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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of Bill James, and neat biographical technique
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...
Published on March 16, 2006 by Mark Cannon

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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Book does not live up to its catchy subtitle
"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...
Published on September 7, 2006 by dcreader


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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of Bill James, and neat biographical technique, March 16, 2006
By 
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (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. For example, the first sentence of Chapter 1: "Like William Shatner singing 'Rocket Man,' bad lineups have a perverse appeal." That's exactly the kind of thing Bill James would write, probably the kind of thing that ONLY Bill James would write, but not as good -- although I must admit some of James' own metaphors are pretty lame. :-) But anyway I don't mind because I would smile at ANY Bill James, even imitation Bill James.

Overall, a delightful, creative biography, truly a labor of love. I'm sure that in time there will be other biographies of Bill James, but this is a most worthy and welcome first one.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Book does not live up to its catchy subtitle, September 7, 2006
By 
dcreader (Washington DC area) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (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. Because the book takes James from childhood to the presdent and discusses his ideas as he wrote them, there's no sense of hierarchy, i.e., which of them are most important in terms of their contribution to baseball, which is the book's ostensible purpose.

Finally, the book doesn't really take a comprehensive look at the world of baseball analysis to get a sense of how much ground James really broke. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) preceeded James's appearance onto the scene. To what extent did James popularize work being done already (James can write clearly and make the mundane fascinating) and to what extent did he plow new ground? Again, while the book acknowledges that there was this universe of research and analysis before James, he doesn't even begin to explore this.

None of this is to criticize James at all, who best exemplifies someone who writes about the game with intelligence and passion. His ideas are important (whether you agree with him or not), and deserve a better explication than this volume.

In short, a good concept poorly executed in my view.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Favorite Author, May 14, 2006
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing take on a complex subject, July 28, 2006
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Want to know more about Bill James?, August 1, 2006
By 
Mark (Princeton, NJ) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (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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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Okay as an introduction, not much for the Bill James fan, April 11, 2006
By 
Richard L. Goldfarb (Seattle, WA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (Hardcover)
Many years ago, I read a biography by Burton Bernstein of James Thurber. I ended up liking Bernstein not at all and Thurber less than I did before I read it. I feel much the same here; Bill James has been highly influential in how I think about baseball and a lot of things, but this book neither impressed me nor made me feel better about James.

I think Gray needed to decide what kind of book he was going to write: a biography, a digest of James's writing, a digest of James's ideas, or something else. Instead, the book seems to float between motifs without any particular rhyme or reason, following some highlights of his life chronologically but not really doing a good job of putting it into the context of what the reader is most likely to be interested in, the history of baseball. We learn that James has in fact revised his thinking on a number of issues over the years, but the quotes from old Abstracts are not given with any real insight as to what has changed in baseball since, which is really important for understanding the impact of James's thinking on the sport. Then the last part of the book, which purports to be a glossary of James's terms, really seems just to be leftovers the author added, with no particular rhyme or reason, to make the book bulky enough to sell.

The other criticism which I have, which would not be directed solely at this book, is the assumption that all baseball fans are really interested in the Red Sox and the 2004 Red Sox in particular. The book refers to them nearly always as simply "the Sox", even though I understand there is another team that also uses that nickname, and happens to be the current World Champions. You don't learn a lot about what James does for the Red Sox, because he won't talk about for competitive reasons (which are understandable), so the emphasis on his work for Boston doesn't add a lot to the book. Moreover, there is no exploration about how a lifelong Kansas City fan would change his allegiance so readily when offered a job by a team in the same league, what thought when into such a radical change in his status as the archetypal outsider or what that does to his status with the public. The day before I wrote this review, the Red Sox signed David Ortiz to a lengthy extension; a reader of James's work would be interested to know what the longterm prospects of a slugging designated hitter of his age and weight and stats; he probably did the study, we'll never see it and we'll never know whether Red Sox management followed it, ignored it or tempered their actions based on it. But when James does write for general publication, how do we know the degree to which his professional loyalty to the Red Sox colors his thinking? 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.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Take-Me-Out-to-the-Ballpark Book, March 16, 2006
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This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (Hardcover)
The magic of Bill James' statistical analysis of baseball is its easy accessibility. And it's just that same kind of readability that makes Scott Gray's book sparkle. The subject of sabermetrics always runs the risk of sounding like after-school homework. For Grey-and his subject, James-the tone is more like a fieldtrip to the ballpark. Some of the old-timers may not like it, but Bill James changed the way we understand baseball. And Scott Grey has provided us with a lively, entertaining, and smart way to understand James' importance to the sport. And where else are you going to learn why lemurs matter so much to the national pastime?
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, March 22, 2006
By 
Scott Segrin (Germantown, WI United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (Hardcover)
In my early 20's I would visit the local bookstore every day in spring watching for the new Bill James "Baseball Abstract". I would read it from cover to cover the day it was released. As much as I loved James' insight on baseball, I was also engaged by his tangents and outlook on every day life. As I read "The Mind of Bill James", I realized how many of the principals I read about back then have stuck with me to this day. This book was a wonderful reminicance.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and informative, March 16, 2006
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (Hardcover)
Gray walks a fine line of telling the uninitiated what they need to know while also giving Bill fanatics fun tidbits and anecdotes about his everyday life. Gray's a good writer, too. So much so that at times, if you're not paying close attention, you might just miss where excerpts from Bill's best writing end and Gray's begin.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual and worthwhile read, August 3, 2006
By 
This review is from: The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball (Hardcover)
As baseball books go, this one is unusual. Instead of mimicking the tried-and-true journalistic voice of authority, the author lets his subject do most of the talking, about baseball in general and the Red Sox in particular, as well as on things that have little to do with sport but are nonetheless interesting, such as the Ramsey murder, life in the Army during the Vietnam era, race, and psychology. In one lengthy passage, the author uses old and new James analysis to make a case for Lou Whitaker being severly underrated and having had more value to his teams than Ernie Banks or Lou Brock to theirs. Whether you agree or disagree, or you like Bill James or don't, this book is pretty fascinating. Some reviewers have complained about the structure, but I found it a fun and easy read. If you're a Red Sox fan, you'll dig the "Pedro Martinez / London pub" story.
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The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball
The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball by Scott Gray (Hardcover - March 14, 2006)
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