Bill James Historical Abstract
The Bill James Historical Abstract is the best-known baseball book written by Bill James. It encompasses much of what he learned over years of publishing his annual Baseball Abstracts, with a focus on the history of the game and its evolution since it was first played in the second half of the 19th century, whereas the Abstracts were focussed on the past and coming seasons.
Two editions were written by James, the first in 1985 and the second in 2001, entitled The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, with significant changes between the two. The structure remained similar between the two editions, however, with a historical section describing each decade, and another ranking the best players to play each position. The players are ranked based on their production according to metrics such as runs created. Many of the articles on individual players are used as excuses to explore analytical concepts that James has introduced over the years such as the "favorite toy" (a method to calculate how likely a player is to reach a distant milestone); similarity scores; secondary average (what a player contributes that is not reflected in his batting average); and the "Hall of Fame monitor" and "Keltner test" (methods to evaluate a player's likelihood of being voted into the Hall of Fame). The second edition introduced the concept of win shares, on which James had worked for a number of years.
The book is filled with breezy analysis and acerbic wit, and items that are simply fun, such as lists of Dickensian player names from various eras, and a section of quotes from old ballplayers decrying how the game has degenerated beyond repair since they retired, etc.
The books have had a large impact on literate baseball fans, changing the way many fans view various old-time players.