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May 12, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN

THE BILL JAMES BASEBALL ABSTRACT, 1985 by Bill James (Ballantine: $7.95, paperback).

THE 1985 ELIAS BASEBALL ANALYST by Seymour Swioff, Steve Hirdt and Peter Hirdt (Collier: $12.95, paperback).

Bill James may be the best thing that has happened to baseball since the hot dog because he has introduced fans to a world of statistics beyond traditional matters such as batting averages and RBIs. He has introduced more sophisticated measures designed to reflect a player's true offensive and defensive worth. Because of its slow pace, baseball invites fans to second-guess everything from what team has the best center fielder to whether the manager should have called that last pitchout. The problem is that you eventually run out of things to debate. Not with James around. He wasn't the first of this new breed of statistics freaks, but he popularized it. He's fun to read even if you avoid all the stat tables. The Elias report is even more fact-heavy, telling how every players in the majors fared on artificial turf versus graft, day games versus night games--and more. While a must for hard-core fans and general managers, it isn't backed by features as lively as James'. James gives his outspoken opinions on every starting player. One disappointment with this year's edition of James is that he lets associates pinch-hit for him. It's more fun when he steps up to the plate. If you're the kind of fan who only goes to five or 10 games a year, stick with James. If you have season tickets, you're going to want them both.

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