Tag Archives: Bill James

Baseball Books 2017 Part I and more

30 Mar

In a few days the valiant ( relatively) few who enjoy what once was the NATIONAL PASTIME and of which scholar Jaques Barzun opined the dubious  and simplistic, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” will have the pleasures of the opening of  the 2017 Major League  Baseball’s regular season. From now through November we will have sanctuary and perhaps some relief from the metastasizing toxicity emanating from the Bedlamite regime. But since almost all the owners of major league baseball franchises are billionaires there is no guarantee that that some faux patriotic  gesture might not make its way into some of MLB’s consumer-oriented spectacles (think All Star game, Home Run Derby etc)

As has been the case for a long time, Baseball has attracted talented insightful writers to produce a substantial bibliography about the nuances of the sport and the people who are associated with it. And that circumstance makes reading about the sport as enjoyable as watching, Every year there is a plethora of new tomes and before I get onto noting the new there are a handful of books that have acquired the status of classics.Or at least I place thek in my pantheon of ur-texts,


1. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Third Edition)  by Paul Dickson with Skip McAfee

Dickson’s well-researched and comprehensive compendium of baseball information features more than 10,000 terms with 18,000 individual entries, and more than 250 photos.



Baseball: A Literary Anthology .ed Nicholas Dawidoff

This Library of America volume is a gem. Here’s the publisher’s description,

“… offers a lively mix of 70 stories, memoirs, poems, news reports, and insider accounts about all aspects of the great American game, from its pastoral nineteenth-century beginnings to its apotheosis as the undisputed national pastime. Here are the major leaguers and the bush leaguers, the umpires and broadcasters, the wives and girlfriends and would-be girlfriends, fans meticulously observant and lovingly, fanatically obsessed…

Drawing from the work of novelists from Ring Lardner to Don DeLillo, sportswriters from Damon Runyon to Red Smith, and poets from William Carlos Williams to Yusef Komunyakaa, and gathering essays and player profiles from John Updike, Gay Talese, Roger Angell, and David Remnick, Baseball: A Literary Anthology is a varied and exuberant display of what baseball has meant to American writers….”



3. Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Lewis is as good a writer/reporter as there is publishing today—which a quick scan of his bibliography will validate. This book became a seminal work in the field of talent evaluation and helped fans to some understanding of the burgeoning sabermetric approach to building a baseball roster as well as game management. All wrapped up in a readable narrative focusing on the small-budget Oakland A’s and their wily general manager, Billy Beane Lewis recounts

I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. But the idea for the book came well before I had good reason to write it—before I had a story to fall in love with. It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?




4. The Bill James Handbook 2017 by Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions

Bill James is the most prominent practitioner in the sabermetric world and his annual includes annual Fielding Bible Awards, insightful essays, and lots of statistical analysis you won’t find anywhere else. Lifetime stats (including playoff stats) for every player in the major leagues (plus a few others) through the end of the regular 2016 season. Plus cover features a photo of Big Papi Ortiz arguably the most popular ball player of his era.


5. American Jews In America’s Game  by Larry Ruttman

 This is useful and well-crafted work of oral and cultural history, featuring the life stories of well-known and as well as lesser known and unheralded Jews. Compiled from 50 engaging interviews and arranged by decade “…each person talks about growing up Jewish and dealing with Jewish identity, assimilation, intermarriage, future viability, religious observance, anti-Semitism, and Israel. Each tells about being in the midst of the colorful pantheon of players who, over the past 75 years or more, have made baseball what it is…”

Miscellaneous Miscellany

8 Jun

Though engaging in a life of retail commerce and high finance is not my idea of a life well-lived, like any other aspect of human endeavors it does produce some narratives that can rise above the merely interesting. And some writers are even able to fabricate a decent book out of recent real life stories. Michael Lewis has done a fine job in a number of books, not the least of which is his latest opus The Big Short (Norton). and by the way, his ostensibly about baseball book Moneyball is being made into a movies. And currently there are James B. Stewart’s Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff (Penguin Press) and Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner’s Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon(Henry Holt/Times Books)keeping our latest economic travails painfully fresh.

And then there are movies focusing on the world of big money—some even made from books—the first of which was the quite serviceable Barbarians at the Gates. The Coen Brothers The Hudsucker Proxy was a business satire which I mention here because I will not pass on a chance to mention the Coen Brothers. Which brings me to the latest HBO offering, Too Big To Fail taken from Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves (Viking). Of course there is no mystery about what happened but there is something about seeing the various players in America’s financial debacle played by decent actors. And oddly its hard to muster up the appropriate disdain toward Paul Giametti as Bernake or William Hurt as Treasury Secretary Paulson, though James Wood as Lehmann Brother’s CEO Fuld oozes enough hatefulness and mendacity to go around (By the way the film is well directed by Curtis Hansen (LA Confidential). IF you want to grasp a good sense of America’s travail Oscar winner Inside Job and Company Men do a fine job of distillation—the former factually and the latter providing the emotional coloration.

As much as I find Rupert Murdoch a dark and corrupting influence on the American media culture, I have been pleased to see that The Wall Street Journal has lively book coverage as exemplified by an article on “super-agent” Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie

You might want to have a look at my recent chat with British writer Philip Kerr creator of, among other things, eight Bernie Gunther novels.

Awards shows are a fact of modern cultural and commercial life. Most of them are dismissible. But I have found a small warm place in my cold cold heart for the Moby Book Trailer Awards Some of which you can see here

The Nation had a substantial piece on Janet Malcolm’s Iphigenia in Forest Hills Anatomy of a Murder Trial (Yale University Press) which quoted an interview I did with Renata Adler. Dare I say it is well worth looking at?

Words Without Borders published a wonderful story by Brazilian Lucia Bettencourt entitled Borges”s Secretary.

Lawrence Block is an award winning crime writer who has written over 50 books amongst which is his Matthew Scudder series. A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Mullholland Books) is the latest. I an aversion to series and the few Scudder novels that I have sampled are validation of my reasons. In the case of the latest opus I find the relentless recitation of Twelve Steps principles and processes totally uninteresting and as Scudder is an alcoholic ex NYC police we are bludgeoned into insensibility with his “facing his demons”.

Kind of Blue (Oceanview)on the other hand is a fresh story by ex LA Times reporter Miles Corwin. If you are wondering if the title derives from one of the greatest jazz recordings ever—yes, indeed. Ash Levine, a former major crimes detective in Los Angeles P.D., who has lost faith in his former department and colleagues and relies on the 1959 Miles Davis album for some regular mental health repair. Corwin creates an interesting crime and a plausible back stage look at police department operations and processes.I doubt Corwin will decline the temptation to make Asher Levine a series—which may work out as long as he doesn’t start naming the stories after jazz classics

And finally,for now, sabermetrician Bill James, known for introducing subtle statistical analysis to baseball is a fan of true crime stories and claims to have read thousands of these tabloid crimes. Popular Crime Reflections on the Celebration of Violence (Scribner) is a book about crime stories idiosyncratic an d thankfully devoid of sociological jargon. James includes a kind of true crime’s greatest hits from the 1799 murder of Elma Sands, axewoman Lizzie Borden to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Black Dahlia to JonBenet’s murder the Zodiac Killer, the JFK assassination, Sam Sheppard,to the O. J. Simpson murders. And he employs a story behind the story approach that goes a recitation of each crime’s details.