Bill James entitled his SABR Analytics Conference keynote speech “Wonderful Ignorance,” an oxymoronic title for a man who coined the word sabermetrics, on Friday, March 8, 2013, in Phoenix, Arizona. It was that action which SABR President Vince Gennaro credited with keeping the Society for American Baseball Research in the minds of the public and baseball community.
James is Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox. He is the best known baseball analyst in the world and a prolific author of many books, including the Bill James Baseball Abstracts, the Historical Baseball Abstract, Win Shares, Politics of Glory, The Bill James Gold Mine and the annual Bill James Handbook. He is considered by many to be the father of sabermetrics and has created many new innovative measures such as Runs Created and Win Shares to evaluate player performance. He is a founding member of the SABR Statistical Analysis Research Committee and was a recipient of the Henry Chadwick Award in 2010.
Audio: Listen to Bill James’ keynote speech at the 2013 SABR Analytics Conference (54:20; 49.6 MB)
Here are some more highlights from James’ speech:
ON JOINING SABR IN THE 1970S AND ATTENDING HIS FIRST CONVENTION
“The organization was so small that you had the opportunity to get to talk to people like that. I probably didn’t get anything out of meeting Fred Lieb but it was a thrill for me anyway. I met Cool Papa Bell, who was a friend of Dave Malarcher, Cool Papa attended a couple of SABR conventions and I got to meet him. It was a very different type of organization at that (point.) SABR now has a heavy contingent of academics, but this reflects a change in the academic world, and a good change in the academic world.”
ON THE EARLY ROLE OF ANALYTICS WITHIN SABR
“SABR was an organization of about 70 people, and those of us who were interested in analytical issues were a tiny, isolated minority within that 70. In fact, there were three of us. There was Pete Palmer. There was Dick Cramer. And there was myself. I was the youngest of the three, and the most poorly educated. We would sit around and talk about the issues that we all talk about now.”
ON THE ADVANTAGE OF IGNORANCE
“We had another advantage then, which was massive ignorance. it was more fun to be a SABR member, in some ways — not just because we were young and things are more fun when you’re young, or because we were eccentric and things are more fun when you’re eccentric — it was very easy to find questions that no one had ever researched. Basically, no serious research of any kind had been done. … We had so much ignorance to work with, that making an impact on the world was kind of easy.”
ON THE DEFINITION OF SABERMETRICS
“In my way of thinking, sabermetrics, if you think of baseball research, visualize it as a planet, there is a core, a hard core of statistics, a hard core of numbers that are like bricks that sit at the very core. And there is a fringe of questions, a surface of questions. And between that hard core of facts and that surface of questions, there are vast oceans of molten ignorance. Our job, what sabermetrics is, is finding a way to tie those questions to that core, finding a way to connect a power cord … between one of those questions and that pile of data that is at the core of that research planet. That’s my image of what we do. I would say that outside of this room 99.9 percent of the world has no understanding of what we do.”
ADVICE FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS
“If you do get the chance to work in baseball, and I hope many of you do, and I know many of you will, remember not to run too hot. There are a lot of people involved in these decisions, and you just have to accept that they are only going to listen to you a certain percentage of the time, that’s just the way it is.”
For more coverage of the SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.
Originally published: March 8, 2013. Last Updated: July 27, 2020.