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The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract Hardcover – October 23, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A premier baseball analyst and brand name, James (The Bill James Player Ratings Book, The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers) releases a revised edition of his 1985 classic, with expanded player and team histories and reconsidered commentary. Divided into two sections, "The Game" and "The Players," this comprehensive and opinionated tome describes the evolution of the sport over the decades (uniforms in the 1890s, best minor league teams of the 1930s, the Negro Leagues, etc.) and the characteristics of its players (stats, injuries, habits and proclivities). The thumbnail player sketches in the second section (the 100 greatest players at each position) vary widely in content and tone: the entry on Lefty Gomez includes a page on his public-speaking abilities, while of Kevin Brown, James merely writes, "I don't root for him, either, but he is a great pitcher." (James has assigned the rankings according to a statistical rating formula he calls Win Shares, which he explains conceptually and mathematically.) The game section, though, is the standout. It may not contain detailed statistical leaders or standings for each year, or even who won each World Series, but it does offer information on new stadiums, the competitiveness of different leagues and shifts in the way the game was played. At the end of each chapter, a "decade in a box" lists major statistics and Jamesian awards, varying from the quantitative (the team with the best record) and the qualitative (the best switch hitter) to the quirky (the decade's ugliest player). (Dec.)Forecast: There are enough baseball and Bill James fans to ensure steady sales, and the pub date near enough to the World Series might encourage a few extra readers. A uniquely personal, even iconoclastic guide, this belongs in baseball libraries to counterpoint The Baseball Encyclopedia and Total Baseball.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

True to form, James's new Historical Baseball Abstract is filled with often fascinating and frequently quirky evaluations and insights regarding the history of baseball. Starting with the 1870s, James explores, decade by decade, how and where the game was played and who played it. He discusses nicknames, top minor-league teams, and the most admirable superstars, among other matters. At the close of the initial 13 chapters, the author highlights each ten-year period "in a box," with a player or two tagged as the best-looking, the ugliest, the fastest, the slowest, and so forth. The last half of the book presents James's evaluations of the top 100 or more players at each position. Some are expected, with Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, for example, deemed the top first basemen. But Hank Greenberg is slotted in only at eighth place, and then James spends most of his time ragging on the great slugger's performance as the Cleveland Indians' general manager from 1949 to 1957. In other instances, the description of a player's on-field antics is melded with curious social commentary. All of this makes for a sometimes illuminating, occasionally exasperating book certain to engender controversy among baseball aficionados. For general libraries. R. C. Cottrell, California State Univ., Chico
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
  • Hardcover: 1008 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 3rd prt. edition (October 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684806975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684806976
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Michael H. Siegel on November 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like baseball books, in depth analysis and have a keen interest in the history of the game ... you NEED this book.
Bill James' revision to his classic historical abstract weighs in at a hefty 1000 pages and a big price tag. But it's worth it. You really get two books.
Book I: A decade-by-decade look at the game. As James says in his preface, he's not trying to give times and dates. Each section gives the reader a feel for what baseball was like in that decade - who the popular players were, how they played, where they played. Who was the biggest player, the smallest player, which team had the best infield, best outfield, best pitchers. He gives an OJ Simpson award for each decade, a Clint Hartung award for the biggest flop, the Paul Krichell award for the dumbest trades and signings. He also details the biggest problems the game had in each decade. You can read a chapter and almost hear the fans debating Wagner vs. Cobb, commenting on what a jerk Rogers Hornsby was and venting frustration as New York teams dominated the 1950's. He also has one section on the Negro Leagues. The last section has his (brilliant) solutions to the problems the game has in the 90's.
Book II introduces James' new method of player evaluation -- Win Shares. A quantum leap forward in analysis, Win Shares quantifies everything a player contributes - pitching, hitting and defense -- in terms of how many WINS it brought his team. This corrects for park effects, different eras (you'll be surprised to learn how good those 60's hitters were) and is a massive improvement in evaluation of defense. He rates the top 100 players in history based on career value, peak value, clutch performance, etc. This top 100 includes 12 Negro League players and has some surprises (Oscar Charleston at #4).
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Edward W. Trieste on December 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The great classic returns in somewhat different form.

The original version was James' greatest achievement and belongs on a short list of the most essential baseball books ever written. And the new version?

Most of the new book has been completely rewritten, yet it retains the same flavor as the original. If pressed, I prefer the earlier edition. This is partly because I read it often in the last decade and thus am somewhat biased in its favor, but also because James' new rating system - Win Shares - is introduced in only in general, without demonstrating the nuts and bolts. James promises that his next book (out next year?) will tell us a lot more about this interesting and probably excellent system, but in the meantime we have to take Win Shares on faith.

However, this reservation pales next to the excellence of the book. The historical overview and the player rankings are a tour de force, as before. In particular, the ranking section is much more ambitious and comprehensive, with many more comments than before.

This is one of those books that is more fun to read by skipping from place to place rather than from cover to cover.

Note: this is actually the 3rd edition of this book. The "original" was actually two very similar editions - a 1985 hardcover and a 1988 paperback.

Here are some things I particularly liked:

* Decade-by-decade outlines of the game.
* Greatly expanded capsule lists of odds and ends in each decade.
* Sidebars descibing interesting events and stories from each decade.
* New 1980s, 1990s, and Negro Leagues chapters. The Negro Leagues chapter is the best addition to Section 1, the historical overview.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Michael R. Chernick on January 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Bill James is famous for his ability to collect, publish and analyze statistics about baseball. This is the second edition of his history book covering through the entire 20th century. But as James says in his preface this is more than just an update. In reviewing the first book he found that he didn't like a number of things that he did and so he has changed. Some may think for the better others for the worse but in my case I never read his 1980s edition so I have no basis for comparisons.
James is not a professional statistician but has good statistical intuition and is respected by professional statistician who specialize in sports statistics.

James covers the rules of the game and is very detialed about the players and the rule changes and strategy changes. What I enjoyed most about the book was his lists of the all time top 100 players at each position. This is something sports statisticians think about often and using statistical adjustment techniques and Bayesian methods professional statistician like Schell and Berry have written articles and in Schell's case a book on how to do this. Schell's book includes a list of the all time greatest hitters with Tony Gwynn at the top. The book tells you how the list is constructed and teaches statistical methods along the way.

James has no formal statistical method for constructing his lists. At each position he ranks the top 100 players and does a good job of mixing the old timers with the present day players. Though subjective, this is a difficult task for anyone and James is one of the few who knows enough detail of the history and players in baseball to be up to the task. I may not agree with all of his rankings but that is part of what makes talking about baseball fun.
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