Archive for Friday, January 31, 1992


January 31, 1992


Bill James didn't have time to talk last week. I understood. I have deadlines, too.

"When I'm in a book crunch, I don't do anything else," the nationally known baseball pundit told me. "Then all of the things I put off have to be done."

Fans of James' often controversial, usually enlightening and always entertaining opinions no doubt can't wait until "The Baseball Book 1992" will be available in March. He mailed the final copy for the new edition to his publisher on Monday.

"Honestly, I think it's a better book than last year's," James said. "Every book is always 20 percent of what you want it to be. Normally when I'm done I'm like suicidal because it's terrible in terms of what I want it to be. I'm a lot more pleased with this one."

IT'LL CONTAIN, for the first time in about five years, James' ratings of major league players by position as well as the traditional team comments. Something new is a cartoon history of Louisville baseball written by associate Rob Neyer and drawn by John Sprengelmeyer.

My favorite is the ambitious and immensely readable biographical section. After three years, James isn't even past the early B's.

Obviously, at the current pace, James' alphabetical biographies will be completed about the same time the government pays off the national debt. Maybe not, though.

"We'll probably put the biographies into something that would come out four times a year so we can get it finished, say, in 2075 instead of 2282," he said, smiling.

Another massive undertaking will be completed long before that. Maybe. It's a five-volume encyclopedia that will contain detailed statistical information, and more, on every man who ever played major league baseball.

"IT'LL HAVE essays about players and as much humanizing information as I could come up with," James explained. "You'll be able to find, for instance, a pitcher's out-pitch."

To prove it, James asked me to name a pitcher from the 50s. Off the top of my head, I named don't ask me why Ken Raffensberger, a left-hander who toiled for the Cincinnati Reds, among other teams.

Moments later, James had the answer. Fork ball and slow curve. Consider yourself humanized, Ken Raffensberger.

When the five-volume epic will be printed is anybody's guess or, as James said, "I've been saying it's a year away for six months now."

Did you know James, his wife and two children moved back to Lawrence last August? For several years, they lived in Winchester, a small town north of here, and James maintained an office in Oskaloosa. Now his office is at 901 Kentucky.

"We enjoyed Winchester for a long time," he said. "But when you have small children it reinforces your sense of isolation and we felt the need to go to a KU basketball game or a concert once in awhile."

NOW THAT the "The Baseball Book 1992" is behind him, James will jump head first into arbitration season. For several years now, he has supplied selected agents with statistics on players who opt to have an arbitrator decide their salary.

Then, of course, the season will begin and James will be involved in radio, rotisserie leagues, weekly newsletters, you name it. For James, baseball season never ends.

So far he hasn't burned out, but he has been singed.

"Unfortunately, I usually get tired of it when I'm writing a book," he said. "Then I just try to switch 12 degrees. Baseball is my whole world so I just change the angle a little."

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