I just finished reading a small book called How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball. In this book, twelve writers, mostly with some connection to baseball but one who is a basketball executive and another who is married to Bill James, offer their thoughts on the title of the book. Along with those essays are several short sidebars from fans, telling briefer versions of the same story. And by same story, I mean same story. Because it's like the old conversion narratives, which all filled the same pattern … even though there are a variety of writers giving their personal testimony regarding how Bill James changed their view of baseball, the format is remarkably similar.
First, they tell how they came across James' work. Then they explain how the fell in love with James' work. Then they allow as to how they became obsessed with James' work. And then … and this is the crucial part, and it happens in almost every essay and sidebar … they explain how the Bill James approach to baseball analysis opened their eyes to the use of the same techniques in non-baseball parts of their lives. Don't take the word of the experts without performing your own analysis. Be skeptical. Apply reason and logic to the problem at hand. Try looking at things with a different eye. Don't walk around pronouncing answers, but instead ask lots of questions, and then look for the answers.
This stuff works in lots of places besides baseball. And as I read all of these stories, one by one … and, truth be told, the book is a minor work in part because of the repetitious nature of the conversion narratives … I saw that I, too, had the same story. As I type this, I am teaching a class in critical thinking, where I try to convince students in an English class that reason and logic and skepticism are important tools in understanding the world at large. But the thing is, I haven't always been such a rationalist. And while I can't pin down the exact moment when I crossed the line from starry-eyed cosmic traveler to the lover of the concrete that I am today, I did have one theory. So I asked Robin, without explaining all of the above, the following:
When did I quit becoming fairly tolerant of religion, even a bit mystical myself, and start being more intolerant and more insistent on the value of rational thought? And she said, well, I don't suppose we can put an exact date on it … by the time you were 30, though.
I turned 30 in 1983.
I read my first Bill James book in 1982.
Perhaps I've discovered the roots of my own conversion narrative.