With age comes accumulation, and Bill James has had to make room for a couple more plaques on the wall of his Lawrence office.
Late last year, James was honored by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America for his long and meritorious service to the sport.
Then a month or so ago, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) tapped James as one of nine recipients of the inaugural Henry Chadwick Award honoring the game’s great researchers.
A humble man to begin with, the SABR honor really brought James’ humility to the surface.
“I am sure that most of our names are small footnotes in very long baseball histories,” he told me about the anointed nine. “I am very flattered to stand on the same podium with these men, and only wish that a few more of them were still above ground to stand with us.”
SABR called James “the best known baseball analyst in the world,” and I can’t imagine anyone dismissing that statement as hyperbole. I’ve also seen him called “the father of modern baseball statistical analysis.”
Now 60, James has been a prolific author (Baseball Abstracts, Historical Abstract, Handbook and many other works) and has also come up with numerous performance measures such as Runs Created, Major League Equivalency for minor league players and Win Shares.
And, as you probably know, James is on the payroll of the Boston Red Sox as a senior adviser.
As much as James clearly cherishes that SABR award, I suspect the one from the Beantown baseball writers carries a bit more cachet because when he accepted the award he conceded he had “delayed this day quite a number of times by writing unnecessary unkind things about the BBWAA.”
During his acceptance speech, James maintained his humility, however, saying his work “has been overappreciated for a long time” and that he tries to make some of the kudos he has received “reflect on others I’ve worked with and those who have helped me.”
While it’s safe to say the majority of baseball writers subscribe to James’ unorthodox approach, other writers dismiss him as a self-promoting publicity hound who hasn’t proved squat. But, hey, that’s the First Amendment.
Lately, James has shifted his emphasis to defensive analysis, projecting assists and range factor over extended periods in search of trends.
But he must have a lot of spare time, too, because his latest book has nothing to do with baseball. It’s about — are you ready? — true crime and the nation’s judicial system.
I’ve been reading a pre-publication copy James loaned me, and he suggests that certain evidence at a trial should be weighed in a numerical context.
For example, he lists 35 points for a prior act of violence, 25 points for previous threats against the victim and 15 points for bearing malice to the victim. But that’s just a small part of the book.
To tell the truth, I thought I might be bored reading it, but it’s full of fascinating characters — murderers, thieves, lawyers, judges — in addition to James’ thought-provoking opinions.
But you’ll have to wait. The book, tentatively titled Popular Crime, won’t be published until next February.