June 19, 2007

Bill James is NOT perfect!

I bought baseball statistical analyst Bill James's New Historical Baseball Abstract for $3.99, which is a pretty good deal for a 1,000 page book. Over 600 pages are devoted to ranking from #1 to #100 the top players at all nine positions. I was explaining to my wife that was way too many players, because when he gets past about #60, nobody has heard of these guys. To prove this, I randomly opened to the back of the second baseman section and started reading off names to prove to her how nobody had ever heard of any of these guys

"Like, who ever heard of #78, Juan Samuel? I mean, I guess I have -- fast, led the league in triples all the time when he was young, never took a walk, a disappointing career despite some tremendous skills. Or #79 Horace Clark? Well, he wore glasses for the Yankees 40 years ago. I had his baseball card. #80 Johnny Ray? Decent hitter but got slow..."

And on I went. While I was ranting about how much I hate #87 Jorge Orta because Lasorda pinch-hit him for Fernando Valenzuela in the 7th inning of the last game of the 1982 season with men on base and he grounded out weakly, likely a worse at-bat than Fernando would have managed, so Fernando had to come out and the reliever gave up a pennant-losing homer to Joe Morgan, I had a sudden revelation about my half-vast knowledge of baseball statistics: "Oh my God, I've wasted my life!"

Anyway, I had another revelation, like Sherif Ali's in "Lawrence of Arabia" when he realizes Awrence is not perfect. Bill James's book goes up through the 1999 season, after the McGwire-Sosa homer orgy of 1998, but as far as I can tell, the word "steroids" only appears once in its 1000 pages, in an afterword mentioning that Ken Caminiti had admitted his 1996 MVP season was due to drugs. I mean, I knew in 1993 that steroids were driving up batting statistics, so why didn't James? And if he did, why didn't he mention it?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Luke said...

Damn you have a memory! Seems like an unfair advantage over us mere mortals!

Anonymous said...

Once i had a summer job and i was getting a ride home with one of my co-workers who happened to be mexican.He somehow mentioned that Cookie Rojas was his uncle! Imagine my excitement,knowing full well that I had a Cookie Rojas card when i was a kid!

ricpic said...

"Oh my God, I've wasted my life!"

Welcome to the human race.

Anonymous said...


If it's the same book that I'm finding on Amazon (and the price tracks), it was published in late 2001. I'd argue that the real rage (Bad Barry, BALCO, Congress) on steroids didn't start until Canseco's book. (although the andro debate raged on...)

Are you faulting James for PC-ness for not spoiling the '98 party or are you faulting him for not being clairvoyant?

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, I am accusing Bill James of ignoring the elephant in the living room of baseball.

Crowds in Boston chanted "Ster-oids-Ster-oids" at Jose Canseco during the 1988 playoffs and Thomas Boswell accused him of being a user in 10-88. A friend of mine who is a baseball player's agent was telling me in 1993 that they were getting widespread. After Stephen Jay Gould wrote a WSJ op-ed in 1998 about how McGwire and Sosa had brought the innocence back to the game, I sent Gould a fax saying that andro had already been discovered McGwire's locker and Sosa had a lot of telltale signs.

I was a lot less connected than James but I could see what was happening. Maybe it was because James was too connected (he got a job with the Red Sox right after this book was written) that he didn't want to mention it.

aceflyer said...

The drug "Andro" was a big national sports media discussion topic during the McGwire/Sosa home run chase in 1998. Maybe it wasn't as big as it is today. Maybe it wasn't an all-consuming topic like the O.J. trial. But I distinctly recall it being talked about. McGwire was peppered with questions about it in locker room interviews.

Anonymous said...

fter Stephen Jay Gould wrote a WSJ op-ed in 1998 about how McGwire and Sosa had brought the innocence back to the game

Haha. Leave it to Gould to be wildly wrong on everything.

Rex Little said...

Those second basemen aren't obscure. I'm familiar with all of them. They all had at least a season or two worthy of All-Star consideration, except maybe Clarke (whose name, BTW, is spelled with an e at the end).