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This review is from: The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (Hardcover)
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). He rates the top 100 players at each position. Some of this can get dull when you get down to the low #'s. But you'll learn a lot, such as that the 1901 Beaneaters had the best pitching staff of the decade, that Arky Vaughn was the #2 all-time shortstop and that Craig Biggio and Barry Bonds are two of the best all-time at their position (this was written before Bonds' historic 2001 season and Biggio's 2001 comeback).
One last thing. Throughout the book, James' cites reference to other great baseball books. You could build an amazing baseball library just from his bibliography.
All of this comes with James' wit, insight and love of the game. He combines hard-boiled statistical analysis with an apprection of the intangible aspects of the game.
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Initial post: Jun 29, 2007 1:47:52 AM PDT
Frank Cohen says:
A "big price tag"? The book is very affordable even at its suggested retail price and even more so with Amazon's markdown (to $17) from that price. It easily fits into any interested fan's budget. In terms of value, the price is downright cheap for a densely packed, comprehensive reference book.
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