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The Red Sox' Stat Man And The Numbers Game

Bill James Tells 60 Minutes Mets' David Wright Would Be A Top Pick On His Dream Team

In 1977, the night watchman became so confident of his theories that he published them. The "Bill James Baseball Abstract" was born; it was 68 pages, mimeographed and stapled, and there was even an advertising campaign.

"Did you have a hard time convincing people of what is the basic truth of baseball?" Safer asks.

"I was a night watchman. I was working in a factory in Kansas. I didn't have a prayer of convincing people who had been in baseball for 40 years that I understood something that they didn't. Nor reasonably should I. I mean, it wouldn't have made sense for them to listen to me and they didn't," James says.

But James did gain a following that kept growing, and by 1982 a major publisher had signed him up.

"He's actually the pioneer of a whole school of thought," says NBC commentator Bob Costas, who is a true believer.

"It changed the way I looked at baseball. The idea that the most important hitting statistics are on base percentage or slugging percentage…it seems simple. But, basic baseball statistics hadn't taken that into account," Costas says.

Costas says James debunked of many of baseball's myths, like the old belief that pitchers prevented stolen bases. James proved it was the catcher who made the difference.

Some other theories seemed unsupportable, like James' dictum that there is no such thing as a clutch hitter, or that batting order has no significance. But his numbers did show that the sacrifice bunt is rarely worth the out, and that the use of the so-called "closer" is a wasted pitching resource.

"Why does your closer only have to pitch the ninth inning?" Costas asks. "Bill has said for a long time, 'Why wouldn't you bring in your best reliever with the tying or go ahead runs in scoring position and the best hitter for the other club coming up in the sixth inning or the seventh inning?' Maybe the game turns right there."

Costas says the key to Bill James' success is his simply expressed logic. "He writes very well. And, he's funny," Costas says. "Bill James is a very, very smart guy. Who doesn't just understand information, but, he's shown people a different way of interpreting that information."

Though James' abstracts became bestsellers, and he became the "voice of God" to baseball geeks everywhere, Major League Baseball was slow to appreciate him. When James claimed that legendary manager Sparky Anderson was more lucky than talented, Sparky shot back that James was "a fat little bearded man who knows nothing about nothing."

His ideas were finally put into practice in 1997, when Billy Beane of the hapless Oakland A's used sabermetrics to fill his roster with young, underrated, cheaper players. It made the A's competitive.

In 2002, the new management of the Boston Red Sox came calling on Bill James, ready to try anything to break the 86-year-old curse. Two of the partners, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, proclaimed James was part of a grand design-that the team would not be "your father's Red Sox."