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James placed a 1-inch ad for his initial Abstract in The Sporting News and devised a title long enough to fill the space: The book's full name became 1977 Baseball Abstract: Featuring 18 Categories of Statistical Information That You Just Can't Find Anywhere Else. Seventy-five people were intrigued enough to send a check to his Lawrence address. The 1978 installment, titled The 2nd Annual Edition of Baseball's Most Informative and Imaginative Review, sold 250 copies. By 1979, writing the Abstract had become his full-time job.
One of James' first disciples was Sports Illustrated writer Dan Okrent, who bought a 1977 Abstract and pitched a story about James to his publication. The feature died in the fact-checking phase when James' assertions, though backed by hard evidence, were red-penned one by one. A year later, the piece was resurrected, and James' exposure increased exponentially. James had never tried to sell his writing to a publisher, but in 1982 a representative from Ballantine Books approached him about buying the Baseball Abstract. He consented, and the book became a best seller.
This was a mixed blessing. James' fanbase, once small but intellectually ambitious, swelled to include novices and fantasy-baseball players who snatched up the Abstract each year to prepare for their simulated seasons. Both groups diluted the level of discourse. At the same time, the people who ran major league teams finally noticed his work. But instead of contacting him with job offers, they fumed about his findings.
Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson called him "a little fat guy with a beard who knows nothing about nothing." Sportswriters damned him with titles he found even less flattering. Referring to Anderson's comment in his Historical Baseball Abstract (a thoroughly revised version of which came out this spring), James deadpanned that "it sure beats being described as the guru of baseball statistics." Ever the stickler for detail, he also pointed out that Anderson was 7 inches shorter than he.
But the personal tone and shoddy content of some of the criticism rattled James. In the 1982 Abstract, the fed-up writer lashed out at opponents of his range factor, brutally dissecting complaint letters.
"Most of [the letters] are useful mostly to illustrate what a horrible intellectual stew men can serve up and swallow when they decide not to let careful analysis intrude of their prejudices," he wrote. "They dress up their prejudices with asinine analogies and irrelevant objections and then expect me to ignore these things so that we can have a dialogue as equals. And that is why I am being so harsh; I am just tired. I am tired of the intellectual standards of the field being what they are."
James was also tired of teams' maddening inability to embrace approaches that would increase their winning percentages. He began blasting the general managers he considered willfully incompetent.
"If the people who run the Cleveland Indians were in charge of foreign policy, I'd enroll in night school and start studying Slavic languages," he wrote in the 1984 Abstract. "There is something sad, something almost sinister about the ineptitude that guides the Minnesota Twins," he wrote in 1987.