Dodd: Bill James can’t stop dreaming about baseball

From Rustin Dodd at The Athletic on October 9, 2018, on SABR member Bill James:

It​ is an afternoon in September, and​ Bill​ James is talking​ about Kansas.​ He was raised​ here,​ amidst​​ the rolling wheat fields and plains. He grew famous here, the bearded catalyst of a revolution. He stayed here, too, living in the same Victorian house on the same leafy street in the same historic neighborhood.

James can talk for hours about his state’s history, about the bloody skirmishes that marked its inception, about the small towns that dot the horizon, about the college basketball team that offers identity. But on this sunny afternoon inside Free State Brewery, the father of modern baseball sabermetrics has something more specific in mind.

He’s been working on a book project with his wife, Susan. It is called “Floating Kansas,” and it details the state’s beginnings in the 19th century. In 1850, James says, the Kansas territory was equivalent to parts of modern-day Italy in 600 B.C. It was mostly empty, a wild frontier populated by Native tribes, many of whom arrived via forced relocation by the United States government.

The living conditions were brutal — harsh winters, smallpox and a smoldering border conflict. Yet by 1920, the state had more or less modernized. James is interested in those six decades, how a town like Lawrence went from undeveloped to the home of a thriving university, a bustling community and the founder of basketball.

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Originally published: October 10, 2018. Last Updated: October 10, 2018.