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The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball Hardcover – March 14, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (March 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385514646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514644
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"I enjoyed The Mind of Bill James immensely - indeed, immoderately"--Tracy Kidder, author of The Soul of a New Machine

"Takes the reader on a fascinating journey into a brain I know so well."--Randy Hendricks, Hendricks Sports Management

"I couldn't put it down. It's absolutely a great read and I strongly recommend it."--John Dewan, ACTA Sports

About the Author

SCOTT GRAY is the author of a series of Street & Smith’s sports annuals. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Customer Reviews

Overall, a delightful, creative biography, truly a labor of love.
Mark Cannon
One sign of a great, compelling biography, I think, is a kind of merging of the two voices - that of the subject of the biography and that of the biographer himself.
J. P. Cross
It would have been nice for Gray to get into that, but instead we get pages of James's musing on psychology and the justice system.
Richard L. Goldfarb

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mark Cannon on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This combination biography/compendium of Bill James may not be of much interest to people who aren't Bill James fanatics, but if you are, it is a delight. Mr. Gray does a great job of tracing James' life in fine and lively detail, and much of the biographical information will be new even to his fans. But actually I believe the book is most noteworthy for its creative excerpting of James' work and for its interesting biographical technique.

James' story is told in more-or-less chronological order, but not by a usual kind of author's narrative. It is presented in large part through reminiscences and anecdotes from James' friends, acquaintances, and family (with occasional contributions from James himself), interspersed with excerpts from James' own works, all woven together nicely by the author. The biographical material is very well chosen and seems quite complete. Along the way, we get a nice overview of James' work through the years. Also the book has a wonderful and user-friendly appendix that lists and summarizes his major ideas and arguments.

The use of the excerpts from James' works is particularly interesting. James' own books often go on tangents where he makes reference to episodes from his life, and Mr. Gray did an excellent job of finding them and putting them in order. I never would have realized that those tangential ramblings by James would almost add up to a biography in themselves, but they just about do.

I think the book does have a small weakness, one that I don't mind. The author mentions having been influenced by James, and it shows in his style -- which isn't a weakness in itself, but if you're familiar with James' writings, you'll probably recognize some of this writing as sort of poor imitation James.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By dcreader VINE VOICE on September 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outside Changed Baseball" delivers better on the first part of the title.

The book serves as a narrative biography of James, who is best known for popularizing a term he coined, "Sabrmetrics" or the use of statistics to analyze all facets of baseball decisionmaking, from which minor league pitchers would have solid major league careers to the value of stolen bases. While it summarizes James's most important ideas, it really doesn't explore how they've impacted the Major Leagues at all, even though James is now a paid consultant to the Red Sox and his ideas clearly play a role.

Gray's sources seem to be limited to James's writings (which are mostly out of date) and interviews with James. He really doesn't seem to have talked at all with other baseball executives to get their views on James's methods, and therefore its really difficult to know how seriously those truly "in power" take them. For instance, Billy Beane of the A's is known to use Jamesian methods and done quite well with them (see Michael Lewis's "Moneyball"). Gray doesn't seem to have talked with him or other GMs though.

Another disappointment is the cursory coverage Gray gives some of James's most important ideas, such as the concept of "Win Shares" that allows players to be evaluated over different periods of time, i.e. did Yogi Berra or Jackie Robinson contribute more to their teams' success? Calling the concept too complicated to really break down, Gray doesn't even get to it until about 2/3 of the way through the book.

One of the reasons for this is a real weakness of the book - its use of a narrative format instead of a topical one.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Donovan on May 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Throughout the 80's, my two favorite days of the year were the first touch football game of the fall and the day the Baseball Abstract was published. I adored James baseball analysis and his writing. This book took me back to those days and for that I am grateful. I do agree with the criticism that Gray is more a Red Sox fan than a baseball fan and that was somewhat annoying, but overall this is a very good read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Pipster on July 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, both as a baseball fan and as someone interested in nonfiction work in general. While I had heard a lot about Bill James before reading the book, once I finished reading it I felt as though I really had got to know the man behind the myth. If you're interested in detail and don't need to be spoonfed explanations where none are necessary (see Mr. Levenberg's review below)--and certainly if you are curious about Bill James--then I think you will like this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mark on August 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found this book displayed on a B&N endcap, bought it on a whim, and once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. I first read about Bill James in a New Yorker article a few years ago, and he was such an interesting subject that I'd been on the lookout for a book about him ever since. Based on some of the angrier reviews, I suppose I fall into the "Bill James newbie" category, but this book provided me with everything I was hoping for. In my humble opinion, stating that this book has nothing to offer the Bill James fan is like saying The Tao of Pooh has nothing to offer the student of Taoism. Perhaps the problem is that the reviewers in question were expecting something this book had no intention of providing--and that's hardly the book's fault. If you want to know more about the mind of Bill James, then this is the book for you.
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