King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Bill James belongs in the Hall of Fame. Plus: Nets need Richard Jefferson, stat! And: The perfect coach for Sacramento.


Salon Staff
May 10, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

Time magazine's inclusion of Bill James in its annual "Time 100: The People Who Shape Our World" feature this week has got me thinking: Bill James belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, who wrote the magazine's brief profile of his employee, quotes another employee, Sox general manager Theo Epstein, talking about James: "He was an outsider, self-publishing invisible truths about baseball while the Establishment ignored him. Now 25 years later, his ideas have become part of the foundation of baseball strategy."

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James, 56, changed the way we understand baseball in fundamental ways. When you watch a game and you see a player's on-base percentage and slugging average flashed on the screen or the scoreboard, you're seeing James' influence. As recently as 10 years ago, those stats never appeared outside baseball-wonk circles.

When you mention a pitcher's strikeout rate, note sagely that sacrifice bunts are a waste of precious outs or ask if a hitter's stats are inflated by his home ballpark, you're talking with Bill James' voice.

First in his annual "Baseball Abstract" books, which began as a self-published series, and later with books such as "The Politics of Glory" -- now retitled "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?" -- and "The New Bill James Historical Abstract," James has had as great an influence on the game as any single thinker since Branch Rickey.

Former union chief Marvin Miller -- who also belongs in the Hall of Fame -- and former Kansas City and Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley have left as great a mark on the business issues that surround the game, as have current commissioner Bud Selig and '60s outfielder Curt Flood, a pioneer in the fight for players' rights.

But James' influence is closer to the field of play. The Red Sox, A's and Toronto Blue Jays are all organizations that are explicitly run with what can be called a Jamesian philosophy, which James called sabermetrics, after the Society for American Baseball Research's acronym.

Many other teams have adopted at least some of his ideas. "Moneyball," probably the most important baseball book of the past 20 years, tells the story of how the A's put James' concepts to work in building a contender in the early years of this decade.

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James isn't eligible for the Hall of Fame yet. A person has to have been a major league player, manager, umpire or executive for 10 years to become eligible. James is in his fourth year with the Red Sox as a senior baseball operations advisor. So he'd have to stick around for six more before the Veterans Committee could vote him in.

That committee votes every four years, and the earliest it could consider James would be in 2015, provided he stays with the Sox through 2012. I have no idea how it would vote on James if he came up in the next election, next year, and no one can know what the politics of glory will be nine years down the road.

But James has done enough for enshrinement even if he spends the next six years with his feet on his desk. He's analogous to Henry Chadwick, the 19th century baseball chronicler you learned about if you read Alan Schwarz's excellent "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics."

Here's an excerpt from the Hall of Fame's bio of Chadwick, who was enshrined in 1938: "Henry Chadwick influenced the game by wielding a pen, not a bat. A renowned journalist, he developed the modern box score, introduced statistics such as batting average and ERA, wrote numerous instructional manuals on the game, and edited multiple baseball guides."

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Not an exact parallel, given the vastly different eras the men lived in, but pretty similar.

I asked James if he thinks he might be Cooperstown material, but he said it would be "totally inappropriate for me to comment." So I turned to his former assistant, ESPN baseball columnist Rob Neyer.

"Of COURSE Bill James belongs in the Hall of Fame," Neyer wrote in an e-mail. "This just strikes me as ridiculously self-evident. And you're right, Chadwick is the perfect analogue."

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Is there a Salon Hall of Fame? [PERMALINK]

Browsing around the "Time 100" I discovered former Salon art director Caterina Fake named as one of the people who shape our world, along with her husband, Stewart Butterfield.

Fake and Butterfield founded the photo-sharing juggernaut Flickr.

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If I'd known she was going to shape our world, I'd have been nicer to her.

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Nets to Jefferson: Get well soon [PERMALINK]

New Jersey Nets forward Richard Jefferson is listed as doubtful for Game 2 Wednesday night against the Miami Heat with an anklebone bruise. Jefferson rolled his ankle while driving across the lane in Game 1 Monday.

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Even though the Nets dominated that game on the way to a 100-88 win that wasn't as close as the score, Jersey had better hope their second-leading scorer isn't out for long even if he can't go Wednesday night.

The Nets offense isn't a well-oiled machine at the best of times. On Monday it had a disturbing tendency to devolve to "Let's throw it to Lamond Murray standing in the corner unguarded so he can heave up a three."

Murray, a career 36-percent shooter who hit 34.6 percent this year -- league average: 35.9 percent -- launched a season-high eight treys, making two of them.

There may have been a reason my fellow sturdy Golden Bear was standing there unguarded.

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Perfect man for the Kings job [PERMALINK]

The Sacramento Kings need a new coach. Lucky for them, there's a great one suddenly on the market, a guy who's had success everywhere he's gone.

This coach has taken his teams to the playoffs 14 times in 16 seasons. The other two years were when he took over a team a year after it had won 26 games. He won 36 and 30 games there, got fired, and watched the club lose 19 games the following year.

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In his first job he took over a team that had ambled along for a decade or so as a 45-game winner and first-round playoff loser. In his first full season, the team won 59 games and went to the NBA Finals. The next season, the club won 63 and lost in the semis. The year after that, 57 wins and another trip to the Finals.

In his latest job he's averaged 53 wins a year in nonstrike years and in eight seasons his team has never missed the playoffs. If you want to find the last eight times the franchise went to the playoffs before this guy took over, you have to go back 39 years and two relocations.

This guy's last team never made the NBA Finals, despite having Finals-level talent for a couple of years, though not in these last two or three. That failure is pretty much why he's out of a job.

You're way ahead of me. It's Rick Adelman, fired by the Maloof brothers, the Kings owners, on Tuesday for failing to get this bunch past the defending champions in the first round.

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If there's a coach out there who could have gotten this year's Kings past the San Antonio Spurs, the Kings should hire him. If there's one who could have gotten this Kings team to the first round, the Kings should hire him.

Actually, there is one, and the Kings just fired him.

Previous column: Shaq and the refs

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