1978 Baseball Abstract by Bill James: a review

Bill’s still finding his way around with this edition. He’s still imagining his mission as getting hitherto inaccessible splits into folks hands, rather than explaining the little research projects that ultimately drove these books.

This is the first book with team essays, but they’re different team essays from Bill’s later efforts. Rather than the thematic riffs which would form the heart of the book in later years, these are just collections of facts and snippets. You occasionally see James’ delightful wit, but what’s mostly clear (in retrospect) is that he’s not yet certain enough what he’s doing to be fully comfortable explaining what he sees. This will change.

The front-of-book and back-of-book essays which ultimately built the Bill James legend are only there in embryo. The most-discussed statistic seems to be opposition errors, with results which strike Bill as counter-intuitive; errors increase as the quality of opposition decreases. Perhaps the weaker teams are seeing weaker defensive lineups, he speculates. Wonder if he followed up. This is certainly checkable in these Retrosheet days.

Finally, and not relevant to the main point: One of the joys, here, 33 years later, is finding glimpses of long-forgotten ballplayers. Campy Campaneris was still playing; so was Lou Brock. Jeff Burroughs has just joined the Braves. A personally-fun prediction is that the 1977 Tigers will develop into a powerhouse–well, they did, but with a rather different cast of characters.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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