There is a good profile on Bill James ("The Professor of Baseball") by Ben McGrath in the latest issue of The New Yorker. It appears that James was the perfect man for the Boston job in more ways than one. Not only is he one of the brightest minds in his field, but he has an inherent dislike of the Yankees too. The man who reads Douglass Wallop's 1954 novel, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," (upon which the musical "Damn Yankees" was based) to his kids every year, tells McGrath, "Kansas City hates New York more than Boston does."
According to James:
"All of the dreams I have in which we are successful are dreams in which we succeed in reducing the Yankees to a more appropriate stature in life."
Now, that's a good line. But that's not all James is up to:
"What I'm trying to do is to create ways to think about the real problems of baseball front offices in an organized way. I've actually had some really interesting insights into the game and developed some very interesting methods for the Red Sox, and it's very frustrating not to be able to discuss them with the public."
McGrath writes that "One goal that James and company are working toward involves identifying worrisome physiological and stylistic traits among pitchers that lead predictably to injury." This is something that Rob Neyer intimated might happen early this spring.
But of course, James is still a writer at heart:
"I think about writing as much as I think about baseball. The issues of why people believe what they believe and how you persuade them to see things your way are extremely interesting and extremely critical to me."
I'm not a James fanatic by any stretch, but I do admit to having some James-envy now that he's working for the Sox. I didn't grow up reading his books. In fact, I only started reading his Abstracts a few years ago when my cousin was getting rid of all his copies. But I quickly discovered why he was so popular. It's not so much his theories that I responded to---although I appreciate them as well, but his writing style. The insight, the quick wit, and the built-in bullshit detector. It's good to see that even though he's working for the big boys now, he's still a writer first and foremost.