Bill James: A Nostalgic Handbook

Browsing through the pages of books about the previous baseball season can make you nostalgic for the recently lived past. Typically, a period of thirty years is needed to piece together such jumbled memories. But when you’re stuck in an MLB lockout, or due to the lack of live baseball, it’s easier to go lunar in less time.

The book in question

In 1977, Bill James began self-publishing The Summary of Bill James Baseball. For those of you who don’t know who James is or what his Summary Here was a brief catch-up. Simply put, James is a baseball writer and statistician. His scientific work of analyzing baseball using statistical data revolutionized the game. Without Bill James, baseball would still be in the dark ages. James is the Renaissance. He is the godfather of sabermetrics, also known as analytics, depending on your favorite descriptive term.

The Summary of Bill James Baseball was the vehicle for James’ once radical ideas. And in 1977, his quirky baseball articles were so different that baseball editors refused to publish them. So James pulled a Henry David Thoreau and self-published his work in a book called The Summary of Bill James Baseball. the Summary was released annually until 1988, when James called it quits publishing.

Other publications by Bill James during and after the summary

But luckily James couldn’t stay away from the written word and continued to publish his writings, including Bill James’ Baseball History Summary (originally published in 1985) as well as The new historical summary of Bill James. He also started publishing The Bill James Handbook in 2003. The Manual is still published annually, and it is the most recent incantation from that publication that is the nostalgic book in question.

The Bill James Handbook 2022

Humanity has been in a doldrums for two years. We all know why. There’s no need to dwell on it, so let’s not. We have all needed anti-crisis measures during this time of uncertainty and it seems that it is the little things that have had the most effect. Little things like Tom Petty telling you he “won’t back down” or a walk among the millennial redwoods to take a step back. The Bill James Handbook 2022 is the baseball equivalent of a pleasant walk by the ocean, although of course it is a statistically calculated walk.

Numbers, numbers, numbers

If you don’t like numbers, stay away from anything about Bill James and especially his textbook. But most likely, if you’re a baseball fan (and probably you are if you’re reading this article), the numbers are part of your breath. 56 means something to you. The same goes for 762, 755, and 714. How about 2632? 1.1636 a little too obscure for you? Either way, all or some of these numbers mean something to baseball fans. Numbers are as much a part of the game as gloves, hats, bats or balls. These numbers are spread throughout the book and present a comfortable cover for your left brain.

Words, words, words

A plethora of articles, written by James and his followers, ranging from the world’s greatest hitter today to a delightful article by Joe Sheehan titled “The Baseball Revolution”, fit perfectly between the harmonious onslaught of numbers. There is such a wide range of topics (all well-researched and well-written) that even the most vehement defender of the anti-analytics campaign will be happy. This book arrived in the mail just in time to resurrect this baseball writer from the depths of his baseballless depression and gave him a bound paper teddy bear to snuggle up with until the bat crack and the sound of the bullet hitting the leather can be heard. Spring will come, I hope…

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