Unformatted text preview: THE NEW BILL JAMES HISTORICAL BASEBALL ABSTRACT—AN AMERICAN CLASSIC
“Better than its predecessor and, thanks to the author’s self-doubting, substantially different.”
—The New York Times
“The best baseball book published in 2001.”
“The baseball authority from Kansas City hits a grand slam for this year and for many years to
—The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“The most provocative book ever written on baseball history.”
—The Sacramento Bee
“James’ 1000-page behemoth is the holy book of baseball.”
—The Chicago Tribune
“A book that will carry you through until spring training… wildly readable.”
—The Boston Globe
“If you add just one book to your baseball collection this year, make it this one.”
“The Abstract is that rare baseball book that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you
come back for more. It’s the next best thing to finding a Mickey Mantle rookie card in Mom’s
—The Washington Post
“You can flip it open to nearly any page and find out something you didn’t know before, or a fresh
look at ideas that could tweak the game for the better.”
—The Charleston Gazette ALSO BY BILL JAMES
The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers
The Politics of Glory
The Baseball Book
This Time Let’s Not Eat the Bones All photographs and illustrations courtesy of The Sporting News. FREE PRESS
A division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 2001 by Bill James
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
First Free Press trade paperback edition 2003
FREE P RESS and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Designed by Helene Berinsky
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
James, Bill, 1949The new Bill James historical baseball abstract / Bill James.
Rev. ed. of: The Bill James historical baseball abstract. Rev. ed. 1988.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Baseball—United States—History. 2. Baseball—Records—United States. I. James, Bill,
1949- Bill James historical baseball abstract. II. Title.
GV863.A1 J36 2001
ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-2722-3 (Pbk)
eISBN-13: 978-1-4391-0693-8 This book is for Isaac James whose love of life renews me every morning. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This volume is a major revision of a book which was originally published fifteen years ago. Many
people contributed to that book in its first form, including;
Jim Baker, who worked with me while I was writing the first edition of this book, and provided
invaluable assistance in helping to develop the library necessary to research it, helping to research it,
helping to write it, writing some parts of it, and taking care of other duties.
Pete Palmer, David Frank, Gordon Herman, Randy Lakeman, and Chuck Waseleski, who also
provided information and data.
Jim Carothers, who contributed time and intelligence to his own project within these pages.
Tom Heitz, Jeff Kernin, and Donna Cornell of the Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown (at that
time), who were invaluable in certain parts of the research.
Peter Gethers, who edited the original book.
Liz Darhansoff, who represented my interests in the publishing business fifteen years ago, and still
In the revision:
Rob Neyer contributed very heavily, doing most of the work on the pitch selection files in Part 3,
and many other things.
John Sickels worked with me for several years, remains a good friend, and also made important
contributions to the book.
Mike Webber has the job now.
Bill Rosen edited this version of the book, and has been extraordinarily patient with me while I
struggled to re-write it. This book was supposed to come out years ago, sometime in the last
Andrea Au works with Bill, and with me when I work with Bill, and has been, at times, the major
engine driving the project.
My good friend Mike Kopf has worked with me at various times over the last 15 years, and some
articles that he wrote have gotten dragged into this book in edited versions. Mike also proofed and
copy edited this manuscript before it was sent to the publisher.
Steve Getschier and James R. Meier, the archivist and librarian of The Sporting News, assisted me in
doing other research by use of the The Sporting News morgue.
Lloyd Johnson also provided me with some research materials.
Jill Rosen is running the public relations effort for the book.
Numerous other people provided ideas, made suggestions, helped me to solve problems, or wrote
articles that were used as background research. As the book has been revised, this list has no doubt
grown. I have tried to acknowledge these throughout the book, as appropriate, and not to appear to
take credit for the work that other people have done. To anyone that I have failed to credit for their
research, I send my apologies, and I would ask that if you feel that I borrowed your research and
didn’t properly credit it, you might contact me and let me know.
The people who form that maligned franchise known as “the media” have been kind to me, most
of the time on purpose, but failing that by accident. Thanks to all.
Behind every great man there is a great woman, and some of us ordinary Joes get lucky, too. Susan McCarthy would do credit to a man of far greater accomplishments than mine. She also wrote
some bits of the book, articles about baseball uniforms and how they have changed over time. She
has her own work to do (she is an artist), but this has never stopped her from carrying a good bit of
my load, too, particularly as book deadlines draw near. When the first edition of this book was
produced in the mid-1980s she pitched in as a typist, secretary, statistician, office manager,
bookkeeper, proofreader, schedule-maker, and editor. Since we now have three children her role in
producing the book is different, but she remains patient of husbands who work until 4 o’clock in the
morning, neglect their share of the household duties, grow irritable when their work does not go well,
and make unreasonable demands on those around them. Without her help, this book would not be
what it is.
To write a book is awfully hard on your family; this one, in particular, has been a killer. My
children are Rachel, now 15, Isaac, 12, and Reuben, 8. When I undertook to revise this book they
were Rachel, 10, Isaac, 7, and Reuben, 3. They have given up an awful lot of me to let me re-write
this book, and while that might be a welcome sacrifice to many people, they seem to miss me. I miss
them, and I appreciate what they have given. I love you guys.
Thanks to all.
Bill James CONTENTS
PART 1 THE GAME
T HE 1870S
T HE 1880S
T HE 1890S
T HE 1900S
T HE 1910S
T HE 1920S
T HE 1930S
T HE NEGRO LEAGUES
T HE 1940S
T HE 1950S
T HE 1960S
T HE 1970S
T HE 1980S
T HE 1990S
PART 2 THE PLAYERS
T HIRD BASE
LAST MINUTE NOTES
PART 3 REFERENCE
WIN SHARES OF INDIVIDUALS
WIN SHARES OF SELECTED T EAMS
WIN SHARE T EAM COMPARISON Postscript
Hi. My name is Bill James. Through most of the 1980s I wrote an annual book called The Baseball
Abstract. It was a kind of a technical book, at times, and there were essays in it that were not real
easy to understand. I was very happy to spend eight pages discussing how many camels could rest in
the on-deck circle of a theoretical ballpark. Some people liked it, some people didn’t. I was once
described by a now defunct publication as “the guru of baseball statistics,” and by Sparky Anderson
as “a little fat guy with a beard who knows nothing about nothing.” Actually, I’m seven inches taller
than Sparky is, but what the heck, three out of four ain’t bad, and it sure beats being described as
the guru of baseball statistics.
Anyway, the editor of The Baseball Abstract was Peter Gethers, a man of many talents. Peter
wondered whether I could adapt the premises of the annual book to cover the history of baseball,
since this would create a book that had a shelf life longer than a package of Oreos. I said I could,
and I did, and the Historical Baseball Abstract was first published in 1985.
That book did well, and it has an odd quality about it, which is that it can never really be finished,
as long they’re still playing baseball. I always had it in mind to write periodic updates. Time is getting
away from me. I sat down a couple of years ago to revise the Historical Baseball Abstract and
discovered a funny thing: I didn’t like a lot of it. It’s odd, really; people come up to me all the time
and tell me how much they love that book, and I figured when I got into it, I wouldn’t have too
much to do. But when I started re-editing it, I spent six months saying, “Why the hell did I do that?”
Times and people change, and I’m not saying that I’m a better writer now than I was then, but I’m
So this book, depending on how you want to look at it, is either:
(a) a revision of the original Historical Baseball Abstract, or
(b) a new book that uses some of the old material.
Certain premises of the book remain the same; it is an effort to create a picture of the game of
baseball as that game has evolved over the years, but focuses on the fact that baseball exists to be
enjoyed, that we enjoy it by wrestling with it, trying to get a handle on it. I would explain how this is
different now than in the first edition, except that, in some respects, I’m not really sure what I was
trying to do fifteen years ago.
The book has three sections. Strategy in baseball never comes to rest; it is in constant search of
an equilibrium that, the Lord willing, I will never find. The first section of this book, called “The
Game” is, in a sense, about that search for equilibrium, about how the game of each decade was
different from the game of the years before. But if each decade is different in some ways, in many
more ways it is the same, and the first section of the book is also about that, about the repeating
patterns and habits that come as fresh revelations to each generation of baseball fans.
The second section of the book, called “The Players,” could be described as the Who-WasBetter-Than-Whom section, and consists in the main of information and arguments about the relative
merits of the hundred best players at each position in the history of the game. I’m an argumentative
cuss by nature, and how much you enjoy that section of the book is likely to depend to an extent on
how much you like to argue about baseball players.
The third section of the book, now called “Reference,” is an effort to put on record a couple of
types of information which escape the Encyclopedias.
This book is not intended to be studied; it is intended to be enjoyed. It is intended that you pick it
up, leaf through, find something that looks interesting, read it, react to it, decide that I’m right,
decide that I’m wrong, put it down, pick it up some other time. To those of you who enjoyed the
first version, I hope that you’ll feel we have met the standard. To those of you who didn’t see the
first one, I thank you for joining in, and I hope you’ll feel some connection to it. Thanks for reading. Bill James PART I
THE GAME The first section of this book looks at the history of baseball as it has unfolded, decade by decade,
since 1870. There are fourteen sub-sections, one for each decade since the 1870s, plus one for the
As I had originally envisioned the Historical Baseball Abstract, this was to have been a small,
almost perfunctory look at the history of the game to set the table for Section II, a detailed look at
the players. But as I began to do research on the history of baseball (in order to discuss the players
more intelligently) I began to feel that there was a history of baseball that had not been written at that
time, a history of good and ordinary players, a history of being a fan, a history of games that meant
something at the time but mean nothing now.
In American society, our ways of teaching about baseball are better than our ways of teaching
about anything else. No matter how it is that your mind works, baseball reaches out to you. If you’re
an emotional person, baseball asks for your heart. If you are a thinking man or a thinking woman,
baseball wants your opinion. Whether you are left-brain or right-brain, Type A or Type Z, whether
your mind is bent toward mathematics or toward history or psychology or geometry, whether you
are young or old, baseball has its way of asking for you. If you are a reader, there is always
something new to read about baseball, and always something old. If you are a sedentary person, a
TV watcher, baseball is on TV; if you always have to be going somewhere, baseball is somewhere
you can go. If you are a collector, baseball offers you a hundred things that you can collect. If you
have children, baseball is something you can do with children; if you have parents and cannot talk to
them, baseball is something you can still talk to them about.
It is this fact, spun through into dollars and cents, that explains the paradox of which the
disaffected so often complain, that baseball players make a hundred times as much money as cancer
researchers. If cancer researchers had box scores and statistics (which, of course, could easily be
created), if those box scores were in the paper in the morning, if they had baseball cards, if those
cards were for sale in convenience stores, if cancer research programs were on six channels every
evening, if there were annual books about cancer research and daily newspaper personality profiles,
if there were cancer researchers encyclopedias to sustain the memory of old, dead cancer
researchers, if there was an oral tradition, if cancer research had a vocabulary that made sense to us,
if you could go and watch them do their job, if there were someone there to explain to you what was
happening and to sell you a beer… well, then, cancer researchers would be on their way toward
multimillion dollar salaries. Instead, cancer researchers—most of them, anyway—swat down our
interest with self-righteousness and jargon, with demands that we dedicate ourselves to the field
before we can really understand anything about it.
School teachers and academics, in ways they seem constitutionally incapable of understanding,
tell us to go away and leave them alone whenever we show any interest in what they are doing. The
very essence of baseball is that it does not. The essential definition of baseball is that baseball is a thing which welcomes and sustains our interest. Whoever we are, however we think, however old
we are, wherever we live, whatever we like to do, baseball wants us—and this is what makes
baseball what it is.
It is, then, peculiarly unsatisfying to read a railroad track history of baseball—this happened, and
then this happened, and then this happened. Baseball doesn’t preach at us; baseball surrounds us. It
was the goal of this book to create a history of baseball that would surround you, that would reach
out to you and take your hand. This is done, of course, with details: hundreds and hundreds of tiny
little details. What was it like to be a baseball fan in 1923? Who were the heroes, who were the
rogues, who were the comedians? What was in the paper in the mornings?
A linear history of baseball drops the details once those details no longer mean anything—once
they no longer serve to move the narrative of baseball forward. Thus, in an odd way, it drops the
things that make baseball what it is. An academic, writing a history of baseball, often sounds very
much like an academic writing about cancer research. He leaves out the details that make it fun.
Well, I don’t meant to criticize anyone, but if baseball exists only to be enjoyed, and you leave
out the details that make it fun, then aren’t you leaving out what makes it what it is? We cover each
decade in a box with a series of questions. These questions are a way of reaching into baseball
history for the details. Who was the handsomest player; who was the ugliest? Who was the best
hitter; who was the worst? Who was different from everybody else? What was right with the game;
what was wrong with it? Who disgraced the game, and who ennobled it? Who threw the best curve
ball; who threw the best heat? Who was the best bunter? Little, tiny details that don’t mean anything
anymore, except for the fact that it is those details that enable baseball to embrace us. Baseball is and
was a billion details. Perhaps I have saved a couple of thousand from the crush of time.
My goal isn’t to tell you what happened in baseball in 1913. My goal is to give you a sense of
what it was like to be a baseball fan in 1913, as best I can in this forum. The citations for the bestlooking and ugliest players were made by a qualified expert: my wife. In her twenties, Susie spent
many hours poring over every photograph in my library, and emerged with a list of the handsomest
and homeliest from each period. These selections are exactly as good as anybody else’s; it’s just
opinion. For the new version of the book she handed off that assignment to our children.
I was interested in uniforms, since the types of uniforms worn by players in 1913 are essential to
the sense of being at a game in that season. If you’ve ever seen me on a weekday you know that I
don’t know anything about clothes, so I also assigned that duty to my wife. Her comments on
baseball uniforms over time accompany each Decade in a Box, plus she wrote an introduction of her
own, which appears next.
Susie felt the need to emphasize that she is not an expert on the history of uniforms or cloth or
clothes in general. I’ve never claimed to be an expert, either; my view is that when you write
something it is either true or false, and being an expert or not being an expert really has nothing to do
with it. She worked hard to double-check the things she wrote and see that they were true, and while
she might have bobbled a ground ball or two, I’m sure that for the most part she got it right. ABOUT THE “APPEARANCE” AWARDS
Just before my study was complete, I stumbled across an article entitled “Baseball’s Ten
Handsomest Men” in the September 1957 issue of Sport magazine. The author talked about how
women (giggly girls) swooned when the strikingly tall, dark and handsome Ted Williams walked to
the plate. He was “all man,” you know; she wrote about how women just love a strong, dominant
man, and she went on (and on) about a particular “boy” being the one you would have wanted to
carry your books, while another was the one you would have wanted to ask you to the prom, or the
boy you would have wanted to marry. Some other classic lines: of Jerry Coleman, “Brown eyes that
sparkle and dark brown curly hair make women’s eyes roll like ball bearings.” Of Vinegar Bend Mizell, “He flips female hearts with his masculinity.” Of Eddie Mathews, “but with those beautiful
muscles, he can make a girl believe anything.”
Just for the record, I wanted to say that this study was not conducted to do any of the things that
the Sport article seems to be about. I have yet to see a baseball card that made me want to marry
anybody, and it would take me months to get the mothball smell out of my prom dress. Come to
think of it, I don’t have a prom dress.
The study was done, basically, just for the fun of it. We can’t claim that there is any reason you
should accept our findings. We could claim that we had to do it because nobody else would.
Handsome players and ugly players are a part of every decade, just like minor leaguers and major
leaguers, fast runners and slow runners and tobacco chewers. I got to pick them because I seemed to
be the appropriate sex for the task. For another thing, I come to the history of baseball with a clean
slate, being largely unfamiliar with the players...
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