Bill James: A Nostalgic Handbook

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Perusing the pages of books about the previous baseball season may cause one to become nostalgic about the recently experienced past. Typically a period of thirty years is required to drum up such misty-eyed recollections. But when in the grips of an MLB lockout, or couping with the lack of live baseball, it is easier to get moony in less time.

The Book in Question

In 1977 Bill James began self-publishing The Bill James Baseball Abstract. For those of you who don’t know who James is or what his Abstract was here’s a brief catchup. Simply put, James is a baseball writer and statistician. His scientific work in analyzing baseball through statistical data revolutionized the game. Without Bill James, the game of baseball would still be in the Dark Ages. James is the Rennaissance. He is the godfather of sabermetrics, also known as analytics, depending on your preferred descriptive term.

The Bill James Baseball Abstract was the vehicle for James’ once-radical ideas. And back in 1977, his off-beat 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 titled The Bill James Baseball Abstract. The Abstract came out annually until 1988 when James called it quits on the publication.

 Other Bill James Publications During and Post Abstract

But luckily James couldn’t stay away from the written word and continued to publish his writing, including The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (originally published in 1985)¬† as well as The New Bill James Historical Abstract. He also started publishing The Bill James Handbook in 2003. The Handbook is still being published annually, and it is this publication’s most recent incantation that is the nostalgia-inducing book in question.

The Bill James Handbook 2022

Humanity has been in a two-year-long slump. We all know why. There’s no need to rehash, so let’s not. We’ve all needed slump busters over this period of uncertainty and it seems to be the little things that have had the most effect. Little things like Tom Petty telling you that he “won’t back down” or a walk among thousand-year-old redwoods to gain a little perspective. The Bill James Handbook 2022 is the baseball equivalent to a pleasant walk along the oceanside, albeit a walk that is statistically calculated of course.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

If you don’t like numbers then stay away from anything to do with Bill James and more specifically his handbook. But most likely if you are a baseball fan (and presumably you are if you are reading this article) numbers are a part of your breath. 56 means something to you. So do 762, 755, and 714. How about 2, 632? 1.1636 a little too obscure for you? Either way all or some or one 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 patchworked across the book and present a comfortable blanket for your left brain.

Words, Words, Words

Snugly fit between the harmonious onslaught of numbers are a plethora of articles, written by James and by his disciples, ranging from the world’s current greatest hitter to a delightful article by Joe Sheehan titled “The Baseball Revolution”. There is such a wide range of topics (all well researched and well written) that even the most strident defender of the anti-analytics campaign will be happy. This book arrived in the mail just in time to resuscitate this baseball writer from the depths of his no baseball depression and gave him a bound paper teddy bear to snuggle with until the crack of the bat and the thwack of the ball hitting leather can be heard come springtime, hopefully…

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