Former independent writer turned revolutionary Bill James, who is now a part of the Boston Red Sox Front Office, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Bill and I discuss Mark McGwire, his own potential website, parody in sports, and more. Below you will hear the words of one of the most important people (if not THE) ever to study and analyze the game of baseball. His Baseball Abstracts are now historical texts to be read as the works of a baseball genius. You pan purchase the Bill James Handbook 2007 here, which is always an annual must-have.
Pat Andriola: How has Nomar's value changed since his departure from Boston and his switch to first base? That is, how does he compare to the player he was in his prime?
Bill James: Well, I wouldn't want to say anything that was disrespectful of Nomar, who is still a great player. As a player ages he loses some offensive value and some defensive value. Most players lose more defense than they do offense, and, with the injuries Nomar has had, certainly that has been true of him. Offensively, he's not that far away from where he was seven or eight years ago.
Pat Andriola: Where would you have pegged Mark McGwire's chances of going in to the Hall on the first ballot had he not been implicated in the steroids controversy? Given the circumstances, can you make any guesses about what will happen with McGwire in future elections? What is your opinion on the situation, and do you think he is being treated fairly?
Bill James: McGwire, even leaving out the steroids issue, does not have a career that fits the traditional pattern of an obvious Hall of Famer. He wasn't a .300 hitter, or anything close. He doesn't have 200-hit seasons. He's nowhere near 3,000 hits. He didn't have a series of 8 or 10 consecutive outstanding seasons, as most Hall of Famers did. He only had about 7 healthy seasons in his career, and he stunk in a couple of those. No, he hasn't been treated fairly. Questions are asked of him that are not being asked of other Hall of Famers, and there is really no reason for it. McGwire tried all of his career to be a credit to the game, to be someone that we could all look up to. He isn't being judged by the standard that I would choose for him, but then, it isn't my choice, and there is no logic to admiring athletes, anyway. It's just arbitrary. It's like admiring people who won the lottery.
Pat Andriola: If you were Willie Randolph in the beginning of 2006, would you have started Jose Reyes in the leadoff spot, coming off OBP years of .271 and .300? What would your Mets batting order have been?
Bill James: Oh, I don't know. Reyes is a phenomenal talent. What order you put the players in makes very little difference. I don't know what the optimal order was there.
Pat Andriola: Have you considered starting a blog or website of your own?
Bill James: Not a blog, no, but a web site, yes. Based around information.
Pat Andriola: Omar Minaya signed Tony Pena's son, Francisco Pena, to a multi-million dollar deal at the age of 16. He has also signed young, international players such as Fernando Martinez and Deolis Guerra. Just this month, he was promoting baseball in Ghana. What do you think of Minaya's determination to gather prospects from around the world, and at ages where they should be starting to study for their SAT's?
Bill James: You're mixing up several issues in a jumbled question. Omar Minaya's record can speak for itself; I don't need to comment on that. The players he has signed. . .only time will tell us whether that works out; I don't have any idea. We all sign players from all over the globe at ages when, were they in the US, they might be preparing for college. But you need to understand: many of these kids are signed from places where there is no> public school system. Talking about these kids going to college, in many cases, is like talking about their sprouting wings and flying to Australia. Their chance of going to college is zero percent.
(Pat Andriola: Just to clarify, I didn't make my question clear enough. I intended to use the SAT phrase as another way of showing how young these players and not at all condemning MLB teams for scouting young players and possible "stealing" away their possible education, which I know is non-existant. However, Bill does make a very good point about how desperate these kids are to play baseball, as they have little to fall back on.)
Pat Andriola: After spending decades as an independent (to say the least) baseball writer, how has being a member of the Red Sox front office affected your perspective on the game?
Bill James: Well, I learn a lot. I'm working hard to try to understand the things that other people in the organization know, but I'll never really get there in some areas. The scouts see things about the game, things about the players, that I try to see, but I am way behind and have limited ability to catch up. A lot of decisions in baseball are made on the basis of things that you never think about as a fan. The internal discussion of the front office is vastly more sophisticated than the discussion that takes place in the public arena, more subtle, more layered, more complex, and with hundred of times more information. This doesn't mean that we make better decisions; sometimes we make worse decisions.
Pat Andriola: The St. Louis Cardinals had an 82-Pythagorean-win season last year, but went on to win the World Series. Are there any changes to the system that could make it less of a chance affair, and would you want to make those changes if you could?
Bill James: I'm not a great fan of the Wild Card. But it is tremendously important, for the health of the sport, that the best team doesn't always win. That's the real problem with the NBA. . .the best team is going to win in the long run, and everybody knows it. The season becomes a long, crushing battle in which, ultimately, you have no chance to escape justice. . .as opposed to college basketball, which is vastly more exciting, simply because you never know who will win, and therefore have to do everything you can do to maximize your chance. In the NBA you don't really HAVE a chance to win, if you're not one of the two or three best teams, and everybody knows this on some level. . .therefore, why play hard, why dive for the ball on the floor, why fight for the rebound, why sacrifice your body to score a point, when you ultimately can't win. No sport can survive if the best team always wins.