Bill James

1978 Baseball Abstract

Bill James

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A first edition copy of the book that changed baseball — Bill James's second Baseball Annual, one of just 250 copies.

  • Bill James (American).
  • 1978 Baseball Abstract: The 2nd Annual Edition of Baseball's Most Informative and Imaginative Review.
  • Lawrence, KS: Bill James, 1978.
  • 115 pages.
  • Bound in original stab-stapled printed green wrappers, xerographically reproduced throughout.

In 1977 when James published the first installment in his long-running series of abstracts, he would have seemed an unlikely candidate to change the very game he was writing about. A worker at a pork and beans factory, James photocopied a small edition of (the cover proclaimed) "Statistical Information That You Just Can't Find Anywhere Else." He offered them for sale via the classified ads of The Sporting News, and sold only about 75 copies. Of this seemingly inauspicious beginning, Michael Lewis would later write: "[H]ad he left off writing in 1977, James would have been dismissed as just another crank [...] It didn't occur to him to be disappointed by the sale of seventy-five copies; he was encouraged [...] In 1978, James came out with a second book [...] Word had spread this time: 250 people bought a copy [...] James's pen was now an unstoppable force."

And though it took more than a decade, the force of James's writing and his sheer statistical might slowly gathered a group of adherents both inside and out of professional baseball. Outside pro ball, James's approach helped launch the fantasy sports era with the popularity of Rotisserie Baseball, a game almost impossible to imagine without James. More importantly, within baseball a small number of coaches, scouts, managers and executives began experimenting with James's almost pure reliance on statistics (and not baseball's more traditionally semi-superstitious ways). This embrace of his strategy culminated most famously in the Oakland A's GM Billy Beane's remarkable run utilizing James "sabermetric" methods—leading the team to the postseason for four consecutive years (2000 through 2003) on one of baseball's lowest total salaries—a story made famous by Michael Lewis's bestselling book Moneyball (and its subsequent film adaptation starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman).

James's approach would go on to have a huge impact even beyond the world of sports, with "moneyball" eventually entering the broader lexicon for any deeply statistical and evidenced-based approach that also runs counter to prevailing wisdom. As the new century progressed, a wide range of fields and figures—from those betting against the housing market (topic of another Michael Lewis book), to the political polling of figures like Nate Silver and the GTO strategies of professional poker, as well as a seemingly infinite number of Silicon Valley startups looking to "moneyball [fill in the blank]"—would evidence James's telltale fingerprints. He and Baseball Abstract have gone on to influence economists, physicists, mathematicians and other bestselling books like Freakonomics, which appeared just two years after Moneyball.

As the Abstract became more popular in subsequent years, James did reprints of this and the 1977 edition (both with the word "REPRINT" prominently displayed on the covers). However, original printings of the first two installments remain truly rare. Indeed, the rarity of these early abstracts can be measured by the fact that not only does OCLC not show any holdings for either the 1977 or 1978 editions (including the reprints), but none for the 1979 or 1980 editions as well. It is not until the 1981 installment (the last James published himself before its acquisition by Ballantine) that we find a record in OCLC—a single copy at The Strong National Museum of Play.

Condition Report

Star iconVery Good
Like New

Toning to edges.

Some light soil and edgewear.


Height: 11 inches / 27.94 cm
Width: 8.5 inches / 21.59 cm


First Edition




Sport, Economics, Americana

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