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With that, James stopped publishing the Abstract. But he didn't stop writing. In 1990, he introduced The Baseball Book, which focused on player profiles. With its uncharacteristic cover-teaser subtitle "How the Hall of Fame really works," 1994's Politics of Glory was his first full-length analysis of an institution. A Guide to Baseball Managers followed in 1997, and 2002's Win Shares exhaustively introduced a measure of player performance. The antidote to the dizzying numerical parade of Win Shares -- and, perhaps, the definitive proof that James is a great writer regardless of genre -- is 1989's This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones, a virtually stat-free collection of essays culled from the Abstracts (many of which have been long out of print).
Bones' centerpiece is the eighty-page "History of Being a Kansas City Baseball Fan," which ranges from his unconditional support of the unimaginably awful A's teams he followed as a child to the 1985 Royals, to whom he pays tribute with game-by-game mini-essays on that year's World Series. But the most compelling passages might be the ones that digress from the game entirely.
"By some bizarre trick of fate, this area has been chosen in the nation's consciousness to represent Nowhere -- an ugly, barren, empty square space from which people come but do not return," he writes. "In movies, people who come from nowhere come from Kansas. Through carelessness, callousness, indifference to the truth, these people adopt, repeat and perpetuate a set of images about small-time life that is nothing but a stack of filthy lies.
"Because of this treatment," he continues, "Kansas City is somewhat of a self-conscious city. This is to put it mildly. They are anxious to see how they will be reflected in the press attention. They are so anxious about this that they make fools of themselves. It is acutely embarrassing at times; visiting press people are shanghaied into television interviews to reveal their feelings about being in Kansas City.... The city's image would improve a lot if they would just accept themselves for what they are, and stop handing out malarkey about how many miles of boulevard they have."
Willing to debate any topic related even tangentially to baseball, James has described himself in print as an "argumentative cuss," but he shows little interest in marketing himself that way. Subtitles such as "The greatest teams of all time" and "A complete guide to the best, worst and most memorable players to ever grace the major leagues" might liven up his front covers -- if they didn't already adorn Baseball Dynasties and Big Book of Baseball Lineups, two books from former James assistant and current ESPN columnist Rob Neyer.
"Those subtitles were invented by my publishers and editors, but I didn't mind them," Neyer says. "People like to have a hook to grab. If I had Bill's name and his history in publishing, I wouldn't worry about such things. I don't, so I do worry about them. Baseball fans are just crazy about rankings and lists and arguments. When we published my all-time teams at ESPN.com, it generated an immense amount of attention. I heard from people all around the country that local sports-radio stations were talking about my teams in that city. There's no better way to get attention and sell books than to tell people you're going to pick the best of something or the worst of something."