Susan McCarthy - The Wife of Bill James
Posted 19 February 2007 - 04:04 PM
The daughter of an American Literature professor, McCarthy spent her high school years in Kansas, and, like her husband, graduated from the University of Kansas. She has been married to James for close to three decades, and in that time has not only seen her husband become one of the most influential voices in baseball, she has contributed to his epic Bill James Historical Abstract. An artist, McCarthy is currently pursuing a Masterís degree in Art History at Boston University while her husband works as a Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Red Sox.
RSN: How would you describe Bill James?
SM: A very bright person. An excellent writer. Amazingly knowledgeable about baseball, of course. Strongly independent-minded. Bill speaks his mind, whatever the consequences. He doesnít mean to be mean, though. And he understands the importance of humor. Heís witty.
RSN: What about yourself? How would you describe Susan McCarthy?
SM: Iím strong-willed. Iím independent-minded and stubborn. Along with being an artist, I consider myself a feminist. Iím more adventurous than Bill.
RSN: In what ways?
SM: This sojourn Ė coming to Boston for a couple of years Ė was mostly driven by me. Pulling up roots isnít easy, but as an artist I had reached the point where I needed change. I needed to shake myself up. In moving my focus to art history, thatís what Iím doing because Iím not actively being an artist for the first time in many years. Iím kind of testing leaving that behind me a bit. Bill is more settled in how he does things.
RSN: You couldnít see him doing the same with baseball?
SM: No. Baseball is so intrinsic to his being that I couldn't imagine it not being a part of his life. Thereís certainly much more to Bill than baseball -- he's coming out with a book about something other than baseball -- but itís still what he does.
RSN: Whatís it like living with Bill?
SM: Heís got his peculiarities, so in some ways heís not easy to live with. But is anyone? Projects have always run his schedule, so there have always been periods where heíll be working all of the time and at odd hours. Things are a little more normal with his schedules since weíve had kids, though.
RSN: What is your history as a baseball fan?
SM: I was 21, and in college, when I met Bill, and at the time I didnít like baseball. My family followed sports, but my mother was the only baseball fan in the family. Sheíd listen to Royals games on the radio while typing manuscripts for my dad -- he wrote a lot of academic articles and books on Steinbeck and Melville. This was back in Manhattan (Kansas). But I didnít follow baseball myself.
RSN: Did Bill turn you into a fan?
SM: He did, but he didnít set out to convert me. That wouldnít have worked. Itís interesting how he kind of drew me in, mostly by just talking about baseball a lot. Back then he didnít have a network of people like he does now, so heíd talk to me about his concepts. A lot of them were complex, but heís a good teacher and was able to make them clear to me. I wanted to better understand what he was so interested in, so I listened and asked a lot of questions. I have to admit that it actually took me awhile to understand the enormity of just how important it was to him, although by the time Bill was explaining complex theories to me I certainly knew the extent of his obsession. Coming to fully understand Bill's obsession probably happened within the first 8-12 months of our relationship.
RSN: How would you describe your knowledge of the game?
SM: Through Bill Iíve gotten an amazing view of the game, but because heís always there maybe Iím a little lazy about it. If I want to know something, I just ask Bill. Heís like an encyclopedia. I do understand a lot of fundamental things, though, like how players age and their value as they move defensive positions. One thing I like to do when we go to the ballpark is score the game. Iíve been doing that for three or four years now. I see a lot more that way.
RSN: Do you have any favorite players?
SM: Back home I liked George Brett, Frank White and Hal McRae. Here in Boston, itís probably David Ortiz. Bill drew my attention to him when he first signed here.
RSN: What did Bill think of Ortiz at the time?
SM: He didnít explain that, but Bill was aware of his potential. I could tell that he had a real interest in him. Bill was impressed by his teddy bear-size and cheerful demeanor, but he'd also seen Ortiz hit some towering fly balls in spring training, which impressed him
RSN: Do you think Bill has a sense of players that goes beyond statistical analysis?
SM: Heís definitely intellectual and analytical about everything, but yes, there are things he sees in players that he canít express. I mean, he could tell you what he likes and dislikes about different players, but he pays attention to a diversity of skills. He doesn't get distracted by the outward package but looks at all sorts of big and little things instead of stopping with the conventional profile. There are certain players he likes for certain reasons, and he tends to look at less high-profile ones, seeing qualities in them that other people glance over. Amos Otis was his favorite in Kansas City.
RSN: Of the work heís done, what is Bill most proud of?
SM: He would say the Historical Abstract, I think. He has a vision of what he wants, and I believe he got most of it with that one. The whole Abstract series was the beginning of what he thought he could do. Going from the self-published Abstract to Random House was kind of like sending a kid to school for the first time. They see your child in a different way than you do.
RSN: Have you done any art projects related to baseball?
SM: I've done quite a few baseball paintings. I did a whole series of views of the field from the stands. I did the covers for several of his books, including two years when we self-published the Abstract. One was based on a print and showed an egg carton full of baseballs and was entitled "Baseball Fever-Hatch It." For his 54 or 55th birthday, I gave Bill a painting based on a small-town baseball field we could see from our house in Winchester (Kansas). The scene is at night and the field is empty, but the lights are on and in the background you can just barely see rows of corn. It's based on the actual layout of this place but looks somewhat like "Field of Dreams". It's one of my favorite pieces.
Iíve also made a number of small porcelain statuettes. I had originally done ones of women who were historical figures, like Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Mary Cassatt, and Emily Dickinson. After that I did about a dozen baseball players, all suggested by Bill, including Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Oscar Charleston. Theyíre busts, and are approximately 3x7 inches.
RSN: Have you painted portraits of anyone in baseball?
SM: Iíve painted Bill a few times while heís working. Of course, heís usually working. Heís a man who doesnít like to sit around and do nothing.
RSN: If Bill was a painter instead of a writer, what would his style be?
SM: Heíd be cutting edge. Heíd be different. As a writer, Bill somehow carved out his own niche -- his own category. He basically started his own field, so I assume heíd do the same if he was a painter. He wouldnít be like anyone else. Bill is unique.
Posted 19 February 2007 - 07:54 PM
Seriously, good interview as always Mr. L.
And what a creative subject to pick!
Posted 20 February 2007 - 12:41 PM
I always got a kick out of her sections in the Abstract.
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