Amazin' Avenue Book Club: Moneyball, Chapter Four

If Chris Young is indeed signed, the Mets would be represented by five of the eight Ivy League schools:

  • Harvard -- Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta
  • Dartmouth -- Sandy Alderson
  • Princeton -- Chris Young
  • Columbia -- Gary Cohen
  • Yale -- Ron Darling

To carry the flag for Penn, Mark DeRosa or the retired Doug Glanville could be signed. For Cornell, there's Jon Daniels. And for Brown, maybe the Mets can hire a psychology PhD or something. Here is Chapter Four: Field Of Ignorance.

Chapter Four's alternate title could be "The Story Of Bill James" or "The Assassination Of Bill James By The Coward Elias Sports Bureau". A cynical, arrogant and intelligent man named Bill James starts researching and writing about baseball in the late 1970s. He goes on to become the face of sabermetrics, the analysis of baseball through objective evidence.

The chapter focuses on James's groundbreaking research and his struggle to gain acceptance in the mainstream baseball community. He ruffles some feathers with his studies on clutch hitting, in-game strategy and other concepts long thought understood by the establishment. As the audience for his annual "Abstract" increases, his critics increase in number and intensity. He is viewed as an "outsider", and his valuable work is largely ignored by the "insiders". James becomes angrier and more frustrated. A couple excerpts from his final 1988 Baseball Abstract:

I am encountering more and more of my own readers that I don't even like, nitwits who glom onto something superficial in the book and misunderstand its underlying message.... Whereas I used to write one 'Dear Jackass' letter a year, I now write maybe thirty.

And one of my favorite James lines:

It is a wonderful thing to know that you are right and the world is wrong.

Who among us has never felt that way?

What James didn't realize is that Sandy Alderson had read all of the Abstracts. The Oakland A's were familiar with his work and expanded upon it using their own team of researchers. And as many already know, James was eventually hired by the Red Sox and now has a pair of World Series rings.

Other sabermetric innovators and proponents are covered in Chapter Four, including Branch Rickey, Allan Roth, Earnshaw Cook, Eddie Epstein, Dick Cramer, Pete Palmer, Rob Neyer, Craig Wright and Dan Okrent. Let's go to the discussion questions.

Mets-centric appearances/mentions in Chapter Four:

  • N/A

Discussion questions:

1. Have you read any of Bill James's work? Love him, hate him, or somewhere in between?

2. Who are your favorite saber-inclined writers?

3. James writes (as conveyed by Michael Lewis in Chapter Four):

I think, really, that this is one reason that so many intelligent people drift away from baseball (when they come of age), that if you care about it at all you have to realize, as soon as you acquire a taste for independent thought, that a great portion of the sport's traditional knowledge is ridiculous hokum.

I disagree with this -- the more I learn about the game the more I love it. But maybe he's right. What do you think?

4. Do you use the acronym "SABR" (Society Of American Baseball Research) interchangeably with "saber"?

5. Bill James's wife says in Chapter Four that if she knew the extent of Bill's baseball obsession when they started dating, their relationship might not have gotten very far. Without getting too specific, has baseball (or sports in general) obsession interfered with a close relationship? Has it aided a relationship?

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