Book of the Month: Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?

This is the first post in what will become a monthly feature.  Each month I will briefly review a sports book, giving a quick summary of its strengths and weaknesses.  This month’s book is the same one mentioned in yesterday’s post, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? by Bill James.

This book has all of the strengths and weaknesses of an ordinary Bill James book.  James excels at asking interesting questions and finding unusual but sensible ways to bring data to bear in order to find an answer.  When discussing the Hall of Fame, most writers spend their entire time discussing who should be in, with little discussion of why particular players really are in.  James attempts to do both and generally succeeds.  He develops statistics that are good predictors of who will and will not be elected to the Hall.  He also discusses the organizational and political factors that have influenced individual elections.  In doing this backwards-oriented discussion, he makes a number of powerful arguments about players that have been overlooked by the Hall and players already in that were poor decisions.

On the other hand, James has no sense of organization.  Given the range, detail, and rigor with which he approaches each question asked, it is surprising that the book has no discernible organizing principle.  It reads like a collection of articles all vaguely on the Hall of Fame, yet it is not.  This lack of organization makes it more suitable to be referred in portions than to be read straight through.  One final issue:  the book is 15 years old.  While that does not affect many of the arguments James writes, it does dramatically change discussions of who should be elected.  As yesterday’s post made clear, many of James’ top contenders are now in.  It would be interesting to read a new update to see how that has changed his thoughts.

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