When Bill James published his original Historical Baseball Abstract in 1985, he produced an immediate classic, hailed by the Chicago Tribune as the “holy book of baseball.” Now, baseball's beloved “Sultan of Stats” (The Boston Globe) is back with a fully revised and updated edition for the new millennium.
Like the original, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is really several books in one. The Game provides a century's worth of American baseball history, told one decade at a time, with energetic facts and figures about How, Where, and by Whom the game was played. In The Players, you'll find listings of the top 100 players at each position in the major leagues, along with James's signature stats-based ratings method called “Win Shares,” a way of quantifying individual performance and calculating the offensive and defensive contributions of catchers, pitchers, infielders, and outfielders. And there's more: the Reference section covers Win Shares for each season and each player, and even offers a Win Share team comparison. A must-have for baseball fans and historians alike, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is as essential, entertaining, and enlightening as the sport itself.
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Read an Excerpt
How the Game Was Played
The outstanding features of baseball in the 1990s were record numbers of strikeouts, home runs, relief pitchers, and new stadiums. The game was essentially defined by batters using bats with very thin handles, and whipping them through the strike zone as fast as possible, producing either extra base hits or strikeouts.
In 1967 there were 11.98 strikeouts for each major league game (5.99 per team). Several things were done to change that. Strikeouts drifted downward until 1981, when there were slightly less than 9.5 strikeouts per game. Since then there has been a resumption of the historical trend toward more strikeouts, which dates to the 1920s. Strikeout rates passed the 1967 high-water mark in 1994 and pushed on to levels about 10 percent higher by decade's end.
But whereas the strikeouts of the 1960s were caused by the dominance of power pitchers, the strikeouts of the 1990s were caused more by the predominance of power hitters. Babe Ruth, in his time, regularly led the league in strikeouts; so did Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, and many other power hitters. Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., and Albert Belle don't strike out any more than Mantle, Jackson, or Schmidt, but there are simply more players now who are swinging for the fences-and thus, more strikeouts.
So the 1990s presented the paradox of historically high strikeout rates, simultaneous with historically high batting averages. Major league batting averages have hovered between .265 and .270 since 1994, the highest they have been in fifty years.
The question of why home-run hitting exploded in the 1990s is much debated. There are two popular theories that I will comment on in passing:
1. That the ball is livelier.
2. That there is a shortage of good pitching.
I put little stock in either of these explanations. The resiliency of baseballs is tested regularly, has been for many years; it's probably up some. It might be better if the resiliency of the balls was reduced, but it hasn't increased dramatically.
In all sports, whenever one person succeeds another must fail. When the hitters rule the game, this can always be explained as poor pitching, and vice versa. In addition, there is always a perceived shortage of good pitching, because each team needs a dozen or more pitchers. If a team has a shortstop they're not looking around for another, so they're not going to complain about the shortage of good shortstops. But even if a team has eight good pitchers they still need more, so some people are always going to complain about the lack of good pitching. I don't put any stock in this as an explanation for why baseball in the 1990s is the way it is.
Expansion? Expansion favors neither the hitter nor the pitcher, on balance; it does as much to create a shortage of good hitters as it does to create a shortage of good pitchers.
In the early 1990s the strike zone was a real problem, or the umpires if you prefer. From the mid-1980s into the early 1990s many umpires just would not call a strike, particularly strike three, no matter how perfect the pitch. That was maddening, and people still complain about it, but it is really not true anymore; the leagues have addressed the issue, and almost all of the umpires now will call a strike a strike. It hasn't made much difference.
In my opinion, the hitting conditions of the 1990s are created by six factors: the new ballparks, which have tended to be hitter's ballparks, and the culmination of five historical trends, which are:
1. The acceptance of strength training.
2. The abbreviating of pitcher's motions.
3. The use of aluminum bats in amateur ball.
4. The policy of fining and suspending players automatically when there is a fight.
5. The evolution of bat design.
The battle for the acceptance of strength training in baseball took at least seventy years to run its course. Honus Wagner believed in strength training, and used dumbbells as a part of his off-season workouts-but there was, at that time, an entrenched prejudice against weight-lifting by baseball players (and most other athletes). Strength training, it was believed, would make players muscle-bound and result in injuries. In the early 1980s, when Lance Parrish reported to spring training one year sporting ten pounds of extra muscle, Sparky Anderson complained that Parrish needed to decide whether he wanted to be a catcher or a member of the Russian Olympic weight-lifting team. There are still people today who believe this, but they are now badly outvoted.
A second factor is pitcher's motions. Rent a tape of a World Series from the 1950s, even the early 1960s, and you will be struck by the pitchers' mechanics. Pitchers in that era used very high leg kicks, some of them, and pumped their arms vigorously up and down in the process of delivering the pitch. They vaulted forward in completing the pitch, although they would shorten the delivery somewhat with runners on base.
But that was problematic, because many pitchers lost effectiveness with runners on base, and even the shortened "stretch" motions were, in retrospect, not all that short. From the time of Maury Wills (1962) until the mid-1980s, pitching coaches constantly encouraged young pitchers to shorten their deliveries. The pitching motions that are common today are totally different from those of the 1920-1965 era-and it is very likely that, as a consequence of this, the pitchers don't throw as hard. I don't want to generalize, but there may not be as many pitchers now who throw 90-plus miles per hour as there were in the 1950s, primarily because the pitchers use such conservative motions that they don't get much out of their legs.
Third, the aluminum bats. In the 1980s, when the college programs switched to aluminum bats, it was commonly said that this was going to ruin the hitters. With the aluminum bat, even if you don't hit the ball well, it will still carry. If you get jammed with an aluminum bat but happen to meet the ball squarely, you've got a base hit, whereas if the same thing happens with a wooden bat you've got a bat handle. If you swing late at an outside pitch with an aluminum bat, you can drive the ball hard to the opposite field.
In the 1980s, it was widely believed that the use of aluminum bats would ruin young hitters, and might cause another pitcher's era. This proves again that it is impossible to anticipate history. The effect that this has had on major league baseball is exactly the opposite of what was expected.
It has always been considered a sucker's game for a hitter to try to drive an outside pitch. Up until 1990, young hitters were always taught either to lay off the outside pitch or to go with it and guide it into the opposite field. If you try to "drive" that ball, they were told, you're going to wind up with a ground ball to second base (if you're right-handed) or shortstop (if you're a lefty). The aluminum bats were supposed to ruin hitters because they were going to let young hitters get by with this destructive habit of trying to drive the outside pitch.
But in fact, what the hitters learned from using the aluminum bats was not that they couldn't hit the outside pitch hard, but that they could. The aluminum bat revolution is, in a way, very similar to the Babe Ruth revolution. Before Babe Ruth, hitters had been taught for fifty years that it was a sucker's game to try to hit long flies. Up until 1920, any young hitter who experimented with an uppercut was told to cut it out and swing level, because everybody "knew" that if you uppercut you would hit a few home runs, but you'd hit twenty times as many fly outs and pop ups. Babe Ruth was "allowed" to uppercut, and wasn't coached out of it, because
1. he was a pitcher, and
2. it wasn't Ruth's nature to do what he was told.
Well, what's happened here is really the same thing: everybody "knew" that you couldn't make a living by crowding the plate and driving the outside pitch to the fence, but it turned out that everybody was wrong.
We first noticed this, some STATS guys and I, after a comment that Greg Maddux made. Maddux said that the biggest change in baseball since he came into the league was in the number of hitters who stand right on top of the plate and hit the outside pitch. He said that when he came in the league (1986) he saw maybe a half-dozen opposite-field home runs all season. Now you see them all the time.
We checked that out, since we have mountains of data including things like where home runs are hit, and we found it to be absolutely true. The number of opposite-field home runs has, in fact, nearly tripled since 1987. Meanwhile, the number of hit batsmen has more than doubled, from 32 per 100 games in 1984 (31 in 1980) to 65 per 100 games in 1999. The batters have learned that they can stand right on top of the plate and blast away at the outside pitch.
The people who have picked up bad habits from the aluminum bats haven't been the hitters, but the pitchers. Young pitchers used to be taught to work inside, to jam the hitters. You can't teach that in amateur ball now, because it doesn't work with aluminum bats.
This trend was given a booster rocket in the early 1990s, when the leagues developed policies of automatically expelling players who charge the mound after a brushback, automatically suspending players who leave the dugout during a fight, and automatically expelling a pitcher who throws close to a hitter after a warning.
This, again, is a battle that goes back many, many years; I can show you baseball guides from the twenties, thirties and fifties talking about how fights develop after inside pitches and suggesting what ought to be done to prevent this from happening. The effective policy of the 1990s-and it has been a very effective policy, in terms of limiting fights-is no tolerance for brushback pitches, no tolerance for charging the mound.
In addition, hitters now use batting helmets with ear flaps, which reduce the batter's fear of an inside pitch, at least a bit. For all intents and purposes, the league policy now is that the hitter can stand right on top of home plate, and the pitcher can't do much about it. A few pitchers can still get by with knocking the hitter back off the plate, but not very many; that's pretty much a lost art. The batters own the inside corner.
Finally, there is a hundred-year trend in bat design. Nineteenth-century bats had barrels almost as thick as the hitting area. Bats from 1920 had thinner handles, from 1950, still thinner, from 1980, still thinner, from 1999, thinner yet. More and more of the bat's weight has been concentrated into the sweet spot, the contact area; even the end of the bat has been hollowed out to increase a little bit more the ratio between the bat's weight and its surface area.
The effect of this is to increase bat speed. The hitters of the Nellie Fox/Richie Ashburn type, who choked up on the bat and tried to punch the ball into the outfield, are just about gone. Almost everybody now holds the bat right down on the knob, and tries to hit the ball hard.
Batters used to "bone" their bats, rubbing them hard with a bone or something similar to compact the surface wood just a little, making the bat harder. In the mid-1990s batters learned that they could accomplish the same thing by "double dipping" the bat, putting an extra layer of lacquer on the bat. This also has contributed to the home run explosion.
Finally, the new parks, and in particular the addition of Coors Field to the mix, have contributed somewhat to the increases in home runs and scoring. Although this factor is not as large as I once believed it to be, Coors Field is the best hitter's park in the history of baseball (excepting temporary and transitional stadiums), and colors the statistics of the entire league. Even apart from Coors, the new parks of the last ten years have tended to improve playing conditions for hitters, as opposed to pitchers.
So putting those things together, we have the baseball of the 1990s-lots of doubles, lots of homers, lots of strikeouts. Sit-on-your-ass baseball, as Whitey Herzog has termed it. Triples have declined from 56 per 100 games in 1977 to 32 per 100 games in 2000, primarily due to the gradual disappearance of artificial turf. Intentional walks have declined from 69 per 100 games in 1989 to 40 in 2000, because everyone is a power hitter now, so it is no longer possible to pitch around the power hitters. Stolen base rates have been declining since 1983, although they remain high by historical standards. Errors are down, double plays up-again, consistent with long-term historical trends.
There is, finally, the revolting development of constant pitching changes. Again, this is the culmination of a hundred-year trend. Teams in 1876 used one pitcher. In 1890 they used three or four, in 1920, using 25-man rosters, seven or eight. When I was young (in the 1960s) teams carried eight or nine pitchers; in the 1970s, nine or ten; in the 1980s, ten to twelve, and in the 1990s, eleven to thirteen.
Well, if you have that many pitchers, or that many people who pretend to be pitchers, of course you have to get them into the game. Thus it is that the latter innings of modern baseball games are constantly delayed by pitching changes which have one-half the entertainment value of a good screen saver, and which incidentally deliver their managers an advantage too small to be detected with the naked microscope. The number of pitchers used per game has been increasing for a hundred years-but increased more rapidly between 1983 and 1995 than ever before. In 1983 major league managers used 1.60 relievers per game; in 1995 they used 2.45, a 53% increase in 12 years. Projecting that rate of increase for another two generations, by the year 2020 major league managers would be using six relievers per game.
Some of you may believe that every year in the 1990s we saw new and higher levels of home runs and runs scored. This is untrue; in fact, we reached a plateau in 1994. There has been little change since then.
Where the Game Was Played
You all know that.
Who the Game Was Played By
The largest changes in the player population in the last twenty years have come from the continuation of two trends dating to about 1940: more college players, and more Latin Americans. The domination of the game by black players continues to wane.
Most Home Runs:
Mark McGwire, 1998 70
Mark McGwire 405
Best Won/Lost Record by Team:
New York Yankees, 1998 114-48 .704
Atlanta Braves 925-629 .595
Worst Won/Lost Record by Team:
Detroit Tigers, 1996 53-109 .327
Florida Marlins 472-596 .442
(Tampa Bay was 132-192, .407, in their first two seasons.)
Index of Competitive Balance: 57%
The onset of the free agent era in the mid-1970s was accompanied by frequent lamentations that this would destroy competitive balance, as the rich would grow richer and the poor would grow livestock for the rich. This didn't happen, proving once more that it is impossible to anticipate history. The 1980s, the first full decade of free agency, were by far the most competitive years in baseball history up to that point, and also the decade in which the small-city markets enjoyed their most success ever, as Kansas City reached the World Series twice, St. Louis three times, Minnesota twice, Milwaukee once, and Oakland twice. In no other decade in baseball history was the game less dominated by New York City teams.
In the early 1990s this continued to be true; baseball was highly competitive, and not at all dominated by Big Market teams. But as the decade has moved on, competitive balance has begun to fray. The standard deviation of winning percentage, which was .054 in 1990 (one of the lowest figures in baseball history) jumped to .081 in 1998, the highest figure since 1977.
When I was in high school we knew this kid who drank like a sponge and drove like a maniac; we all used to say he would kill himself in a car wreck by the time he was 30. Boy, were we wrong; he didn't kill himself in a car wreck until he was almost 40.
It would be a mistake to conclude that, because the destruction of competitive balance by free agency didn't happen when we expected it to occur, it therefore isn't going to happen. Many things suggest that free agency now is destroying competitive balance, although it took twenty years for this to happen. But it is impossible to anticipate history, and the method I have established to measure competitive balance does show that overall competitive balance was greater in the 1990s than in any other period of baseball history.
Home-Field Winning Percentage: .537
Percentage of Regulars Hitting .300: 20%
Largest Home-Field Advantage: Colorado Rockies
The Rockies were 88-74 per 162 games at home (.545), 67-95 on the road (.412).
Having Their Best Decade Ever: Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers.
The Padres and Mariners were below .500 for the decade, but still better than in any previous decade. The Rangers, after two dismal decades, were 60 games over .500 in the 1990s.
Having Their Worst Decade: Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A's.
Changing Directions: The Cleveland Indians, most notably.
Heaviest Player: Probably Cecil Fielder
Fielder acknowledges a weight of 261, leaving unanswered the question of what he might weigh if he put his other foot on the scale. Calvin Pickering is listed at 283 pounds.
Lightest Player: Craig Grebeck, 148 pounds
Most Strikeouts by Pitcher:
Randy Johnson, 1999 364
Randy Johnson 2,538
Highest Batting Average:
Tony Gwynn, 1994 .394
Tony Gwynn .344
Lowest Batting Average:
Rob Deer, 1991 .179
Rob Deer .209
Best Major League Players (by Years):
1990- Rickey Henderson
1991- Barry Bonds
1992- Barry Bonds
1993- Barry Bonds
1994- Jeff Bagwell
1995- Barry Bonds
1996- Jeff Bagwell
1997- Frank Thomas
1998- Mark McGwire
1999- Derek Jeter
Best Major League Pitchers (by Years):
1990- Roger Clemens
1991- Roger Clemens
1992- Greg Maddux
1993- Kevin Appier
1994- Greg Maddux
1995- Greg Maddux
1996- John Smoltz
1997- Roger Clemens
1998- Greg Maddux
1999- Pedro Martinez
Hardest-Throwing Pitcher: Randy Johnson
Best Curve: Tom Gordon
Best Power/Speed Combination: Barry Bonds
Best Switch Hitter: Chili Davis
Iron Man: Cal Ripken
Best Bunter: Kenny Lofton
Best Baseball Books:
1990- Men At Work, George F. Will
1992- The Negro Baseball Leagues (A Photographic History), Phil Dixon
1992- Baseball Nicknames, James J. Skipper
1995- Walter Johnson, Henry W. Thomas
1999- You're Missin' a Great Game, Whitey Herzog and Jonathon Pitts
Five Largest Changes in Baseball During the Decade:
1. Eruption of new parks.
2. Wild cards in the playoffs.
3. Inter-league play.
4. Hitting explosion.
It is possible that ten years from now, we will look back and say that, in retrospect, the biggest thing that happened in baseball in the 1990s was the emergence of the split between the big city teams and the small city teams.
Best Outfield Arm: Vladimir Guerrero
Most Runs Batted In:
Manny Ramirez, 1999 165
Barry Bonds 1,076
Most Aggressive Baserunner: Delino DeShields
Fastest Player: Kenny Lofton
Slowest Player: Cecil Fielder
Best Control Pitcher: Greg Maddux
Most Stolen Bases:
Marquis Grissom, 1992 78
Otis Nixon 478
Ken Griffey Jr.
Cap Anson Award: John Rocker
Three Finger Brown Award: Jim Abbott
Ozzie Guillen Trophy: Ozzie Guillen
Best Pitching Staff: Atlanta Braves, 1993-1999
The Braves pitching staff is probably the best in the history of baseball.
Best Offense: 1998 New York Yankees
Football Players: Deion Sanders, Brian Jordan
First of His Kind: Hideo Nomo
Last of His Kind: Cal Ripken
One of a Kind: Jeff Montgomery (only four-pitch relief ace in major league history)
Best Infield: 1996 Baltimore Orioles (Palmeiro, Alomar, Surhoff, and Ripken)
Best Outfield: 1990-91 Pittsburgh Pirates (Bonds, Bonilla, and Van Slyke)
A Better Man Than a Ballplayer: Doug Drabek
A Better Ballplayer Than a Human Being: Wilfredo Cordero
Mr. Dickens, I'd Like You to Meet:
Platoon Combinations I Would Like to See:
Rob Deer and Brian Hunter
David Justice and Vance Law
Best Defensive Team: 1991 Minnesota Twins
Clint Hartung Award: Brien Taylor
Outstanding Sportswriter: Peter Gammons
Most Admirable Superstar: Kirby Puckett
Least Admirable Superstar: Albert Belle
Gold Glove Team:
C- Ivan Rodriguez
1B- Mark Grace
2B- Mark Lemke
3B- Terry Pendleton
SS- Omar Vizquel
OF- Marquis Grissom
Franchise Shifts: None
1991- New Comiskey in Chicago
1992- Camden Yards in Baltimore
1993- Joe Robbie Stadium, Florida
1994- Jacobs Field in Cleveland
1994- The Ballpark in Arlington
1995- Coors Field
1997- Edison Internation/Remodeled Big A in Anaheim
1997- Turner Field, Atlanta
1998- Bank One Ballpark, Arizona
1998- Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay
1999- Safeco Field, Seattle
More new parks were built in the 1990s than in any other period in baseball history.
Best Pennant Races:
1993- National League West (Atlanta vs. San Francisco)
1995- American League West (Seattle, California, and Texas)
Best World Series:
1991, Jack Morris of the Twins pitched a ten-inning shutout in the seventh game to hold off the Braves. Five of the seven games were decided by one run.
Best-Hitting Pitcher: Tom Glavine
Worst-Hitting Pitcher: Mark Clark
Odd Couple: Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire
Small, inside-the-shirt chest protectors for umpires
Player vs. Team: See article, The Tenth War
Team vs. Team: See article, The Tenth War
Uniform Changes: See note*
Most Wins by Pitcher:
Bob Welch, 1990 27
Greg Maddux 176
Highest Winning Percentage:
Greg Maddux, 1995 19-2 .905
Pedro Martinez 107-50 .682
Lowest Winning Percentage:
Paul Wagner, 1995 5-16 .238
Willie Blair, 1998 5-16 .238
Mark Gubicza 48-69 .410
El Gato (Tony Pena)
Big Hurt (Frank Thomas)
The Crime Dog (Fred McGriff)
The Hit Dog (Mo Vaughn)
One Dog (Lance Johnson)
Wonder Dog (Rex Hudler)
The Oakland Out Man (Dennis Eckersley)
Rocket (Roger Clemens)
Worst Award Selection: American League Cy Young, 1990 (Bob Welch)
Best Player Who Never Won the MVP Award: Tony Gwynn
Flameout: Phil Plantier
All Offense/No Defense: 1991 Texas Rangers
All Defense/No Offense: 1990 Cincinnati Reds
Homer: Dante Bichette
Yellowstone Park Award: Steve Finley
Finley has hit more home runs on the road than Bichette -- but less than 40% as many at home.
Tough-Luck Season: Anthony Young, 1992
Could I Try This Career Over?: Rob Ducey
Minor Leagues Were:
0.5 percent free
99.5 percent slaves to the majors
Best Double Play Combination: Robby Thompson and Royce Clayton, 1992-1995 San Francisco Giants
Worst Double Play Combination: Mark Lewis and Andujar Cedeno, 1996 Detroit Tigers
Paul Krichell Talent Scout Award: The Boston Red Sox traded Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for a 37-year-old relief pitcher.
Best Unrecognized Player: Craig Biggio
Highest-Paid Player: Albert Belle
New Statistics: Zone Ratings
A Very Good Movie Could Be Made About: El Duque
Seven Biggest Things Wrong with Baseball:
1. Lack of central authority/inability to solve problems.
2. Teams with no real chance to win/declining competitive balance.
3. Constant fighting about money.
4. Excessive player movement between teams.
5. Long, boring games with too much inaction.
6. Excessive domination by hitters.
7. Sub-standard umpiring.
* Uniforms of the 1990s
The uniforms of the early 90s are typified by the traditionalist trend which began in the mid to late 80s, and coincides with the building boom in new stadiums. It wouldn't look right to go to all the trouble of building modern parks which look like old parks, if the players were decked out in trendy uniforms, would it?
By 1991 only a few teams, namely Cincinnati and St. Louis, retain their double knit pullover style jerseys. Everyone else has button-up jerseys, separate belts, color coded to match the trim, as are the shoes. The jersey fronts are clean and uncluttered with classic styling; most teams have a small sleeve patch. All caps have the team initial or a small symbol at the front. The vast majority of teams use white for the home uniform, with light gray or blue for the road. Eight of the 26 teams have pinstriped uniforms. Gold chains have apparently become a mandatory part of the uniform.
Later in the decade the conservative look still holds, but we can see a few ripples of change. All teams have a dark colored jersey which is paired with light gray or white pants for an extra ensemble at home or on the road. In addition, there seems to be an extra set of jerseys which are worn only during warm-ups and batting practice. These pullover jerseys use a mesh type knit fabric.
One of the new expansion teams, the Florida Marlins, chose a teal color the likes of which have never been seen before in baseball uniforms. It is a good move for a new team. The Colorado Rockies, the only team named after a land formation, went with basic black and white, but also added a new color in their trimwork, purple.
Almost everyone in the 90s wears their pants down to the ankle, showing only a tiny part of the stirrups. A few players of the nineties wear high socks . . . George Brett, Darryl Strawberry, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones. Bill says that Norberto Martin gets the award for the highest socks in baseball.
OK, that's about it from your fashion reporter. I wonder how uniforms will have changed if Bill revises this book again in 15-20 years, and I get to continue my conversation with you. Things will change a little around the edges, and there will no doubt be some innovations in equipment, but the basics will remain the same; I think that's what we've learned.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Having a nook has saved me alot of space, but this was one book, in hindsight, that I wish I had purchased in treeware so I could navigate back and forth in it easier. Mayhaps as I build my nook skills it will be easier. But I've got to say that if I'd had this nook 10 years earlier I would have alot more space on my bookshelves for other stuff. Bill, your work is impeccable. It motivated me to go and get the Strat-O-Matic's new hall of fame edition and I've been playing games with them ever since. So much so that I think I'm getting carpal tunnel syndrome. And you're sure not gonna cover my deductibles now are you? I love the seriously lighthearted way this book is written, and packed with so many interesting tidbits that non-baseball nerds could never in a million innings appreciate. If I had it to do over again I'd get a hard copy of this book rather than have nooked it. But i'd definitely buy it again. It is awesome in every respect. Thank you for all your hard work. Let's read 2!
Most baseball writers will tell you all about what the 'consensus' is when it comes to talking about baseball players throughout history. Bill James takes a much different approach, he looks at the basic raw statistics, comes up with methods to compare players across history and then, applies the 'consensus' and where available, the opinions of various contemporaries of those ballplayers. His revelations about comparing some players all-star, MVP, and Cy Young votes with their statistics in their time are sometimes mind-blowing. Yogi Berra, for instance, was great when he played, was recognized for it, yet, when he retired his accomplishments were belittled. This book is a great place to get some real information about players and their place in history. It may not give you all the answers, but, it forces you to re-think many pre-conceived notions. This book is NOT for someone who doesn't like to think.
Bill James takes what the average baseball fan knows about the game, throws half of it in the garbage, and makes you see the other half in a whole different light. Was baseball in 1910 of a higher quality than today's high-scoring game? Was Nolan Ryan really a great pitcher? Does Ron Santo rank as a better player than several hall-of-fame third baseman? Is batting average important? Everything you thought you knew is proven wrong, while turning the average fan into a more savvy analyst of the game. Along with all the rankings, James includes brilliant articles which all do the same thing: they ask you to challenge what baseball 'authorities' have always told you to accept as gospel. The 1961 Yankees were an all-time great team? Don't count on it. Additionally, James's Decade in a Box sections allow you to create a mental picture of how the game was played in every time period this century. James's book is for the fan who is eager to see the game from a different perspective, and challenge the popular views that are mistakenly referred to as correct.
Built upon the foundation of his 1985 'Historical Baseball Abstract,' this new, improved, and updated version is Bill James' best piece of work to date. The decade by decade historical review of baseball borrows most heavily from the previous book, while the player and team ratings are updated based on the past 15 years, and analyzed using his newly formulated 'Win Shares' system. The Win Shares system allows for offense, defense, and pitching to be compared across positions and eras for player ratings and team contributions. Win Shares will be further developed in his next book, due out 25 March 02. My only regret for this already weighty tome, is that more pitcher rankings weren't included. The next Abstract update should include a ranking of the top players which has a parity of quality between the pitchers and position players ranked, not just a standard top 100 for each.
A must-have from the incomparable Bill James. The tone can be annoying--James is too often jovial--but his arguments are first rate.
I don't know why I buy James's books. I guess I keep hoping I'll find something that isn't there. Maybe some soul. James is the founding father of sabermetrics, which reduces the game of baseball to a numerical formula.It's kind of fun to read his analyses of great players of the game. He does does create a great historical context for baseball in the beginning of the book, and some of the comparisons he makes between players are interesting. However, some of the conclusions he draws I simply don't agree with. I love baseball as an aesthetic activity, and Bill loves something else. He's wrong.
A great reference for arguments about the best players "of all time" at any position. This is the book that sets out the argument for "win shares" as an individual statistic and summarizes the changes in the game from the late 19th century to the present. Surprisingly easy to read, and riddled with tasty morsels, but in the end, not exactly as filling as its heft would make you expect.
An amazing pick up any time and read book....
This book was designed for serious baseball fans. Who is better than who all time and by position...with the reasoning behind it. The steroids era was after publication have made some of the arguments moot. But I have read this book at least 3 times as well as had countless 10 minute baseball fixes. If you are serious, this book will be the most read in your library.