- Hardcover: 139 pages
- Publisher: ACTA Publications; First Edition edition (March 1, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0879463171
- ISBN-13: 978-0879463175
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,666,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How Bill James Changed Our View of the Game of Baseball Hardcover – March 1, 2007
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If you don't know who Bill James is, you haven't been paying attention. The baseball writer and current consultant to the Boston Red Sox started something of a revolution in statistical analysis in his favorite sport. His Baseball Abstracts, which were issued from 1977 to 1986, were gobbled up by a group of fans who weren't afraid to see the game in a different way.
Those fans have gone on into other parts of their lives, of course, but they still consider James as an influential part of their lives.
Gregory F. Augustine Pierce has collected some of their thoughts about James in "How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball." The title is pretty descriptive of the material.
Pierce has compiled contributions from 12 writers in the form of essays about James' work. They vary from writers to analysts to a basketball executive (Daryl Morey, then assistant general manager of the NBA's Houston Rockets). Short notes from fans are also sprinkled in the text.
Most of the essays are very, very similar. James had the type of personality to question what he saw on the baseball field and not accept convention wisdom at face value. If anythiing, the people who read him learned that characteristic. The biggest problem with the book, then, is that the essays tend to sound alike after a while. The word "disciples" came to mind while reading this, and that may only overstate the case a bit.
The one exception might be from James' wife, Susan McCarthy. She's written essays before for James' books and always come off well. Obviously, the reader of this book gets a different perspective on how someone learned to watch baseball from James' wife than from any other source.
At least this book isn't 250 pages of tributes that sound alike. Still, this is mighty easy reading. At 136 pages of text in a 6.25 X 8.5 book, this goes by very quickly. It took me a little more than an hour to get through it. That's not much reading for $19.95
There's little doubt that Bill James is headed for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown some day. No other baseball writer would have a book like this written about him. Still, this is a little too unsubstantial for most tastes, particularly at this price. A trip to the library is definitely in order if you are at all curious about the book.
The best essays are by Dave Studenmund (the editor of The Hardball Times Annuals), Daryl Morey (the assistant GM of the Houston Rockets) and Gary Huckabay (one of the founders of Baseball Prospectus).
Morey wrote that James taught him not to "assess value to randomness" (pg. 95).
Huckabay's piece is titled "The Arrogance of Bill James." Here is a passage from his essay:
"Cries of 'arrogance' are often the first reaction of an existing power structure to the suggestion of change. It's true not just in baseball but also in virtually every industry or enterprise, from politics to the arts. However, for the group that happens to be in power, making the decisions that actually drive the enterprise or industry, the disquieting reality is that the true arrogance is not displayed by the upstart with the new idea but the calcified inhabitants of the positions of power."
Huckabay goes on to explain why baseball execs and baseball writers have reacted so negatively to James over the years. His essay is, by far, the best in the book.
There are a number of sidebars that are written by regular readers of James (some are engineers, professors or writers). Some are interesting, some are tedious. There is nothing really new in this book; it's just an appreciation.
One should be familiar with Bill James' work before tackling this book.
Some of the best stuff is from Hal Richman (founder and CEO of Stratomatic)who mixes his contribution with praise for James, as well as noting the difficulties he has had with examining defense. Daryl Morey, the assistant GM for the Houston Rockets, writes about how he has tried to apply some of James' ideas to basketball. I also enjoyed Ron Shandler's chapter on Fantasy Baseball, but I would disagreed with some of his observations. Bill James may not have embraced fantasy baseball as much as some people think he should, but he hasn't disdained it either.
I was also disappointed with Neyer's contribution. Neyer, no doubt, has plenty of anecdotes he could share about James. He only shares a couple, but I am sure there are some great ones where he and James clashed over some analysis or conclusion. Those are the stories I want to hear about.
So, all in all, it's okay. I would only recommend it to the die hard Bill James fans.