By Dan Schlossberg
Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, who famously refused to watch movies because he wanted to protect his eyesight, also offered an opinion on what to do when baseball season ended.
“I’ll look out the window and wait for spring,” he said.
Unfortunately for him, Hornsby did not live in the computer age – or have access to the biggest, baddest, baseball reference book of all time.
That would be The Bill James Handbook, featuring Shohei Ohtani on the cover and a whopping 634 pages of all the baseball information even the most ardent fan would want.
In addition to year-by-year stats of all players who made even a fleeting appearance in the bigs last season, it contains career targets, win shares, managerial tendencies, analysis of team performance, ballpark factors, 2022 statistical projections for every player, batter rankings, fielding awards, and even sections on openers, RBI percentages, possible 300-game winners, and prospective future Hall of Famers.
A fat paperback produced by the marriage of Baseball Info Solutions and ACTA Publications, this book is a bargain – a big one – at $29.95. Study it carefully and surprising stats leap off the page: Will Smith, author of 11 scoreless innings for Atlanta in the 2021 postseason, suffered seven losses and six blown saves during the regular season while allowing 11 home runs in 68 innings.
In baseball, as in life, timing is everything.
And so it is with The Bill James Handbook. Invariably the first book released other than the “quickie” World Series magazines produced by Sports Illustrated and newspapers in the winning city, it comes out the minute the World Series ends – on November 2 this year. But it doesn’t miss a beat, apparently because the publisher employs a proofreading staff as stingy with typos as the Braves bullpen is with runs allowed.
James, widely considered the father of analytics, is a former mathematics professor who established such a niche as an irreverent, numbers-driven sportswriter that he held a key role in the front office of the Boston Red Sox before leaving to concentrate on publishing. The book bearing his name has just published its 33rd edition.
Want to know who’s the best hitter on the planet? James has a response in one of several bylined essays in the book. Think anyone’s got a shot at 300 wins? Mark Simon, another major contributor to the 2022 edition, gives the odds while also offering a tongue-in-cheek writing style that entertains as well as educates the reader.
If I were allowed just one baseball book to buy for the holidays, this would be it. Packed with stats and stories, there are no pictures between the covers – and that makes it even better.
In an era where team and league media guides are going digital, the Bill James Handbook is the last of the great dinosaurs. And I’m thrilled – personally and professionally – that it is still strutting its stuff.
The $29.95 paperback is available from actasports.com
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has written or co-authored 39 baseball books, including the 2021 World Championship edition of When the Braves Ruled the Diamond, a Sports Publishing release due in January. He covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and Here’s The Pitch. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.