February 28, 2006

Batista Likes God, Making Outs

Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune contained an interesting article about Tony Batista by Joe Christensen that was prominently displayed on the front page of the sports section. From the corny headline ("Batista has faith in his game") to Batista's reason for being in Minnesota ("God brought me here"), there are all sorts of tidbits that make for amusing blog-fodder.

Here's the sub-headline that more or less sets up what the whole article is about:

A little eccentric and very religious, new Twins third baseman Tony Batista is coming back from Japan to show the major leagues that he still has the skills that made him a two-time All-Star -- and to spread the word of the Lord.

Here's how Christensen describes Batista's role on the team:

Batista's track record earned him another starting job. Manager Ron Gardenhire said third base is not an open competition. Batista is pretty much slated to bat seventh in the batting order.

From that spot, the Twins will accept his miserable .298 career on-base percentage and high propensity for strikeouts. For the past seven seasons, including the one in Japan, he has averaged 30.4 home runs and 98.1 RBI.

If Batista produces anything close to that from the bottom of the order, the Twins will be delighted.

There was a time this offseason when people would defend the Batista signing by claiming that he was really just sort of a spare part to be evaluated for a larger role, but from the outset it was fairly clear to me that he had the third-base job all but locked up. Now we learn that he will likely bat seventh, which is better than him batting fourth and not as good as him not batting at all.

As for "Batista produc[ing] anything close to" 30.4 homers and 98.1 RBIs from the bottom of the Twins' lineup ... well, that would be very impressive. However, it is nearly impossible. The reason Batista has been able to rack up those gaudy RBI totals over the years is that he typically bats in the middle of the lineup. Batting near the bottom of a Twins lineup that figures to be average at best in 2006 will not provide nearly the number of RBI chances Batista is used to.

Only one major-league team got as many as 90 RBIs from the seventh spot in their lineup in 2005, and that is with combining the contributions of every player who hit there throughout the season. Only seven teams had 80 or more RBIs from #7 hitters. Even if Batista plays all 162 games and takes every plate appearance available to the seventh place in the lineup, he'll have a tough time cracking 75 RBIs. All of which is why context is so important and why someone as bad as Batista being a "proven RBI man" is so misguided.

Christensen talked to a Japanese newspaper reporter about Batista's time in Japan:

According to Gaku Tashiro, a reporter from the Japanese daily Sankei Sports, Batista's contract was the biggest a Japanese team had ever given to a foreign player with no experience playing there.

"He was released for several reasons," Tashiro wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. "Manager Sadaharu Oh expected a lot. [Batista] was predicted to hit many home runs. But his numbers were not high enough for a high-paid foreign player and No. 3 hitter.

"Another reason Softbank released him was they had a good third base prospect. The team wanted to give an opportunity to the young player. ... Batista's fielding as a third baseman was also a problem."

Batista played in 134 of his team's 136 games, but he led Pacific League third basemen with 14 errors. Five of the six teams in that league play on artificial turf, which is interesting as Batista moves to the Metrodome, with its slower and more forgiving FieldTurf.

Whether or not the team truly has "a good third base prospect" who they wanted to give a shot to, the fact that they were willing to release Batista one year into a contract that was "the biggest a Japanese team had ever given to a foreign player with no experience playing there" is a pretty big sign that something else was up. Last I checked it would have been possible to get both Batista and a young third-base prospect into the lineup at the same time.

Also, we can now add Gaku Tashiro to the list of people who have seen Batista play since he was last in the major leagues and have come away from the experience questioning his defense at third base. The list already included fans from the Dominican Republic and a Twins scout. Needless to say that if Batista is a butcher in the field and insists on making an out at the plate 70% of the time, I may have to be put on suicide watch.

After noting that Batista "came to camp about 10 or 15 pounds over his ideal playing weight," Christensen then delves deep into all of the religious stuff:

"This is a guy you want to have on your team," Orioles All-Star third baseman Melvin Mora said in a telephone interview. "This is a guy who is always talking about Jesus. All of the people are going to love him in Minnesota."

This may come as a shock to Batista and Melvin Mora, but there is a large segment of the population that probably isn't all that thrilled when someone they work with on a daily basis "is always talking about Jesus."

There's a lot more:

If anyone thought Batista would shrivel from his Japanese experience, they were mistaken. Like anything in his deeply spiritual life, he speaks of it now as part of God's divine plan.

With Fukuoka, he said, he handed out Bibles inside the clubhouse to his Japanese teammates.

"And they read the Bible," he said, without sounding surprised. "So I think God probably said, 'You're done over there. So go back here to Minnesota and talk about Jesus Christ to those guys.'"

[...]

After that, no matter how the Twins fare this season, he might be ready to spread the message somewhere else.

If coming to Minnesota and spending a season with the Twins is indeed part of "God's divine plan," then I assume that means having Batista make me miserable for a year while hurting my favorite team's playoff chances is also part of the same plan. That's an odd sort of relationship, like saying that someone dropping an anvil off a skyscraper is part of a plan and a person on the sidewalk below being crushed to death by an anvil falling from the sky is within the same plan.

Also, it's astounding that Batista was able to do all the "work" he needed to do in the entire country of Japan in one season, yet needs the same amount of time to do that work in Minnesota. Or perhaps he'll have completed his work in Minnesota within a few months, and God's divine plan can include Terry Ryan cutting him in June.

I'm sure some of you reading this are upset with the anti-religion tone of today's entry, but I actually have no problem with religion and commend Batista for the acts of charity that he has completed in the name of his beliefs over the years. However, I have a problem with religious people who won't stop talking about their beliefs in public and won't stop pushing their beliefs on other people. (It's essentially the same stance I have on the WNBA.)

I also question why Batista's propensity to push his religious beliefs upon teammates is being spun as such a positive thing. Let's say, just for an example, that Rondell White is an Atheist. He is joining the team and meeting his new teammates for the first time, just like Batista. If White were constantly bringing up Atheism and pushing those beliefs on his new teammates, would it be treated the same way by Christensen?

I doubt it, and you can sub Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism or any number of other religions in and ask the same question. Whatever the case, I think the answer will be the same and it'll be a lot different than the way Batista's belief in Christianity is being covered. (Interestingly, on the same day that the Batista article ran, the front page of the Star Tribune featured an article under the headline of "Bringing God to the job." It also focused on Christianity.)

I'm glad that Batista has found something in life that makes him happy and it's wonderful that one aspect of that thing is to donate money to worthy causes. I'm just fine with him going to church every day or believing his life is being run by God. What I'm not fine with is when those things begin to impact the people around him, who may not be interested in the religion Batista has chosen to make a big part of his life also becoming a part of their lives.


February 26, 2006

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #33 Greg Gagne

GREGORY CHRISTOPHER GAGNE | SS | 1983-1992 | CAREER STATS

G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ WARP WS
1140 3695 .249 .292 .385 82 28.0 88

Taken by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 1979 draft out of a Massachusetts high school, Greg Gagne spent the first three years of his pro career playing in the low levels of New York's system. About a week into the 1982 season, the cost-cutting Twins sent Roy Smalley to the Yankees for Ron Davis, Paul Boris, and Gagne. Davis was considered the big name coming back to Minnesota, but Gagne ended up being the real find as Smalley's eventual replacement at shortstop.

Gagne hit poorly at Double-A in 1982, but bounced back by hitting .255/.323/.462 with 17 homers in 119 games at Triple-A in 1983. He came up as an injury replacement for a week in June and then received a late-season call up, but hit just .111 in 27 at-bats and found himself at Triple-A again in 1984. Gagne put together another good season there, hitting .280/.374/.441 with nine homers in 70 games, and once again got to sit on the bench when rosters expanded in September.

Tired of trotting out guys like Ron Washington, Houston Jimenez, and Lenny Faedo, the Twins turned to the 23-year-old Gagne as their starting shortstop in 1985. He hit just .225/.279/.317 with two homers in 114 games as a rookie and was benched quite a bit in favor of Smalley, who had returned to the team in a trade with the White Sox that offseason. Then, with Smalley's defensive ability almost non-existent because of back problems, the Twins turned to Gagne on a full-time basis in 1986.

He came up with a solid sophomore season, hitting .250/.301/.398 with 12 homers in 156 games to rank 11th among all major-league shortstops in Value Over Replacement Player. In the second-to-last game of the season, Gagne hit inside-the-park homers in each of his first two at-bats against Chicago starter Floyd Bannister, and then smacked a triple off reliever Gene Nelson in his third at-bat to come 90 feet short of an all-time record.

After making a league-worst 26 errors in 1986, Gagne set a team record with a 47-game errorless streak in 1987. He also hit .265/.310/.430 with 10 homers in 137 games as the Twins defeated the Tigers in the ALCS (pictured above) and beat the Cardinals in the World Series. Gagne hit just .229 in 12 postseason games, but smacked three homers and four doubles, drove in six runs, and scored 10 times. His biggest hit was a sixth-inning single that drove Tom Brunansky in as the go-ahead (and eventual winning) run in Game 7 of the World Series.

Gagne had three fairly mediocre years from 1988-1990, and then hit .265/.310/.395 as the Twins once again won the World Series in 1991. This time Gagne hit just .195 in 12 postseason games and had just one homer, but it was a big one. With the Twins clinging to a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning of Game 1 against Atlanta, Gagne launched a three-run homer off Charlie Leibrandt that provided all the breathing room Jack Morris needed in a 5-2 win.

After hitting .246/.280/.346 in 1992, Gagne became a free agent and signed a three-year deal with Kansas City. He gave the Royals three solid years and then finished up his 15-year career with two seasons in Los Angeles playing for the Dodgers. Gagne retired at 35 years old and was a starting shortstop in the major leagues from the moment the Twins handed him the job in 1985 to the moment he hung up the spikes in 1997.

Researching these rankings has changed my opinion of Gagne's career more than any other Twins player. My only real memories of him in a Minnesota uniform were from 1991 and 1992, and my primary experience seeing him play came after he left the Twins for the Royals and Dodgers. By that point Gagne was on the downside of his career and shortstops were starting to put up numbers that made his hitting with the Twins look pathetic.

However, if you take a closer look back at Gagne's decade with the Twins you can discover a player who was more valuable than his paltry .292 on-base percentage and .677 OPS suggest. Perhaps the biggest key to seeing Gagne's value is in understanding the differences between baseball today and baseball in the 1980s. Not only is offense in general up since then, guys like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, and Nomar Garciaparra have revolutionized the way we look at shortstops.

Meanwhile, during Gagne's time with the Twins the average shortstop hit a measly .252/.309/.346. Since 2000, the average shortstop has hit .268/.325/.400. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it is. For overall offensive production, that's a gap of about 10 percent. If you take Gagne's career numbers with the Twins and add 10 percent to them, and you get something along the lines of .275/.320/.425.

He still doesn't exactly light up a statsheet, but those adjusted numbers are a lot more palatable to a fan today than Gagne's raw numbers are. Add in a high level of durability and very good defense at an up-the-middle spot for eight full seasons, and what you get is a solid player at a key position who was a starter on both World Series winners, came up with some big hits in the postseason, and played 1,140 games in Minnesota.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:

Triples 35 9th
Games 1140 10th
Steals 79 12th
Doubles 183 13th
Hits 844 15th
Runs 452 15th
Total Bases 1304 15th
RBIs 335 23rd
Homers 69 25th



February 24, 2006

Link-O-Rama

  • I'm still searching for a definitive study on this, but until then I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no one has ever looked better pulling a parking ticket off their car than Jessica Alba. You know the old saying -- I like to use it about Vin Scully -- "I would listen to him read the phone book"? Well, I'm thinking about using the "I would watch her pull parking tickets off her car" line for beautiful women now. It goes well with "Waffle Crapper."
  • I'm not sure why, but I was very amused to find Scott Podsednik and Lisa Dergan's wedding registry online. I'd make some sort of anti-White Sox joke here, but it's tough to make fun of a guy who won a World Series and married a former Playmate in six-month period. Plus, I once heard Dergan as a guest on Loveline and thought she had a great personality (and that was on radio, so I wasn't just woozy from looking at her).
  • Here's a boxscore line from earlier this month that will bring back some memories for Gophers basketball fans:
                        MIN    FGM-A    3PM-A    FTM-A     AST    TO    PTS
    Kevin Burleson 36 0-6 0-4 0-0 2 2 0

    The only thing that doesn't belong is the fact that those numbers are from an NBA game.

    Shortly after the end of his senior year at the University of Minnesota I wrote that "Kevin Burleson was so bad this season that it is almost beyond words." A few months ago, after hearing that he made an NBA team, I compared Burleson to Adolph Hitler in a roundabout way. That was a poor choice on my part, because I certainly didn't mean to make light of what Hitler did. Plus, I'm pretty sure Hitler would shoot better than 21.3 percent if some NBA team was silly enough to give him a roster spot.

  • One interesting part of The Mind of Bill James that I left out of my review is Bill James' extreme stance on copy editing. Matt Welch quoted the whole passage on his blog earlier this week, but it essentially boils down to this:
    1. I have very good reasons for doing things the way I do them.
    2. My name is on the book; the copy editor's name isn't.
    3. I know vastly more about the effective use of the English language than the copy editor does.

    So ... I don't want any bleeping policies.

    I can say from personal experience -- having edited and published James' work multiple times on The Hardball Times website and in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 -- that it's true. I suppose it's sort of like being a record producer and wanting to fix a track where The Beatles sounded less than perfect. In normal circumstances it would be a good idea, but are you really in any position to say what The Beatles should sound like?

  • I spent far too much of my formative years at various malls and convention centers, selling sports cards with my dad (it was fun, but sort of an odd way to spend weekends). One day I'll probably write about the experience, which was a lot more interesting than it probably sounds, but until then I'll just enjoy The Baseball Card Blog that launched recently.
  • The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 has been reviewed by a lot of different people a lot of different ways, but as far as I know this review is the first time the book has been compared to Nomar Garciaparra circa 1997.
  • I'm not one of those people who say Bill Simmons has lost a step, but his column on attending NBA All-Star Weekend is definitely Simmons at his very best.
  • It's nice to see that Minnesota is so well-represented in Dead Spin's "Why Your Hometown Columnist Sucks" series. First Jim Souhan, then Sid Hartman, and now Bob Sansevere. Despite being a relative small market with only two major newspapers, I believe Minnesota is the first state to be honored three times. The people running the sports sections here should be really proud, and by "really proud" I mean "ashamed of themselves."
  • If this were, say, 1997 and I still watched Baseball Tonight, I would be really intrigued by the idea of Tino Martinez joining the cast. Of course, like Baseball Tonight, Martinez was actually good back then.
  • Two depressing articles that go hand in hand: A blow-by-blow look at Kevin McHale's shaky run at the helm of the Wolves and the news that Troy Hudson's ankle may ruin his second season in the past three years. The long-term deal that McHale handed out to Hudson a while back is perhaps the best example of how the Wolves have fallen so quickly. It was misguided on so many levels at the time, and may have turned out even worse than expected.
  • This just in: Playing the lottery isn't a smart investment. Plus, as this extremely odd story shows, there are far better ways to spend a dollar.
  • As a fat person who is in the process of losing weight (I'm down 30 pounds now), I always find it maddening when people say that genetics don't play a large role in the way you look. Sure, eating right and exercising are extremely important, but when someone can look this good while simultaneously eating fast food and smoking a cigarette you've got to wonder if maybe they have a leg up in the genes department.
  • My two favorite Unsubstantiated Rumors of the Week: Star Jones might get canned from The View (which is a bit like a baseball player being cut by the Royals) and Arrested Development might find a new home on Showtime. I can't quite decide which one coming true would make me happier.
  • The headline accompanying this link is the leader in the clubhouse for "Understatement of the Year." And the picture ain't bad, either.
  • Finally, a roundtable discussion about the American League Central featuring myself, The Cheat from Southside Sox, Rich Lederer, and Bryan Smith has been posted over at The Baseball Analysts. Click here to check it out.


  • February 23, 2006

    Ask and You Shall Receive

    Last Friday I wrote about Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark becoming bloggers at ESPN.com. I said mostly good things about it, like "I'm glad they're willing to take what is a pretty large leap for a major media outlet." I also laid out my one criticism, which was that "as far as I can tell none of the dozen or so blogs ESPN.com hosts actually link to other blogs." Then, in one of my many convoluted analogies, I wrote:

    Right now ESPN.com is like a high-school jock who has the guts to join the drama club because he truly loves acting, but still makes jokes about the "losers" in the club to his buddies on the football team. You're either in or you're out, and if you're in then you can't be too good for the club when it suits your needs. I'm proud of ESPN.com, but it'll be even better when they really make the jump.

    Gammons' "reading" page includes a link to The Hardball Times (which was quite a thrill for me), but what I'm talking about is linking to a good Dodger Thoughts entry when Jon Weisman has something interesting to say about Ned Colletti or turning readers on to USS Mariner when David Cameron breaks down the greatness of Felix Hernandez after King Felix puts together a string of brilliant starts.

    The line between old-school and new-school is blurring all the time and I commend ESPN.com for accepting a relatively new medium when many of their fellow mainstream outlets have been amazingly resistant to do so. We're not quite "there" yet, but for now being able to call myself a "blogger" and have Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark be included in that same club is pretty cool. Even if they probably still call us losers behind our backs.

    Much to my surprise, Stark not only linked to an actual blog yesterday, it was this blog. In fact, he responded directly to what I had written:

    Memo to fellow blogsmith Aaron Gleeman: I've never called you a loser, pal. We live in a media world now with virtually no limits, and that (we're pretty sure) is a great thing. Thanks to the blogosphere, we get to read all kinds of new voices who actually spend way too much of their lives devoting way too much creative thought to baseball, for little or zero compensation. Aaron Gleeman is one of those voices. Now that I've plunged into the futuristic dimensions of blog-o-space, I feel a newfound bond with my fellow bloggers. All 8.7 billion of you.

    Aw, shucks. Thanks, Jayson.

    Of course, for some reason I feel the need to point out that the link Stark provided was simply to AaronGleeman.com, rather than the specific entry he was responding to. So people clicked on it expecting to find something about him calling me a loser, and instead went to my review of The Mind of Bill James (the most recent entry). But I suppose that's picking nits.

    I appreciate Stark's link, and even more than that I appreciate that he deemed my criticism important enough to respond to. Now that I'm reading and linking to the ESPN.com blogs and they're reading and linking to my blog, I can truly welcome Gammons and Stark to the blogging community. (Whatever the hell that means.)

    To slightly modify one of my favorite quotes from Seinfeld: "We're all winners!"

    * * * * * * * * * *

    I had an odd experience Tuesday night, and this blog is always as good a place as any for an odd experience. At around 9:45 I was doing a "chat" that is supposed to be published on another website in a couple weeks. We were about an hour into it, so I was essentially typing like a madman and trying my best to say intelligent things really quickly.

    The phone rang and I could hear my mom, who was dead asleep, fumbling around trying to answer it. She eventually did and it was clearly not someone she knew, because I heard stuff like "okay" and "uh huh" instead of some sort of high-pitched greeting. Then I heard my mom say, "Hold on one second," and she came into my room.

    She told me, "There's someone claiming to be a relative of a Twins player and they want to talk to you about writing something about him." Now, this isn't the sort of thing that makes sense to a person the first time they hear it, but it was tough to get clarification given that a) my mom was holding the receiver of the phone with her hand so that we couldn't be heard, and b) she was still like 94.8% asleep.

    So I said, "Tell them to call me back in a little bit or e-mail me, because I'm still doing this chat." My mom relayed that message, at which point the woman at the other end of the line apparently said, "No, I'll just contact the newspaper" and then hung up.

    In retrospect I should have dropped everything and taken the call, but I was too surprised to think clearly and certainly didn't expect the person to react like that to the idea of calling me back. I mean, if you call someone at 9:45 on a Tuesday night, can you really expect to have their full attention immediately?

    At this point my curiosity is damn near killing me. First and foremost, I wonder who the person was and which player they were claiming to be related to. Beyond that, I wonder how it is that they got my phone number (since it's not listed in the phone book under my name), why they were so against calling me back, and what exactly they wanted to talk to me about.

    "They want to talk to you about writing something about him" could be taken any number of ways. Is it Tony Batista's wife, wanting to yell at me for "writing something about him" that was negative? Is it Johan Santana's mom, wanting to thank me for "writing something about him" that was positive? Could it have been Francisco Liriano's sister hoping to convince me to "write something about him" to promote his case for the fifth-starter job?

    The possibilities are endless, especially given the fact that I'm now kicking myself for having declined the call.


    February 22, 2006

    Book Review: The Mind of Bill James

    One of the perks that comes along with writing for an audience is getting free books. Publishers contact me and ask if they can send a copy, and since I've never been one to turn down a book about baseball I find that question impossible to say no to. So they arrive in the mail, usually with a little note or some information about the book. The idea is that I'll read it, enjoy it, and write a review that spurs some of my audience to go out and buy copies for themselves. The other option is that I'll read it, not enjoy it, and tell no one of its existence.

    It's a good little system, and I'm certainly not going to complain given the ridiculous amount of money I've spent on baseball books throughout my life. Anyway, I bring this up in the interest of full disclosure and to segue into the fact that I currently have no fewer than two dozen books lying around my room, unread. It's partly due to my being a lot busier now than I used to be and partly due to some of the books having less-than-enthralling subjects, but mostly due to simply not being able to keep up when a new batch is always on the way.

    Last week I got a package in the mail and found this inside:


    That's right, a Bill James bobblehead doll.

    The package also contained an "advance copy" of Scott Gray's soon-to-be-released book, The Mind of Bill James. I first heard that Gray was penning a biography of James several months ago, and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since. Plus, even if I hadn't been the bobblehead certainly would have piqued my interest. And so with a couple dozen unread books surrounding me and a few writing deadlines of my own on the horizon, I got into bed one night and read through The Mind of Bill James in one sitting (or one lying, I suppose).

    I suspect that it would be difficult for someone to write a book about James that I wouldn't enjoy, and Gray's version was a very good read. It was also quite a bit different than what I expected. I anticipated a book about James' upbringing and early days—you know, the typical biography stuff—and while that's certainly covered in the book, it's not the focus. Instead, Gray paints that information with broad strokes and chooses to focus on James' writing. In many ways, The Mind of Bill James is not so much a biography as it is a tour of James' work.

    For someone who is only marginally familiar with James, the book is an excellent primer. It introduces you to why he's an important figure and takes you through some of the many highlights of his work. In that sense Gray was working with a secret weapon, because it's almost impossible to avoid falling in love with James' writing once you stumble across it. For someone like me, who has read just about everything there is to read by or about James, the book is more like a refresher course.

    For instance, in a chapter about James' time in the Army during the Vietnam War, Gray quotes this passage about Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett from an edition of The Bill James Baseball Abstract:

    In the military, drill sergeants and other power mongers will set up little tests for you, make you do some stupid, irrational and painful thing just to find out how you react to it. If you pass their little test, then they'll always think you're OK, regardless of whether you're worth a hoot or not, because they have reached a prior conclusion that this is the moment at which they're going to find out about you.

    I was at a game in [Kansas City] last May during which Barrett had a couple of hits early, just took pitches on the outside corner and guided them softly over the first baseman's head, the two hits being identical. When he came up the third time I was saying to myself that now they'll make him hit the inside pitch, and they did. The pitcher threw him two pitches on the inside corner, and he turned on the second one and hit the thing a mile (well, maybe 430 feet) for his first major league homer. I was really impressed by that, although logically I knew that it didn't mean any more than anybody else's first home run, because in my mind I had made a prior decision that this was Barrett's test as a major hitter.

    While it was wonderful to rediscover the hearty supply of James' writing that is quoted liberally throughout the book, in some ways I would have preferred a more in-depth look at his life, including his pre-fame days, his family, his everyday experiences, and his substantial quirks. Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite passages in the book, which deals with several of those things all at once:

    I guess we look for personal tics in people who are smarter than we are. It's silly to see Einstein's not knowing his own phone number or not wearing socks as defining characteristics. But if you want to riff on the absent-minded-professor motiff, Bill mixes frugality and disorganization like a true genius. Rob Neyer says that when he was Bill's assistant, "For bookshelves, he had me buy long planks from the Oskaloosa lumber yard and a big pile of bricks from a Topeka brick seller.

    [...]

    I bought a second-hand office chair for myself back in 1990 or 1991. Almost immediately, I realized that there was a tiny hole in the leather, and thus a tiny spring kept poking through and putting tiny holes in the seats of my pants. I got around this by making sure I had a towel under me, and kept using the chair. Here's the punchline: I was in Bill's office last summer ... and the poky green office chair was still there!"

    Reuben pops into the office. "I lost a tooth," he reports. "I swallowed it chewing gum."

    "Was it a tooth you were supposed to lose?" Bill asks.

    It was. Reuben then instigates a wrestling match with his dad. Bill is huge and Reuben is eleven, so they look like a clip from Animal Planet. That makes me think of a story Bill's most recent ex-assistant, Matthew Namee, told me. One day a column of ants came marching up the porch steps and under the front door. Bill broomed them away, but in a minute they were back. After repeating the action a few times, Bill mused, "You'd think the guys in the back would notice their buddies keep disappearing."

    As a long-time James fan and someone whose entire view of baseball was heavily shaped by his writing, that's the sort of stuff I enjoyed most about the book. However, I can see where Gray faced a dilemma. James is a unique subject in that most people likely know almost nothing about him, while some people know almost everything about him. If you're looking to appeal to a large audience and many of them are unfamiliar with James, it would be difficult to interest them with details of his childhood and path to success.

    What Gray has done instead, it seems, is focus on making you interested in James' life by first showing you the brilliance of his work, and only then adding in the outside details once you're hooked. It makes the book unique compared to other biographies, in that part of Gray's effort is going toward almost selling James as a worthy subject. And he certainly is, which is what makes the book a must-read for more than just baseball fans. The Mind of Bill James is a well-done look at a fascinating personality, a one-of-a-kind writer, a ridiculously brilliant thinker, and a self-made success.


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