Book Review: How Bill James Changes Our View Of Baseball

How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball
By Colleagues, Critics, Competitors and Just Plain Fans (ACTA Sports, $19.95).

“How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball” offers 13 light-hearted essays celebrating the contributions of James and the proliferation of Jamesian thought.

While a fun read, the 136-page book is notable more for its honor roll of colleagues and protégés than for its insight.

The book claims as essayists John Dewan and Steve Moyer of Baseball Info Solutions, former James assistant Rob Neyer of ESPN Online, Hal Richman of Strat-O-Matic, former BA senior writer Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, fantasy baseball guru Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ, historian John Thorn of Total Baseball and recent fantasy baseball convert and The Wall Street Journal sports columnist Sam Walker. James himself writes the final word.

Nearly every contributor recalls fondly waiting for and anticipating James’ 1984 Baseball Abstract, the book that seems to have been the jumping-off point for the way we view and work with numbers today. It was James’ unique way of illuminating obtuse subjects, more than anything else, that stuck with his readers.

Walker, author of last year’s Fantasyland, turns in the most compelling effort here, as he details his early antipathy for James, an emotion fueled by his father’s slavish devotion to James’ way of thinking.

Walker’s ill will toward James endured for two decades, vanishing only after he had a chance to interact with James at an excursion to a 2006 game. He learned James was just an ordinary guy with ideas outside the baseball mainstream–and the data to back them up.

And that’s how Bill James changed our view of baseball.