Bill James — George William “Bill” James was born on October 5, 1949, in Holton, Kansas. He is a baseball writer, historian, and statistician whose work has been widely influential. Since 1977, James has written more than two dozen books devoted to baseball history and statistics. His approach, which he termed sabermetrics in reference to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), scientifically analyzes and studies baseball, often through the use of statistical data, in an attempt to determine why teams win and lose. His Baseball Abstract books in the 1980s are the modern predecessor to websites using sabermetrics such as Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Primer now Baseball Think Factory.
In 2006, Time named him in the Time 100 as one of the most influential people in the world. He is currently a Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox. In 2010, Bill James was inducted into the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame.
An aspiring writer and obsessive fan, James began writing baseball articles after leaving the United States Army in his mid-twenties. Many of his first baseball writings came while he was doing night shifts as a security guard at the Stokely Van Camp pork and beans cannery. Editors considered James’s pieces so unusual that few believed them suitable for their readers. In an effort to reach a wider audience, James self-published an annual book titled The Bill James Baseball Abstract beginning in 1977. The first edition of the book presented 80 pages of in-depth statistics compiled from James’s study of box scores from the preceding season, and was offered for sale through a small advertisement in The Sporting News.
Over the next three years James’s work won respect, including a very favorable review by Daniel Okrent in Sports Illustrated. New annual editions added essays on teams and players. By 1982 sales had increased tenfold, and a media conglomerate agreed to publish and distribute future editions.
In 1988, James ceased writing the Abstract, citing workload-related burnout and concern about the volume of statistics on the market. He has continued to publish hardcover books about baseball history, which have sold well and received admiring reviews; these books include three editions of The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract 1985, 1988, 2001, the last entitled The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.
During the years after the annual Abstract ceased publication, James has published several series of new annuals:
- The Baseball Book (1990–1992) was a loosely-organized collection of commentary, profiles, historical articles, and occasional pieces of research.
- The Player Ratings Book (1993–95) offered statistics and 50-word profiles aimed at the fantasy baseball enthusiast.
- The Bill James Handbook (2003–present) provides past-season statistics and next-season projections for Major League players and teams, and career data for all current Major League players. Results for the Fielding Bible Awards, an alternative to the Gold Glove Awards voted on by a 10-person panel that includes James, are also included.
- The Bill James Gold Mine (2008–present) is a collection of new essays and never-before-seen statistics, as well as profiles of players and teams.
In 2008, James launched Bill James Online. Subscribers can read James’ new, original writing and interact with one another—as well as with James—in a question-and-answer format. The web site also offers new “profiles” of teams and players full of facts and statistics that hope to one day map what James has termed “the lost island of baseball statistics.”
James is a fan of the University of Kansas men’s basketball team and has written about basketball. He has created a formula for what he calls a “safe lead” in the sport. He has finished working on a true crime book. James made a guest appearance on the Simpsons episode “MoneyBART”.