George Will

Would that today's subprime wizards of Wall Street had comparable mastery of the numbers important to their business. What Edmund Burke said of the study of law -- that it sharpens the mind by narrowing it -- might be true of baseball, too, but baseball people at least know what they are supposed to know. Long after he retired, Ted Williams ran into a former pitcher who said he once struck out Williams. "Slider low and away," said Williams. "Old men forget," said Shakespeare's Henry V at Agincourt. Old baseball men don't.

Washington was the setting for "Damn Yankees," the most stirring drama since Shakespeare, who didn't do musicals. Opening in 1955, it concerned a Senators' fan who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for one terrific season as a Senators' outfielder. This is supposedly a Faustian bargain, but such bargains are presumed to be bad. What is a mere soul when weighed against such a season?

Of course, there might be a gender difference here. As the philosopher Dave Barry has noted, "If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there are men on base."

Bill Veeck, who did more for America in one night than most of us do in a lifetime (the night in September 1937 he planted the ivy along Wrigley Field's outfield walls), said that the great thing about baseball -- aside from the fact that you do not need to be 7 feet wide or 7 feet tall in order to play it -- is: Three strikes and you're out, and the best lawyer can't help you. Baseball, which provides satisfying finality and then does it again the next day, is a severe meritocracy that illustrates the axiom that there is very little difference between men but that difference makes a big difference.

Even if you are not big. Asked in 1971 how it felt to be the shortest player in the major leagues, the Royals' Freddie Patek, a 5-foot-4 infielder, said, "A heckuva lot better than being the shortest player in the minor leagues."

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1. Campanella, Kluszewski, Yastrzemski, Petrocelli.
2. Ruth, Foxx, Ott, Mize, Mays, Bell, Post, Rice, Cash, Sosa, Dunn.
3. Grudzielanek and Stankiewicz, wresting the laurel from Yastrzemski and Conigliaro.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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