There is a poetry that can be found in numbers. When you turn numbers over and around, when you attempt to make them tell you a specific story, those numbers begin to speak to you.
When the numbers melt into the Language, they acquire the power to do all of the things which language can do, to become fiction and drama and poetry.
The Mind of Bill James, How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, and basketball, too, by Scott Gray chronicles how twenty-five years ago, Bill James started writing about baseball, and a new way of qualifying a game many love was born.
For those who abandon themselves to the game, for those to whom the hurried and casual summaries of journalism are a daily affront…
Bill James begat Rob Neyer, Billy Beane, and Moneyball, which begat Basketball on Paper, 82 games, APBR metrics, and the new stats. A collection of folks who have been attempting to qualify basketball, and its player’s and statistic’s, in a way that focuses and clarifies opinions.
James has spawned so many folks who have taken his original ideas and mutated and translated them into other arenas, making him a truly iconic figure.
But the biggest achievement of this book is removing the label of “stat geek” and a “baseball by numbers” guy from James’ persona. Bill James was a Liberal Arts major, a lover of literature and rhetoric, politics and discourse. A man who writes things like,
Dan Ford…plays the outfield like a blind man staying overnight at a friend’s apartment.
His own opinion on the role of statistics in sport bucks what the national media has misrepresented him as.
Statistics are to sport, …like the relationship of tools to machine and to the mechanic who uses them, The mechanic does not begin with the monkey wrench. All he wants from the monkey wrench is that it do it’s job and not give him any trouble.
In short, this is not some right brained pedant sitting in his parent’s basement.
This is a book about a man and his unique mind first, second it’s a sports book, and third a baseball book.
And forgive me, but he is just so damn quotable:
On baseball cards:…a chart of numbers that would put an actuary to sleep can be made to dance if you put it on one side of the card and Bombo Rivera’s picture on the other.
Given an option, all men prefer to reject information. to which author Gray adds,
Misguided faith leads to stubborn repetition of foolish decisions.
Bringing this back to the Lakers and being someone who has them on the brain on a perpetual basis, I saw so many axioms that could easily be applied to other team sports and, well, life in general…
Applied to the Lakers and the use and misuse of the term dynasty, from Japanese artisan Kaneshige Miciaki,
Tradition consists of creating something new with what one has inherited. Producing something new while incorporating what came before- That’s tradition.
For Jim Buss and his opinion of Andrew Bynum:
There is a place for impatience in the building of a (basketball) team. All of us have a tendency to coast for as long as we can, and never find out what we can do until we have a time of crises….If he finds himself, great; if he doesn’t, we’ve got a (basketball ) team to run.
Italo Calvino said, a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say, and Bill James, his contributions to baseball, and his lateral approach to writing about sport fit that mold.