George F. Will’s Sports Machine

George F. Will: “In 1954, Willie Mays, in an emphatic stroke of Byzantine whimsy, made his over-the-shoulder catch off of Vic Wertz. What was it not unlike?” [ no answers ] Take it? Anyone?

Mike Schmidt: The.. uh.. the catch in Cincinnati that.. [ buzzer sounds ]

George F. Will: Sorry. “It was not unlike watching Atlantis rise again from the sea, the bones of its kings new-covered with flesh.”

George Will wrote Men At Work 20 years ago, so this video* has started popping up across the internets. I remember seeing it at the time, but not really getting the joke. Now I get it.

*You have to watch an ad at the link before the video starts.

Tim Marchman at has an interesting article looking at Will’s book 20 years later, suggesting that perhaps Will was a little ahead of the curve in terms of statistical analysis:

Coming to Men at Work 20 years after I first read it, this wasn’t quite what I expected to find. There on the very first page, though, Will approvingly cites Bill James, described not as a computer geek or a stats guru or the resident of a dank basement but simply “the baseball writer from Winchester, Kansas.” Over the next 300-plus pages, Will mocks the notion that you can tell much about a player from a few at-bats, notes that “won-lost records are not very revealing,” chastises the reader who might think that batting average is a useful measure of a hitter’s abilities, and muses about the effects of ballpark dimensions on statistics.

Marchman also presents an interesting contrast between Will and Buzz Bissinger, who both ventured to profile Tony La Russa (the two authors, needless to say, came to a very different conclusion about the “genius” of La Russa).


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