George Will, the political pundit, freely admits that he was the kid who played right field on his team. And indeed he looks the part a slight, bespectacled bookworm, too much an egghead for the rest of the gang. Instead of building up his athletic prowess, he developed a knowledge and love for the game which he displays in Bunts, a collection of his writings on the national pastime. This is Will's second foray into baseball. His Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, was a bestseller.
Most of the pieces in Bunts, which span some 25 years, are gleaned from his Newsweek and Washington Post columns, with a few other musings tossed in for good measure. In his earlier writings he strives to prove that rooting for his childhood idols, the Chicago Cubs (the poster team for baseball mediocrity), and being a baseball fan were not mutually exclusive. Indeed, of the book's 80 pieces, 15 refer to the this team which had not won a pennant since 1945 and whose overall record is well below the break-even point. On the flip side, a few of the stories deal with the Baltimore Orioles, one of the more successful franchises. Will is a Member of the Board for the O's, which is the closest thing Washington, D.
C., has to a team since the Senators left town in 1972.
Bunts is about more than the strain of being a Cubs fan, however. Will reports on such luminaries as Pete Rose, whose passion for gambling ultimately conflicted with his passion for baseball; Curt Flood, whose sacrifice made today's free agency possible; Cal Ripken, Jr., the new "Iron Man" of baseball; Steve Palermo, an umpire who was shot and paralyzed while trying to prevent an armed robbery; perennial batting champion Tony Gwynn; and Jon Miller, the stylish broadcaster for ESPN and the San Francisco Giants. But Will also writes about lesser lights in the horsehide firmament, including Andy Van Slyke, a colorful and outspoken outfielder; Jamie Quirk, a journeyman catcher; and Brett Butler, "The Human Bunt."Will addresses issues as well, offering his insights on the designated hitter, voting for players for the annual all-star game, and even tackling the questionable origins of baseball. He writes with great nostalgia as he contrasts the sport between his favorite era, the 1950s, and the neon nineties. His columns on baseball's various labor unrests show little patience for either side, blaming both players and owners for imperiling the great game that has bridged generations and seen America through good times and bad.
It might be hard to conceive that Will, an icon of the conservative movement, can wax so poetically about something as "trivial" as baseball. But Bunts proves his ardor for the game, with all its triumphs, heartbreaks, and shortcomings.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan.