Foreword: Insider’s Baseball

This article was written by Bill James

This article was published in the Insider’s Baseball


Insider's Baseball book cover

I joined the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1975, one of a series of steps that I needed to cross the bridge and enter the private fantasyland (24 baseball hours a day) that I am now privileged to inhabit. Most of the people whose work is collected here were there before me, going about their obsession. If the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is an organization of those to whom baseball represents a way of making a living, SABR is an organization of those to whom baseball is a way of life.

To go through these articles, for me, is like walking around a room shaking ideas and exchanging hands with 40-plus old friends, and not only because many of the people who have contributed to this long-overdue collection are, in fact, friends of mine.

An introduction, you say? Very well … meet SABR, an organization heading into its second decade, with over a thousand members, heading toward two thousand. Meet Bob Davids, the guiding force behind SABR from its beginnings and the editor of this book. I don’t believe that I know anybody who has worked harder, or longer, to create anything than Bob Davids has worked to create, preserve, and strengthen SABR.

Meet Bill Borst, St. Louis publisher. Bill revives the memory of Helene Britton, the nearly forgotten woman who once owned a St. Louis baseball club. Meet Mil Chipp, statistician of the San Diego Padres, in the process of separating inside-the-park home runs from the indistinct masses of four-base hits. Meet Eddie Gold, whose memory embraces warmly every detail of each and every Cub inning and season. Eddie’s “Baseball Rhyme Time” is a classic in the history of self-indulgent literature. (I keep intending to have a copy framed.)

Meet Ernest Infield. Actually, I don’t think I know Mr. Infield, and he doesn’t have an article in this collection, but you’ve got to admit it’s the best name for a baseball fanatic that you’ll ever hear. Meet Pete Palmer, head of SABR’s stat analysis committee, whose disheveled gaze belies a command of details and an impressive ability to produce and organize work. I estimate that I have owed Pete a letter 97.284 percent of the time for the last six years. The formula for this is … well, never mind.

Meet Emil Rothe, a retired school administrator with a great dignity about him and a long list of published articles.

In passing through each of us, baseball becomes a different game. These men share a deep and intensely personal love of the game that breaks it down like forty-plus mirrors and reflects it out to the world a new game. These images of the game will seem strange, almost bizarre, to those who know baseball only by the cliches into which journalism unrecognizably renders it, morning by morning. These are not the sterile, one-dimensional images of the game produced by men foolish enough to adopt the position that they must remain uninterested in the results so that they can report accurately on the games.

There are many differences between what I do for a living and what these people have done because they wanted to do it, but there is one paramount similarity. One of my goals in writing is never, ever, to tell the reading anything that he already knows. These pages pour forth a profusion of fresh and fascinating details covering more than a century of the Pastime and representing probably as many years spent in libraries reading microfilm.

How many hours has Ray Gonzalez spent reviewing the career of Lou Gehrig? How many hours did John Tattersall spend analyzing Hank Aaron’s home runs? It’s hard to imagine, but I’d bet nobody in this book would want any of those hours back. Beisbol, as Chico would say, has been bery, bery good to all of us.

After writing this foreword in 1983, BILL JAMES became the best known baseball analyst in the world and he has been a prolific author with his eponymous Baseball Abstracts, Historical Abstract, Baseball Analyst, Handbook, and many other works. He worked as a Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox from 2002 to 2019, a period in which the franchise won four World Series championships. He was a recipient of the 2010 Henry Chadwick Award and the 2017 SABR Analytics Conference Lifetime Achievement Award.

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