The first time I read a book by Bill James, I jumped out of my bathtub, and ran down the street naked and wet. After that moment, I obsessively read every word that Bill James wrote. I have read all his published books multiple times, including the Abstracts back to 1977 and “This time let’s not eat the bones”. The only publications I have not read are: the latest Gold Mine and various articles he had written for magazines and compilations (Baseball Analysts and the like). If anyone has copies of those articles, please let me know.
As soon as I heard Bill James had an online website, I reached for my wife’s credit card. Well, I say ‘wife’, but really it’s an 80 year old neighbor who always forgets to double lock her door. Anyway, the intention here is to provide some information to anyone considering paying $9 per 3 month subscription to join the Bill James online site.
As soon as I provided credit card information, an onerous disclaimer agreement came up, asking for my acceptance. These legal documents always pop up when you are anxious to use software or a website, and you were sure the transaction was already complete. I read every word written in these documents, on very rare occasions. This was one of those rare occasions.
One part of the document stated that no ‘offensive’ material can be posted on this website. Eh? This is a Bill James website. The same Bill James that wrote, “Rick Cerone is more or less to catching as Thurman Munson is to aviation”. Not offensive? Hey buddy, part of the reason I read Bill James is that he doesn’t hold back. Also in this document was strong language regarding not sharing information and limiting written posts. This ‘agreement’ was completely unacceptable to me. So, I clicked ‘accept’ and continued on to the site.
On the site there are 49 Bill James written articles and columns. These are the main reason I joined, and I poured through them with great enjoyment. Let me explain my expectations for the website:
Level 1: his most dedicated work, for the Red Sox is confidential. This includes any work that analyzes how a team wins and builds a winner in MLB. How does a team evaluate trades and drafts, current players and teams in a way that gives a team an edge over another. All of this work would presumably fall under confidentiality and is owned by the Red Sox. It is also the most interesting subject for fans. Level 1 work most likely will never be seen by the public, which is just sad.
Level 2: His meta work on baseball history and baseball analysis other than Red Sox work. This includes Win Shares and Gold Mine type work, and is meant for publication. You pay for this separately, it doesn’t come with the subscription price of the website.
Level 3: The dregs of his articles. This is what I expected from the online work (I do not pretend to know his work schedule at all, I’m just guessing). The stuff he does after he plays with his kids and family events, after he sends out emails, paints the dog – or whatever. The online work even has basketball and other non-baseball work.
The articles are very entertaining and well written, absolutely. I would read a grocery list that Bill James jot on a napkin. To me, the online articles are Level 3. The topics are about past players like Blyleven, and potential rating systems in their early stages. If you are a big Bill James fan, the 49 articles and columns will be worth the $9. Keep in mind that only one article has been added in the past 4 weeks (sine Feb 11), so it might not be updated frequently enough to be worth the subscription. If you read Bill James books and want more of his writing, these articles are for you. They are like DVD extras for the books – bloopers and cut out scenes.
Also included on the website:
1) articles by others. Not many here, and I wasn’t interested in this anyway. You can find others’ work elsewhere for ‘free’.
2) Stats and data displays for each current player. Some of these are interesting, but the players have to be chosen one at a time – which is cumbersome. These are baseball lists, like in a book appendix, put on a website one player a page. He could have used a computer programmer to display this data in a manner more consistent with the internet. Some stats are meaningless Elias or Baseball Digest type stuff.
3) “Ask Bill James”. Bill (Mr. James?) answers questions from the public. This is currently the most frequently updated section, and is quite entertaining – even when Bill refuses to answer the question.
4) polls and arguments. Frankly, lame. This has potential, but so far a miss.
Conclusion: if you are not a big Bill James fan, there is no good reason to pay for this site. If you are a big fan, you should consider joining, after you finish reading all his books. In the meantime, I will keep looking for his RedSox work to show up on Wikileaks.
I think this kid owns the Red Sox or is Theo Epstein, I don’t know.
The Baseball Abstracts pic at the top of the article is from the excellent baseball website Baseball Analysts.