Moneyball is a new film based on the book by Michael Lewis that tells the story of how the 2002 Oakland A’s and their General Manager Billy Beane fundamentally changed the way Major League baseball teams should put together a roster of players. It describes how a small-market, low-budget team like the A’s managed to compete with the big-market, money-is-no-object teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. If that sounds like one dull movie, think again. The film is smart, well written, well acted, funny, and entertaining enough to appeal to viewers beyond just serious baseball fans. I highly recommend it. In the story you learn that Beane, driven by desperation to compete in a seemingly unfair system, turns to a way of seeing the game that was primarily developed by Bill James. James, currently employed in the front office of the Boston Red Sox, grew up near Mayetta, Kansas and graduated from KU. If you’re not familiar with his work, our library has available a number of his best works.
Named in 2006 as of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine, Bill James asks questions about the game of baseball and then sets about trying to come up with sound ways to answer those questions. A number of his creations have made their way into the daily conversation about the game. Runs Created, Pythagorean Winning Percentage, and Secondary Average are examples of his work that continue to inform analysis. But, don’t think Bill James books read like some math book. Clearly, statistical analysis is critical but his writing is much more than that. His writing is often humorous, sometimes irreverent, but always committed to conveying the thoughts of a serious man who has formed ideas and opinions based on serious reflection and study. If I haven’t convinced you to check out one his baseball books maybe I can interest you in checking out the latest by Bill James, a true-crime book Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence. You see James is not only a leading expert on baseball but he is also a long-time devoted student of popular crime and criminals. He brings the same kind of careful study and analysis to famous crimes from around the world. James shares his thoughts and informed opinions to understanding what turns some crimes into sensational crimes, why we are fascinated with crime, as well as his thoughts on the guilt or innocence of the famous and the infamous. Bill James is clearly an important Kansan. I urge you to take some time to learn more about the work of this important author. I think you’ll be glad you did.