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VINE VOICEon May 9, 2011
It is tempting to write "If you like Bill James, you'll like this" and leave it at that, but that would be misleading and, well, kind of cheap.

Most readers will likely come at this from their interest in, and / or love of baseball. Much of this will satisfy them, assuming they like Bill James. However, there is a good deal here that isn't concerned with baseball in the least.

Now, most of us who love baseball and are interested in it also have other things on our minds from time to time and several chunks of this book address other things on James' mind. Your use for those essays will depend upon how wedded you are to an ostensible baseball book being ONLY about baseball topics. It may also depend upon what you think of James as a casual essayist.

All of these essays have appeared previously on James' website, which I do not subscribe to. Thus I had not read them before, save a big section of "Shakespeare and Verlander," which was run on Slate a few weeks ago. This one is actually a nice bridge piece, using these two rather disparate individuals to look at how societies work to foster some talents while short-changing others. It is a witty and thoughtful essay that won't do a thing for making your fantasy team better, but will give you a thing or two to think about, should you choose to do so.

And so on. I like James' conversational writing style, both on and off the field, as it were, and I was happy to digress into topics like the insidiousness of traffic light cameras, airport security and the power of ignorance as a force for knowledge. I also like James' analysis of the minor leagues, the future of the Hall of Fame viewed in light of expansion, and the best pitchers' duels of the 1980's. I am just fine with James going off on tangents - James has always gone off on tangents and, often, the tangents are worth the price of admission. Thus is this. It's no Historical Baseball Abstract, but it isn't even remotely trying to be. It is a fun,informative read, perfect for jumping into and out of, and if you like Bill James, you will probably like this.
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on April 28, 2011
I've been reading Bill James' material since "The Baseball Abstract" of the early '80s, and I still peruse my old copies every winter when I'm missing the baseball season. I bought this book simply because it was by Bill James, and I don't want to miss anything he does, even if this includes a lot of reprints of stuff he's done online.

It's a disappointment for the high bar set by Bill James, though it's still entertaining. It's pretty much all reprints of material he had published elsewhere (with some updates), and so you lose some of the charm of reading his revelations and musings for the first time.

The pieces about starting pitchers, losing teams, and the impact of baseball's expansionary era on the Hall of Fame are vintage James research -- microscopically detailed looks at data over decades. But you also feel a bit of "what's the point?" in the pitchers' analysis, and there are some logical flaws in the HoF piece. And there are typos throughout the book, which is a surprise for something that you wouldn't think had to be produced on a tight timetable.

Anyway, it's a decent addition to a baseball library, but it's not a "must have" book.
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Odd book from Bill James, baseball guru and sabermetrician. This book? He says that (Page 8): "Some of these articles could be considered serious baseball research, . . .Some of them are not."

The very first essay is on an approach to predicting RBIs (runs batted in) from other batting data. Voila! A simple formula that appears to predict well. Torii Hunter's actual RBI total=90; his predicted total=90! Alex Rodriguez drove in more than expected; Ichiro less than expected. Fun reading, trying to make sense of baseball statistics.

Another section addresses what the best starting rotations of all time are from 1 through 33. Number 1? 1903 Giants: Joe McGinnity, Christy Mathewson, Luther Taylor, and Hooks Wiltse. Number 33? 2002 Atlanta Braves: Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood, Tom Glavine, and Damian Moss.

And now for something completely different. James' ruminations on a cousin--Supreme Court Justice James McReynolds--racist and anti-Semite (he would not shake hands with Louis Brandeis, for example). Interesting reflections, including how old Negro League legend Buck O'Neil might interact with Justice McReynolds.

A lot of fun, but not much focus. I guess that when you've made the big time, you are allowed some openness for an idiosyncratic book!
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VINE VOICEon April 24, 2011
Growing up with Bill James' original abstracts in the 1980s, I couldn't wait for his newest books to come out each spring. Then he stopped writing the abstracts annually, and I searched for some other tome to fill the void. When Baseball Prospectus finally started being available to mainstream America I found my replacement for the Abstracts, but the memory of Bill James' solid run of books kept me yearning for the sporadic efforts that would come out every so often.

Sadly, after reading this effort, I realize that Bill James is no longer worth my dime. This book has two fantastic articles by James. Two. These two articles harken back to the days of yesteryear when everything he wrote seemed to be worth my consideration. This book also has articles on traffic lights, a poem comparing Wiki Leaks to Rickie Weeks (3 pages are devoted to this one-stanza, four line poem), and a piece attempting to determine if TSA is worth the effort.

I don't recommend this book to anyone, but wish fervently that Mr. James stop putting out books like this. Stick to baseball please!
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on April 21, 2011
I love reading Bill James's thoughts on baseball. Some of these essays represent James at his best ("Random vs Responsive Pitching Performance by Starting Pitchers," "Stink-O-Meter). The trouble with this book is that it could have been just over half the length and delivered the real goods; several of these pieces are random musings or underdeveloped ideas best left to James's subscription website. I guess Acta wanted a book of a certain length.
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on April 16, 2011
Half this book was what I expected from the much respected Bill James; great baseball analysis. The other half was really out of place and non-interesting commentary on random topics. If I wanted to hear why streets shouldnt have street lights I would research that. If you buy this book for half price its a good deal. Otherwise be wary.
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on March 4, 2013
Bill James made his reputation challenging the conventional wisdom behind Major League Baseball through his statistical analyses of the sport and its players, sabremetrics. That approach yielded a low-cost, mostly successful franchise in Oakland; the film "Moneyball": and, if you believe the film, a World Series win for the Boston Red Sox. "Solid Fool's Goal" is a collection of James' lesser known and unpublished studies and writings, many on baseball but just as many on things like creativity.

"Talent, like stupidity, is all around us," James writes. Taken to heart, his observations could influence child-rearing and education just as he has baseball.
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on April 24, 2011
As a geeky teenager in early 80s, I stumbled upon Bill James Baseball Abstract in the book store. I was enthralled. It changed my life, well ... it changed the way I viewed baseball and how I played strat-o-matic. Since then I have read most everything Bill James has published. Overtime, in his writings, you can see his transformation from outsider to establishment which has been good for him and for baseball. This book takes an odd turn into non-baseball related topics: red-light cameras, tipping, the TSA, and many more. Most of these articles border on rants suitable for a blog but not a book. I don't really disagree with him on these topics, rather it is clear that he is out of his element. In publishing these articles, James has hurt his reputation and hurt his whole body of work.
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on June 26, 2011
I had never read Bill James before but was enthusiastic to hear from the man who basically changed the way the game of baseball is being analyzed. Simply put, this book was a disappointment for me. I found it to be full of half baked ideas that are either not fully thought out (his discussions on performance enhancing drugs or advertising) or approached in a very primitive manner especially for someone who has invented or led to the invention of much better tools for evaluating performance on the baseball field (e.g. he judges the streakiness or hotness of pitchers using ERA and wins/losses, two statistics we now know to be severely lacking).

James writes about aspects of life he thinks are interesting, indeed some of them are or could be, however he never gets into enough depth to stimulate the reader. On most of these I was left thinking there is so much more to this issue that he never considers.
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on April 15, 2011
Full disclosure: I am a colleague and friend of Bill James and the people at Acta who produced this book.

The book is drawn from essays published at Bill's website. Many of Bill's most devoted readers are likely to be subscribers to the site, so they will probably have seen these essays already. It's still a worthwhile purchase for two main reasons: (1) the essays are in a far more readable format here than on the website; (2) for completists, the book is a necessary addition to their Bill James book shelf.

For those who are late in getting to know Bill's work, or don't have access to the site, the book is a terrific introduction to his writing style, methodology, and unique analytical brilliance. For new readers, the book is a gateway drug.

Another reviewer noted that the book was organized idiosyncratically. As longtime fans of Bill's work know, often the best of Bill's work is on topics that are only tenuously connected to baseball. The same holds true in this book.
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