seasons prior to 1997 with the Giants, and the wheel play was a routine part of his defensive craftsmanship. So Alomar and the Orioles had to wonder whether Williams had signaled a new play -- the wheel -- or whether all this was just a charade to get the Orioles thinking that the Indians would not play the second pitch the way they had played the first. If the Indians were not going to use the wheel, Alomar's job would be to bunt the ball toward third hard enough that Williams, not Nagy, would have to field it, drawing him away from third, leaving the Indians with only the option of getting Alomar at first as Bordick and Anderson advanced.

Alomar bunted the second pitch toward third, and he and the Orioles instantly, and to their sorrow, had the answer to their question. This time Williams was charging and Vizquel was on the run to his right, toward third. Williams fielded the ball about 25 feet in front of the plate, whirled and threw to Vizquel, who beat Bordick to third by at least 15 feet for the force-out.

The time that had elapsed between Anderson's single touching the rightfield grass and Williams' throw touching Vizquel's glove: one minute and fifty-nine seconds.

The Orioles still had a threat going, with Anderson -- who is a lot faster than Bordick is going from second to home -- on second and Alomar on first. But the Indians, having been challenged to anticipate correctly and execute flawlessly, had done so. The next batter, Geronimo Berroa, grounded the first pitch into a double play with Roberto Alomar out at second. The game remained scoreless until the eleventh inning, when the Indians' second baseman, Tony Fernandez, lofted a home run over the right-field scoreboard.

That, and one more inning of good relief pitching, sent the Indians to the World Series. However, the hinge of the game was the play four innings earlier.

It was not a baseball fan who said that God gave us memory so that we could have roses in winter. Roses are all very well, but real fans are warmed between the postseason and the preseason by the afterglow of episodes like Alomar's bunt and the Indians' businesslike but beautiful 5-6 putout in the seventh.

Bunts are modest and often useful things, although they are not always well understood, even by those who are supposed to know when and how to lay them down. In a baseball story in McClure's magazine in 1917, back when the ball was dead and bunting was an essential and admired skill, a manager marveled at a player's misconceptions:

"So I asks him, 'Young man, can you bunt?' 'Mr. Ryan,' says he, 'I don't like to brag about myself, but I can bunt farther than any other man on the team.' Them's his very words. Can you beat it?"

The origin of the word "bunt" is lost in the mists of history, which of course does not inhibit either speculation or certitude. In the Church of Baseball, the mere absence of conclusive evidence is no impediment to belief. Baseball fans are forever in the grip of originitis, a mild mental illness that manifests itself in a powerful craving for usually unattainable knowledge of when this or that practice originated. Baseball's most venerable "knowledge" is the most preposterous: It is the Abner Doubleday myth, the story that in the summer of 1839 young Abner sashayed into Farmer Phinney's pasture at Cooperstown and said, "Let there be baseball," or words to that effect. There is even a theory about the origin of the use of batting gloves. It is that in 1968 Ken Harrelson, then with the Bostons (concerning that way of speaking, see the essay about Bill Rigney in this volume), assumed he was not expected to play in a particular night game. So he played 36 holes of golf before going to the ballpark, where he arrived with blistered hands and found his name on the lineup card. (That is what you get for assuming.) So he wore his golf gloves to bat.

One theory about the origin of the word "bunt" is that it evolved from the word "butting," which is what Tim Murnane of the Boston Red Stockings called it when he used his flat-sided bat -- such bats were legal back then -- to put a ball into play without swinging. Another theory is that "bunt" derived from "buntling" to designate a baby hit. That is a particularly charming theory, so let's accept it until some spoilsport refutes it.

I have titled this collection of baseball writings Bunts because they are mostly small, most of them having been written for newspapers, magazines and book review publications. Baseball, unlike basketball or hockey or soccer, is a game of episodes, not of flow, and so lends itself to snapshots. These essays are verbal snapshots taken of baseball during a quarter of a century of usually exhilarating, sometimes exasperating but always affectionate observation of the game. The subjects of these essays range from the nobility of Curt Flood, to the torments of Billy Martin, to the self-destruction of Pete Rose. They range from what baseball has done exquisitely right -- Camden Yards, for example -- to what it has done ruinously wrong -- labor relations. Two of the longer essays, the one on broadcaster Jon Miller and the concluding survey of the game at the end of the century, were written for this volume.

Connie Mack, who spent sixty-four years in Major League Baseball -- fifty-three of them in dugouts, and fifty of those wearing a business suit and necktie and stiff collar and managing the Philadelphia Athletics -- said near the end of his life, "I have never known a day when I didn't learn something new about this game." There is indeed a lot to learn. The writings in this volume contain much of what one fan has learned from a lifetime constantly refreshed by sips from the meandering stream of baseball's life.

I am sometimes asked when it was that I first came upon that stream which irrigates my life. I answer that I do not know, because I have no memory of life before baseball. My mother recalled that at age six, after listening to a broadcast of a 1947 World Series game that the Yankees lost, I asked her if the Yankees' mothers would be sad. (She said, "No." She should have said, "Not for long.") My interest in baseball was fed by radio. I grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, a university community, and radio was my connection with metropolitan America. As we lived more or less midway between Chicago and St. Louis, the family Philco crackled with the broadcasts of the Cubs (Burt Wilson), White Sox (Bob Elson), Cardinals (Harry Caray) and Browns (Buddy Blattner). Baseball was in the air.

For half a century, and especially in the almost quarter of a century covered by the columns and other essays in this volume, the national pastime has been a full participant in the three great dramas of the nation in that period. These dramas have concerned relations between the races, the temptations and stresses of prosperity and the aggressive assertion of new rights. In this period I have come of middle age, and baseball has grown up.

These rites of passage are supposed to be tinged with melancholy -- farewell to innocence and all that -- and baseball has in fact paid a price for its growth into an institution more complex and less intimate than it was. In a sense, baseball has become both more and less close to those of us who care about it. It is closer to us in the sense that we know more about its internal workings as a business, and we know more about (and there is more to know about) what the players and managers are doing during games. On the other hand, a certain social distance has opened up between the people on the field and the people in the stands. Players and managers are highly paid celebrities, with all the attendant demands on them, and often a certain wariness from them. The stakes of success and failure are much higher than they were.

So much has changed, but the most remarkable thing is that the essential feature -- the enjoyment fans derive from a close connection with the game -- has not. The following writings wend their way through the delights and, yes, exasperations of one fan's experiences with this American delight. The volume ends with a summing-up, an examination of baseball's evolution through the century. It is nice to know that my last words in this volume will not be the last word on anything, because baseball is a work in progress. If you don't believe me, just remember -- and heed -- the fan's familiar cry: "Wait 'til next year!"

Copyright © 1998 by George F. Will

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Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, June 10, barnesandnoble.com welcomed George Will, author of BUNTS.

Moderator: Good evening, Mr. Will. Thank you for joining us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

George Will: Splendidly.

Aileen from ABrady21@aol.com: So Mr. Will, do you think Mark Maguire has any chance of breaking THE record?

George Will: Maguire will break the record unless he gets broken himself. His ratio of at bats to home runs means that the only question is, how many at bats will he get? He should get enough. Also, he has a placid temperament and will be able to handle the media pressure that caused Roger Maris's hair to fall out in clumps.

Howard from Dade County, FL: What are your thoughts on free agency? Bad for the game?

George Will: Free agency has been good for the game, not to mention being an elemental American right to negotiate the terms of your employment with the employer of your choice. Owners predicted that free agency would mean the end of competitive balance. They could not have been more wrong. Free agency arrived in the mid-1970s. The ten years 1978-1987 were the first ten years in major league history in which ten different teams won the World Series. And attendance has exploded during the free agency era.

Thom Wiley from RTP, NC: I do not want the Minnesota Twins to come to NC. I think the team and the major league prices that follow the team will dilute the enjoyment of all the wonderful minor and rookie league teams that inhabit the framework known as "Carolina baseball." I think that having a major league team is not for the benefit of the area inhabitants but more of a pissing contest between old men with money. Do you agree?

George Will: If you are, as you seem to be, happy with the minor league experience, by all means do not import the Twins -- although they are, at times, a minor league experience themselves.

Paul from New York City: Does it look like anybody has a chance against the Yankees this year?

George Will: Certainly no one in the American League East. In postseason play, anything can happen in a best-of-seven series. Certainly the Yankees are the best team in the American League since the 1988-89 A's. This year's Yankee team bears comparison with the 1961 Yankees. And even the Reds -- the big red machine -- of the mid-1970s.

Marty from New Orleans, LA: Do you think the fans have already forgotten or forgiven the absurd players' strike a couple of years ago?

George Will: No. They have not entirely forgiven. Attendance at the Hall of Fame is still down about one-third from prestrike levels. However, the new young stars and the presence of two great teams -- the Braves and the Yankees -- may complete the healing process.

Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: Why did decide to write this book? How did you decide what essays to use?

George Will: I was putting together a collection of columns two years ago when I noticed that the best columns were my baseball columns. Furthermore, I thought collecting these columns would give me an excuse to write some original material, which I have done with the long piece on Jon Miller and the role of broadcasting in baseball history, and the introductory and concluding essays on the evolution of the game in the second half of the century. Writing about politics is work. I do it to support my baseball habit.

Charlie from Springfield, VA: Do you think Washington, D.C. should have its own baseball team? Would the games attract a Baltimore-type crowd? Or do you think Baltimore fans are a special breed?

George Will: Baltimore fans are special, in part because a smaller city such as Baltimore -- St. Louis is another -- can embrace a team more whole-heartedly than can a huge metropolis. Furthermore, Washington is full of people who came there from elsewhere. And many of them are fans of other teams. Still, the Washington-northern Virginia market is now large enough to support a major league team. Given the proximity of the Orioles, a Washington team would have to be in the National League.

Marge from Bellingham, WA: Dear Mr. Will, I never miss you on Sunday mornings with Cokie and Sam. I think you guys are great! My question is, what are your thoughts on what Randy Johnson is doing up here in Seattle? A contract is a contract, no? Do you think he is acting completely unprofessional in his lack of quality play? Or do you think he really has lost some heat off his fastball?

George Will: A contract is a contract. There is no excuse for not playing hard, always. However, it is possible that the uncertainty of his future has disrupted his concentration. I do not think he can be faulted for, in effect, pouting.

Dave from Dayton, OH: Inter-league play fan, or not a fan? Why?

George Will: I am a fan, for three reasons. The owners seem to understand that inter-league play must be kept to a relatively few games, so that the drama of the World Series is not diluted. Second, fans like it. Third, I am on the board of two major-league teams (which perhaps could not happen if the commissioner were alive), the Orioles and the Padres, one a high-revenue team, the other a low-revenue team. Because I understand the difficulties of a team like the Padres, I favor inter-league play as an invaluable stimulus to fan interest.

Dave from Dayton, OH: What are your views of Marge Schott? Many players and sports writers feel she is bad for the game, agree?

George Will: I believe she has been bad for the game in two senses. One, she has brought distracting and unattractive episodes to baseball. Second, and even more important, her incompetence as a baseball executive is responsible for the decline of one of baseball's most storied franchises. She will, I am confident, not be part of baseball in the next decade.

Tina from New York City: What do you think about Derek Jeter and Mariah Carey? Do you think big George has any right to try to tame his young shortstop, like he did last week? He isn't exactly Dennis Rodman.

George Will: Not even George Steinbrenner is a match for young men's hormones. As long as Jeter is doing it on the field, Mr. Steinbrenner should relax.

Howard from Dade County, FL: Me again...you say free agency is good for the game, tell that to the Marlins fans at their games this year...

George Will: Do not blame the elemental right of free agency for the abuse of that right by the abuse of the new system by the Marlins' management.

E Weiser from Chesapeake, VA: Do you think that baseball players and all professional athletes making exorbitant salaries are acting, some of them anyway, like spoiled brats?

George Will: A few are. But I actually am surprised at how few are. Most players now feel theirs is an insecure profession, that their talents are perishable, and that they are living a life of extraordinary good luck.

John Parkinson from Cambridge, England: Hi George. Who are your favourite writers, and who have been your influences? Thanks, John

George Will: Two of my favorite novelists are George V. Higgins and the late Peter De Vries. Also, I have read 75 P. G. Wodehouse novels for the sheer enjoyment of his style.

Mike from MMuntz@yahoo.com: They say that pitching wins games...why then with the Braves pitching staff -- that is considered by many as the best overall staff in the last 20 years -- have they only won it all once?

George Will: Because anything can happen in a short series. Over 162 games, pitching -- and defense -- still is decisive. I am confident that the Braves will emerge as the winningest team of the 1990s because their fourth starter, Millwood, would be the #1 starter on about 20 teams.

Pac87@aol.com from xx: Why do you think Hideo Nomo's number have dropped so much. I heard an interview with a couple of Mets who say that they are happy he is now with them so they can tell him about how he tips off his pitches. Do you think a lot of pitchers these days tip off their pitches? Also, do you think he still has the right stuff to help the Mets into the playoff for the first time in years...?

George Will: When Norm Charlton got the Orioles this year, his new teammates told him that they knew every pitch he threw in the last few seasons. Yes, many pitchers tip off their pitches. However, some people think Nomo has lost important velocity. Still, pitching being as scarce as it is, he should be able to help the Mets.

Marty from Vermont: What ever happened to all that talk about how the ball was juiced up? Do you think the ball has ever been juiced up? Also, do you think many major leaguers are still corking their bats?

George Will: I do not believe many are corking their bats, in part because I do not think corking does anything for a bat. Yes, the ball obviously was juiced onceIn 1930, when the National League batted over 300, Hack Wilson drove in 190 runs, and offense generally exploded. However, today it is not the ball that is livelier, it is the athletes who are livelier, because they are bigger and because baseball has at last incorporated intelligent strength training.

Nik from Sudbury, MA: Why did you decide to put Brett Butler on your cover? Does he signify "Bunts"?

George Will: Yes, he does, and I have an essay in my book on Butler. It also is the case that the best picture of a bunt -- the ball actually coming off the bat -- that I could find happened to feature Butler, which, when you think about it, is not surprising.

John Miller from Cleveland, OH: Do you think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame? Do you think he is entitled to a trial that he never got? Isn't that how things operate here in the U.S.A.?

George Will: I do not think it was in Pete Rose's interest to have a trial. He could have had one, had he wanted it. A trial would have demonstrated what many fans still doubt -- his guilt. If the Hall of Fame is simply an institution of records, with no dimension of judgment about character, then he belongs in the Hall of Fame, where his plaque should say that he got more hits than anyone else in baseball history, and that he was justly expelled from baseball forever because he was guilty of gambling and utterly unrepentent.

Bryn from Cardif, CA: Other than your books of course...who do you consider some of the best baseball writers around? Roger Kahn?

George Will: Roger Angel, Tom Boswell, and Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, and, of course, Peter Gammons.

Mark from La Jolla, CA: Do you think Tony Gwynn is the most underrated player in baseball over the past decade?

George Will: Not anymore. At last, baseball people understand that he's the best pure hitter in baseball since Ted Williams and Stan Musiul.

Cleg from Santa Monica, CA: Do you think media moguls owning teams like the Braves and Dodgers is good for the game? Don't they hurt smaller markets like Montreal and Milwaukee?

George Will: The smaller markets were hurting before Disney, Turner, Murdoch, and the Tribune company got in the game. The large corporations can help baseball by using their resources to put great teams on the field. It is up to baseball to take separate measures to produce a more equitable distribution of revenues, particularly of local broadcast revenues.

Tim from TClark@yahoo.com: Who do you think is the best broadcaster out there? Who do you not like to listen to? Be honest...

George Will: Vince Scully would be the best until he retires. Just a hair behind him, and the next king, is Jon Miller. I do not hear enough of other broadcasters to make any other useful judgments.

Mike Evans from Chevy Chase, MD: Who do you think is the best closer in the game? Do you think having a great closer is one of the most important ingredients on a baseball team? Who can forget Joe Carter versus the Phillies...

George Will: Tony LaRusa once told me, if he were starting to build a team, he would start with the guy who would get the last three outs. Of course, fresh in Tony's memory was life with Dennis Eckersly, when the name of the game for the A's was "Get the ball to Eck." Today the best is still probably Randy Myers.

Chris from Pepper Pike, OH: Do ever wish you were a full-time sports reporter? Writing book, articles, covering a team for a summer?

George Will: No, baseball is my only relaxation, and I would hate to turn it into work.

Moderator: Thank you, George F. Will! It is always nice to hear your views on baseball. Best of luck with your new book BUNTS. Do you have any parting comments for the online audience?

George Will: Only this Never mind all the nonsense you hear about the good ol' days -- the days when the Yankees won 22 penants in 29 years, when it was rare for a team to draw even a million fans a year, and when there were 20,000 empty seats in the Polo Grounds, when Bobby Thompson hit his home runs. These are the good ol' days.

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