You don't need to be a Jamesean weirdo or even a baseball fan to appreciate this story. Sports Illustrated writer Dan Okrent was one of 75 people who bought James' first mimeographed Baseball Abstract, way back in 1977.
"I was absolutely dumbstruck," he said. "I couldn't believe that a) this guy existed and b) that he hadn't been discovered."

Okrent flew to Lawrence [Kansas] to make sure James indeed existed, then wrote a piece about him for Sports Illustrated. It was killed: James' arrival on the national sporting scene was delayed by a year, after the Sports Illustrated fact-checker spiked the piece. "She went through it line by line," recalled Okrent, "saying 'everyone knows this isn't true. Everyone knows that Nolan Ryan attracted a bigger crowd when he pitched, that Gene Tenace was a bad hitter, that...'" Conventional opinions about baseball players and baseball strategies had acquired the authority of fact, and the Sports Illustrated fact-checking department was not going to let evidence to the contrary see print. The following year an editor who had been unable to shake Okrent's piece from his mind, asked Okrent to retry again. He did, and the piece was published, and Bill James was introduced to a wider audience. The year after that, 1982, a New York publisher, Ballantine Books, brought out the Baseball Abstract, and made it a national best-seller.

This book is a corker, teaching me all kinds of stuff I didn't know about a subject I'm pretty familiar with. Thanks, Eric!

Posted by at June 8, 2003 10:42 PM

I wonder if Lewis fact-checked Okrent's account. That whole story seems fishy to me.

Posted by: Steve Smith at June 9, 2003 08:51 AM

I guess that fact-checker's working for the NY Times now.

Posted by: Crank at June 9, 2003 03:11 PM

Fact checkers have the power to spike? To intimidate editors into spiking, maybe, but to actually spike? That's the problem...

Posted by: Mike G at June 11, 2003 09:05 AM
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