The Royals aren't putting on much of a show for their guest, dropping the first game and trailing in the second. A rain delay between the two has thinned the already sparse weekday crowd.
After almost eight hours of ballpark beers, many of the rooters near the visiting team's dugout are alarmingly inebriated. Most of them have taken to repeatedly yelling the name of the Indians' Coco Crisp. Younger fans, following their example, swarm the barrier between the stands and the field every other half-inning, serenading the incoming outfielder with cries of "Mr. Crisp! Mr. Crisp!"
James was initially amused by Crisp, but he's moved on to other name games.
In the second inning of the first game, James added Crisp and teammate Milton Bradley to his running list of corporate-friendly monikers, where they joined former Pittsburgh Pirate R.J. Reynolds.
This triggered a spin-off discussion about players who use initials, including current Royal D.J. Carasco and former KC shortstop U.L. Washington.
After exhausting that topic, James moved on to assigning descriptive acronyms to players' surnames. Joe Randa: "Runs average, nice defensive asset." Jason Grimsley, who always seems to end up with a losing record: "Good reliever in many situations, loses every year." Sean Lowe gets the windup-descriptive "Leads off with elbow." Raul Ibañez: "Individual batting average never establishes zip."
Batting average, long considered the most important indicator of a baseball player's offensive prowess, means little unless it's combined with on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In 2003, that's common knowledge. But 26 years ago, when James published the first edition of his esoteric little Baseball Abstract, the theory was thrillingly blasphemous. It wasn't just controversial; it was incontrovertible. James was puzzled when baseball insiders didn't immediately rush to embrace his findings.
"I thought that if I proved convincingly that X was a stupid thing to do, that people would stop doing X," he says. "I was wrong. People would just keep saying X."
This frustration would build over twelve more years and twelve more Abstracts, finally reaching its peak in James' final installment in 1988. In an essay titled "Breakin' the Wand," he explained all of the reasons why he wasn't going to publish any more Abstracts. Fans were stupid, teams were stupider, and everyone was perverting the meaning of his numbers.
"It's a wonderful thing to know that you are right and the world is wrong," he wrote.
Lately, though, the world has started to come around. James' work has changed the way baseball is discussed, written about, managed and played. He has written sixteen books, including several best sellers. Some of his former assistants have become respected baseball experts, and some of his most savvy followers now run major league teams.
Last November, after years of acting as baseball's most brilliant outsider, James landed a front-office job with a major league team -- but not his beloved Royals. James is now the senior baseball operations advisor to the Boston Red Sox, despite the fact that he still lives in Kansas -- just an hour's drive from the large, yellow-block school where he first dared to tell a baseball team it was acting inefficiently.
The James family's roots in Kansas stretch back several generations. The family cemetery was the first in Jackson County, Kansas, where the earliest graves are marked from the 1830s. "It's likely that [the earliest] marker was put there to commemorate someone who had died years earlier in another place," James says, demonstrating his willingness to question even evidence etched in stone. "Our general understanding is that my family came here from Kentucky to get out of the way of the Civil War."