It was more than 700 Sundays ago that I found myself in my father's house on the morning his oil burner busted. As we waited and shivered in anticipation of a local heating technician who would deign to show up on the Sabbath, we wordlessly stared at whatever was on television in his kitchen. On this Sunday morning, the final one of 1990, it was This Week With David Brinkley. David's guests were two distinguished writers, George Will and, let's just say, someone else.
I probably wouldn't have paid that much attention except I knew somebody who worked for the other guy, his assistant or clerk in newspaperspeak. One thing I learned about the man opposite Will was that he wasn't much of a sports fan. It is to the clerk's credit that he not only discerned this about his boss, but passed it along to me. (That's all the news that's fit for Prince.)
I didn't know anybody who worked for George Will, but George Will's thing was being the erudite baseball fan of our times. He had written a book called Men at Work, positioning ballplayers and their managers as craftsmen, presumably in the best tradition of conservative values. I hadn't read it. I couldn't take George Will on baseball seriously, not since the Saturday Night Live sketch in which Will (Dana Carvey) was on a sports quiz show with Tommy Lasorda (Jon Lovitz) and Mike Schmidt (guest host Corbin Bernsen). Instead of giving straight answers, Will/Carvey waxed intellectually about the game and was eventually chased off the set by the authentic baseball craftsmen over whose accomplishments he unyieldingly rhapsodized.
As my dad and I waited for one repairman at work, Brinkley turned the topic to god knows what, but it gave Will an opening. “You know,” he said with his fanfare for the common man, “in baseball, it takes nine men…” Having been clued into his co-panelist's cluelessness, I watched for a reaction. The other columnist, regarded as one of the wise men of op-ed pages everywhere, indeed seemed to furrow his brow as an anthropologist might upon learning a piece of heretofore hidden folklore. Nine men, you say?
“Nine men, you say?” (which the guy never actually said) has become one of a thousand running jokes between me and my former newspaper employee pal. Fifteen-and-half years later, however, the exchange has taken on new meaning to me. As the 2006 Mets collect contributions from everyone who wears their uniform, I have concluded that George Will is the one who doesn't know anything about baseball.
It takes 25 men, George, not just nine. There are at least that many men at work in and around the Mets' construction site. Oh, Wright may show might after a beaming Reyes of light, but it's just as likely that a Marrero can be a hero, an inning can hang on a Chad and you're never finished if you start Endy.
You get the idea. You should if you've watched our fully loaded roster take series after series this year, right up through the travel team's latest conquest, a 7-4 early Sunday win over the Blue Jays that was exact-change payback for the previous afternoon's 7-4 loss.
There was Chavez nailing a runner, his eighth such assist from the outfield despite limited duty. There was Bradford picking up for Trachsel and Heilman accepting the ball after Bradford and Wagner not dropping the ball after Heilman. There was no deployment of Marrero, but it was comforting to know a versatile third catcher was available to jump in for Castro after Castro jumped in for Lo Duca. Come to think of it, there was Castro, beginning to chip in offensively like he did in spot duty last season.
Of course Jose recorded one hit after another and we got hits from one Jose after another. And one of the fellas in the heart of the order, Beltran, showed his usual heart and, should it be an issue on three or four occasions in a few months, we proved we'd be even more dangerous with the benefit of a DH in our lineup. Not every National League champion's been able to say that (not that we're the champion of anything yet).
Twenty-five men, George. That's what works.