on May 2, 2002
After reading "Politics of Glory" I would like to nominate Bill James for Hot Stove League Commissioner. The Hot Stove League is where baseball hungry fans spend their winter days arguing that "My favorite player is better than yours!" James approaches baseball arguments the way a Philadelphia lawyer evaluates lucrative contracts, by examining every point with microscopic clarity.
A book about the Hall of Fame, with its unending controversies over just who is truly deserving of entry and who is not, is ideal grist for the analytical mind of James. He covers many controversies, two of which surround Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale and Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto. Drysdale had been voted into the Hall by the time James wrote his book while Rizzuto was elected just as James was completing his final chapter. The evaluations of both players were so thorough that James concluded his analysis of Drysdale by covering the tall right-hander's performance in pennant stretch drives of the Dodgers as well as in the twelve games James deemed the most crucial of his career excluding World Series performances. Rizzuto's Hall of Fame worthiness was ultimately evaluated by a statistically microscopic comparison of the Yankee star with his counterpart New York contemporary at shortstop, Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In addition to comparing and contrasting players both in and out of the Hall, James also delves into the politics of Cooperstown. He decries the period of the fifties and sixties for what he deems less than deserving choices made by the Veterans Committee. James pinpoints the reason as the leadership influence of Frankie Frisch, the great infielder of the Cardinals and Giants, whose love affair with the game of his playing days continued even when he was managing teams years later. James notes that the "Fordham Flash" was less than a hit with his players for constantly proclaiming that "The players of my days were much better than the players now." Frisch's period on the Veterans Committee resulted in numerous former teammates being selected, including choices James statistically debunks as inadequate, including three former St. Louis Cardinals, pitcher Jess Haines, first baseman Jim Bottomly, and outfielder Chick Hafey.
Reading James improves a baseball fan's instincts for looking beyond the sheer numbers, such as park advantages, i.e.: Did a pitcher perform in a home park favorable to pitchers or hitters or did a hitter play half his games in a stadium with short or long fences? James comes up with some convincing arguments by searching in places where most fans have never treaded.
on November 29, 1999
Back in the 70s, when Tony Kubek was considered a baseball savant, Bill James began popularizing a rigorous statistical analysis of baseball. In the 80s, when the pedantry of the Elias Baseball Analyst team threatened to remove the ideas from the study of the game, James kept chugging along with his yearlies, and the Historical Abstract (another must read). Later he produced this, probably his best work. For anyone who shakes his head at a player or manager dismissing another's opinion by saying "He never played the game;" for anyone who is not cowed by the received truth of an inside "authority" or eyewitness, for anyone who loves baseball and thinks we can do better by using the tools at our disposal, Bill James is a godsend. If you're a big baseball fan and you don't know who he is, get this for yourself. It will open up your appreciation of the game, its history, and the numbers and debates that keep its history alive.
on February 1, 2004
For anyone who has ever been interested in baseball's Hall of Fame, from being a serious historian of the game to simply being a fan who wanted your favorite player to be honored, this book will teach you a great deal.
Bill James, in a very entertaining style, will show you how some of the game's greatest players have been overlooked for the game's highest honor, while lesser men have been awarded. He will show you the passion of those who promote a certain player for election, while also demonstrating how illogical many can be as they argue for their favorites. He shows the inconsistency of the various voting bodies, the chronyism, the politics, and most other aspects of the long history of the Hall of Fame's process for determining the game's greatest players. It is a subject not often outlined in this depth, and James does a splendid job with it.
There are some flaws. James, as he often does, contradicts his own previously stated views on some players, and does so without explanation, which can be maddening to anyone who has read most of his work. He also has the unnecessary habit of insulting people for no real reason. As a man who can write so well and express his views in such detail and with such clarity, it doesn't appear to be necessary, when citing an example of one fan's opinion about Mickey Lolich, to answer this question:
"Am I the only baseball fan who feels that statistics provide, at best, a meager measure of a player's worth?"
with this answer:
"Well, no, Mr. Miedlar, actually, there are an amazing number of idiots in the world."
Stooping to that level is entertaining at times, but it also serves to convince the reader that James is a bit full of himself, and a bit of a bully to boot.
Still, those flaws are minor when compared to the overall quality of both the information presented and the manner in which James presents it. Anyone with an interest in baseball in general, or baseball history or the Hall of Fame in particular, will be pleased with what they find in this book.
Bill James is the dean of baseball statistics for a reason, and that reason's readily apparent when he's on a roll. Yet even when he's rolling in "Whatever Happened To The Hall Of Fame," which happens often, his focus is lacking.
This 1995 examination of how the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N. Y. selects and rejects various players to enshrine offers plenty of statistics and analysis, along with James' signature style, erudite and witty yet accessible. The premise is that the Hall of Fame has let in several players beneath the standard it should uphold, which James points out with detailed analyses of several inductees as well as non-inductees often mentioned as worthy.
"It is tempting to say that had it all not happened so quickly, more thought might have gone into designing a process that would provide consistently defensible results," he writes. "It is tempting, but Hamilton and Jefferson were dead and probably not baseball fans anyway."
Problems as James sees them include fuzzy logic (e. g. taking one inductee as an example why a non-inductee with similar stats should be admitted) and spur-of-the-moment sentiment. James' biggest bone is with the Hall of Fame's safety net for second chances, the Veterans Committee, where a few older men meet to agree on players worthy of induction whom the main induction body, the Baseball Writers Association of America, passed over. As James sees it, too often the Veterans Committee has worked as a back door for players who don't merit the honor but either had friends on the Veterans Committee or else blinding sentiment on their side.
The inductee of the moment when this was published was Phil Rizzuto, the great Yankee shortstop and longtime announcer known as "Scooter." In the book's first incarnation, in 1994 when it was titled "The Politics Of Glory," Rizzuto was still being considered and James looked at Rizzuto's case from several perspectives, acknowledging he was better than some players already in but not worthy on his own merits.
In "Whatever Happened," the same book revised after Rizzuto's induction, James spends a lot of time on Rizzuto still, as it's basically the same book. But what came across as fresh perspective in 1994 reads like spleen venting in 1995, even if James is clear Rizzuto was a solid, often great player. He spends several chapters detailing Rizzuto's case, developing fascinating tangents but never justifying why so much of this book's thesis of Hall irregularity in choosing inductees rests on this guy, whom he admits is far from the worst player ever inducted.
In an effort to present more than criticism, James suggests revamping the voting system for inductees, devising in its stead an overly complicated, blatantly unworkable system that reads like satire except for the fact the author is dead serious. James' argument for it boils down to "How good can the present system be if I'm not allowed to vote on it?"
I enjoy reading James, but this one was rougher than expected. Even his tone here seems off. Like Paul White said in his 2004 review here, there are times he takes on the tone of a bully. And James casts a wide net in picking fights, leveling hard words at letter-writers to The Sporting News, Liz Taylor, and his own brother-in-law. None of this really does his book or its arguments any credit; I got the feeling James was enjoying himself too much to care.
on February 2, 2005
Noted baseball analyst Bill James, author of the famous annual Baseball Abstracts of the 1980s and other baseball books, turns his considerable talents to Cooperstown. Here, James discusses the ultimate baseball question: Who belongs in the Hall of Fame?
If you liked the Abstracts, you'll probably like this too. If you want a calm, logical, insightful discussion of Hall of Fame history and candidates, this is the place.
James uses a number of methods, both quantitative and qualitative, to evaluate whether someone should or should not be in the Hall of Fame. Some of these appeared in his previous books, others are new. Perhaps his most important contribution is a discussion of common fallacies used in hyping Hall of Fame candidates.
James focuses on two candidates in particular: Don Drysdale (inducted 1983) and Phil Rizzuto (inducted 1994, just before this book was released in hardcover). Others who get a good deal of attention include Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr, Joe Tinker, Catfish Hunter, and Pee Wee Reese along with Joe Gordon, George Davis, Jerry Priddy, Luis Tiant, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Oliva, Vern Stephens, Pete Rose, and Joe Jackson. Davis and Cepeda have since been inducted.
James also traces the institutional history of the Hall of Fame: how it was founded, how it developed, how the selection process evolved, when the standards began to get lax (in 1946!), problems with cronyism (he harshly denounces the 1970s Veterans' Committee), the debate over inducting Negro Leaguers, the Pete Rose debate, and more.
A fascinating chapter addresses both sides of that eternal debate: "Are today's players better than yesteryear's?"
This is one of the best books on the Hall of Fame you will find!
on December 7, 2000
Quite simply one of the best baseball books ever. Written with the serious fan in mind this book puts to rest many of the debates about who should and shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. It is hard to argue to James' logic in every one of the cases he sites.
The idea that James has some sort of hidden agenda, as one reviewer states, is absurd. What could James possibly have against Freddie Lindstrom or Travis Jackson? Besides regular statistics, James does use first hand accounts in helping to determine whether or not someone should be in the Hall of Fame. However, he does not put much credence in something an old teammate says 40 years later. The fact is that James points out obvious discrepancies between the number of HOFers from the 20s and 30s and other decades, and in particular in the number of teammates of Veterans Committee members in the Hall of Fame.
This is just one of the many issues detailed here. All in all this book is a must read for anyone interested in the Hall of Fame.
on October 13, 1999
It saddens me to see that someone has "reviewed" this book as being the work of someone who "cooks numbers" to suit his own hypotheses. This really cannot be further from the truth, and anyone who actually understands the use and study of statistics in baseball will realize this.
"Politics of Glory" is insightful in the way that it turns the light of context onto the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now we can better understand just how some members have been elected, and how many deserving candidates have been left out.
What is important to realize is that James, while speaking out on a few poor choices, also takes great pains to say that membership requirements for the Hall are subjective at best, and that it is up to the reader to decide where that magical Mendoza line is for enshrinement.
A 5-star review for anyone who is interested in the history of the game from both prosaic and statistical perspectives. If you don't like stats (really, there are very few - only a number of rankings by player "similarities"), then read it in pieces. The chapters are arranged so that one does not have to read it straight through, and non-statheads can skip the stuff they don't find appealing.
on January 9, 2005
I always wondered why Babe Ruth was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with only 95% of the vote; how could he have deserved anything less than 100%?
James methodically explains why players like Sandy Koufax are in the Hall while others like Don Drysdale shouldn't make the cut. He presents Vern Stepens's candidacy for induction (you'll find out who he is) while comparing him to Phil Rizzuto. He educates us about the Hall of Fame voting proceedings in the Veterans Committee of the 1970's, led by Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch, and the several biased selections that were made. Why IS Ross Youngs in the Hall of Fame? Could it be that he was a teammate of Frisch's?
James gives us a magnificent perspective as to the Hall of Fame's voting proceedings and rule changes, and he gives a thorough and enlightening history of the Baseball Hall of Fame's bureaucracy and maturation into the Mecca for baseball history.
on October 30, 2015
I enjoyed the book as a baseball junkie, but there were times when it was even a little too stat heavy for me. I did love the history of the HoF personally.A post script of some updates would be a great idea....
on January 30, 1999
Like many baseball fans, I always believed that the Hall of Fame voters were something like the College of Cardinals. I believed that their choices of were based on earthly performance mixed with a healthy dose of divine inspiration.
James' work shatters this faith and places the hard glare of reality on a process that is an all too human endeavor -- shortsighted, political and at times bordering on random.
The book is lucid, fact-filled, fun to read and it answer one of baseball's great mysteries: what the heck is George Kelly doing in the Hall of Fame. That in itself is worth the cover price.
One of the few "must have" baseball books.