I read Men at Work in Jr. High. It altered my life.
Early in the chapter on managing, for instance, Will tells the tale of Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in the first game of the 1988 World Series. Rumor had it at the time that Gibson was able to hit his famous shot because a Dodgers scout had noted that Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley always threw backdoor sliders to left-handed hitters on 3-2 counts. After sharing this anecdote, Will allows the impeccably credentialed Tony Kubek, longtime broadcaster and teammate of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, to make the obvious point: Supposing that this scout had watched Eckersley an implausible 15 times that year, how many 3-2 counts could he possibly have seen given that the Eck walked only 11 batters all season?*
Will, it’s clear, is perfectly aware of this. He even prefaces the riff with a reference to “a remarkable phenomenon, the Advance Scout Superstar,” a bit of puckishness that might provoke thunderous denunciations from a holy writer if attributed to a blogger. That he was able to make the broad point that scouts tend to be overly lionized without coming off as anything but utterly conventional seems, 20 years later, a kind of triumph.
If Will hasn’t been credited for this, that’s natural enough—a consequence of his gentle deference to the truisms of the game and of his own schtick, to which Dana Carvey wasn’t being entirely unfair. Behind the bow tie, though, there’s always been a remarkably modern observer of the game, one whose insights will likely survive the next two decades as well as they have the last two. So long as he has a seat on those panels Bud Selig likes to convene, the game will probably be just fine.