Bill James in Esquire Magazine

In the April edition of Esquire, Chris Jones (who replaced Charles Pierce at the magazine) has an interesting piece on Bill James. Jones gives as good of a behind-the-scenes look at the enigmatic sabermetrician as I’ve read. In the story, Jones reveals many tidbits, including facts like Norman Mailer was one of James’ first 75 Baseball Abstract subscribers, his other passion is true crime, and that he has 150 new stats that he has devised but still hasn’t found the time to write about.

In case you aren’t a reader of Esquire, you are missing out, as it’s the best monthly magazine on my list. Esquire‘s content falls somewhere between The New Yorker and Maxim, with its writing being of the former’s quality without the pretension while providing provacative photos of beautiful women, like the latter — only these women are not posed for a 14-year-old boy’s taste.

The April cover-shot of Rosario Dawson is a picture I can’t seem to take my eyes off. Unlike every fashion magazine, which sports an anorexic model, this issue of Esquire portrays Dawson at her most thick and juicy. I’m not trying to say she is just a piece of meat, but if she was on the menu at Morton’s, there would be a line around the block to get in. Sadly, the magazine does have a short piece celebrating the female body part of the month, the hipbone. I’ve been with women who are so skinny that they’ve had exposed hipbones, and let me say that I’m no fan, as bodies rubbing together are not aided by this protrusion. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the piece was written by a woman, as other women are the biggest perpetuators of skinny chic. Give me Rosario Dawson, with her Vanessa Del Rio charms.

The stars of Esquire are the writers. The best pop-culture columnist, Chuck Klosterman, weighs in every issue. Writers-at-large Tom Junod, Tom Chiarella, Mike Sager, Cal Fussman, Scott Raab, and A.J. Jacobs are tops in their field. I should note that Raab was my freshman rhetoric teacher at the University of Iowa, but I can guarantee you that I’m not biased toward him. He was a lousy teacher who would give better grades out to 18-year-old sorority girls than other students who had a talent for writing. (Hm, who do you think I’m talking about?) He was your typical graduate student in the Writer’s Workshop, filled with an unhealthy sense of self-worth. I really wanted to hate Raab when he was hired at Esquire, but the guy is very talented. Between 2002 and 2004, I doubt there was a better feature writer than Raab.

While I appreciate the opportunities that the web offers for writers like myself, the death of newspapers and magazines is far away, as most good bloggers only make money if we get hired by the print media. While it’s easier to click around the web reading for pleasure, I highly recommend checking out Esquire, as it features the quality and storytelling generally missing from the Net.

10 thoughts on “Bill James in Esquire Magazine

  1. 1.  The James article is pretty good but I disagree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Esquire. It is a shadow of its former self and has been for quite a while.

  2. 2.  When I was a graduate teaching assistant, I used to play in big touch football games every Sunday morning with Tom Chiarella, who was working on his MFA at the school. He was a great player, but once broke his jaw on an endzone slant (caught the ball anyway), ending his season. He was also the best player (great outside shot and could drive the lane) in pickup basketball games. In addition to writing good non-fiction stuff for Esquire, he’s published some fine fiction.

  3. 3.  I only read 2 magazines. SI (which I get free at work) and Field and Stream (which kicks awesome).

  4. 4.  I haven’t RTFA but the 150 stats strikes me as odd. In this season of Jamesian hero worship, I’m wondering what is taking up Bill’s time? He’s fulltime on the Red Sox payroll while doing it from home. He doesn’t write much for the BJHB. He doesn’t do Abstracts or even articles. So what’s taking the time that could be used to produce one or two of these stats?

    Yes, I know he’s not a public utility and yes, I realize he has a family, hobbies, and a life. I’d buy it more if he said the Red Sox paid him and got what he generated. That’s business and something I’ve heard him say in the past.

    Heck, when’s the last new stat he had, besides Win Shares?

  5. 6.  No, Rosario, being compared to a porn star is a COMPLIMENT. Really. Geez, how come women never understand that?

    Rosario? Hello?


    Will – your view on James (something I’m not sure is justified or not) is the same as MINE on Scott McCloud, who has written 2 very respected books on the theory of comic and graphic art. But has actually PRODUCED no real body of comic or graphic art work in the past 20 years.

  6. 7.  Some small things to note/add:

    – Esquire was Bill’s first major writing gig. Dan Okrent helped him get the job of writing their baseball preview.

    -Bill’s love of true crime was brought out in Ben McGrath’s fantastic 2003 New Yorker profile. I cover Bill’s passion for true crime fairly extensively in The Mind of Bill James (including Bill’s full take on the Ramsey investigation).

    -Re the Norman Mailer tidbit: Mailer says he was looking into biorhythms (hey, it was the 70s), not so much interested in sabermetrics.

    -Re paragraph 7 of the article: Bill has never, to the best of my knowledge, said that there is no such thing as a clutch hitter. He has been skeptical about the idea, and he has written about studies that point toward there being no such measurable ability (and about the possibility that some of those studies may be statistically unsound).

    -Re paragraph 9: It’s a pretty huge oversimplification/distortion to say that Bill has declared that team speed has practically no effect on its offensive performance.

    The last two items are symptomatic of a problem I have with much of what’s written about Bill, which is that I get the feeling the writer spent more time working on his descriptions of Bill’s wine preferences and physical characteristics than he spent on reading/comprehending the man’s work.

  7. 8.  Trust me, as someone who was in the Iowa Writers Workshop with Scott Raab way back when, it wasn’t that he was “filled with an unhealthy sense of self-worth.” He was probably just high. (Then again, the fiction writers at Iowa had more self-worth as what they wrote could acutally make money; us poets were happy to write and drink and get laid, and I’ll let you guess which one of the three we did the most.)

    Actually, Raab was a great guy (I assume still is, haven’t been in touch with him in years), and I even got to be his radio editor on a public affairs show on KRUI. He did terifically funny essays and always thanked me for letting him know that on radio you can say “pissed off” but can’t say “pissed on.”

  8. 9.  Thanks for the comments.

    Gcosmo- I’m sure you liked Esquire better when it was more New Yorker-esque. While sure I wish they might have Talese or Richard Ben Cramer still pumping it out for them, I think the editor, David Granger, has done a masterful job of keeping the quality, while still allowing it to appeal to a younger audience.

    George Y- I’m not going to pretend that I really know Raab. I’m just saying the guy was a lousy instructor. I can tell you the best day we had in class was when were invited to make a field trip to his apartment where we sat around and watched the NCAA tourney. Since he was a Cleveland guy, he wanted to catch Cleveland State. Since they ended up defeating mighty Indiana, it was a very good day for Raab. Just keep him away from grading papers. I doubt he would argue this too much, as I’m sure he saw himself above having to teach freshman English. Later on reading his work at Esquire, I would have to agree that he was above it.
    So you were a poet. I’m guessing you spent a lot a time between the Deadwood and Joe’s Place?

  9. 10.  Scott–

    I really can’t pretend I know Raab, either–haven’t seen him since the early 1990s in Philadelphia, of all places. I think it was right before he shot his brother William Hurt. (Oh, should have said teaser alert.)

    As for Iowa City, the bar of choice in those days was Dave’s Foxhead, the hallowed spot where Mets-fan-I watched Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. If only I knew there was a movie script in that….

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