Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Original Release: War
Definitive Version: Under a Blood Red Sky, 1983
Maybe nothing changes on New Year’s Day, as Bono sings, but a lot changed for me AFTER New Year’s Day of 1983 when this song came out. I’ve said before that 1983 was a huge year for me. It was the year I discovered Genesis, which dominated my home and car stereos for most of the next decade (and produced as many songs on this list as any other band).
But it was a far bigger year personally. I’ve mentioned that it was the year that I moved off campus at Wabash, and, of course, the year I lost my virginity. Other events still to come on this here list were of nearly equal importance.
One of them was something that seemed insignificant at the time but became an event that ultimately profoundly affected my life. It came out of nowhere, and I don’t now remember whether it happened in the spring or summer of that year—I want to say spring, when I was home for spring break—but I definitely remember everything else.
Beth loved shoes as much as I loved baseball, and invariably we’d go on shoe-shopping excursions from time to time. One day, Beth wanted to go downtown to the Lazarus. Back then, Lazarus was THE Columbus department store, and the seven-floor downtown store was the flagship. (Both the chain and store are gone. Lazarus became Macy’s in 2003 and the downtown store was closed in 2004.)
I didn’t mind going to the downtown Lazarus, because it had more than just shoes. Back then, Lazarus had a bookstore on the seventh floor, which also was where the shoe section was. That was perfect. While Beth shopped for shoes, I could hang out amid the books. Beth liked books, too, so she said she’d meet up with me there.
The books section had several rows of book shelves to the side of the aisle. Next to the wall at the far side was a two-step platform where the latest books and bestsellers were displayed. I started out in the stacks, undoubtedly reading the latest Bloom County compilation, before moving over to the sports section.
And that’s when I saw it facing me at the top of the platform. It was a cream-colored book about the size of a spiral notebook with red stitching like that of a baseball. The name of the book: The Bill James Baseball Abstract. Hmm, a new statistics book on baseball? What’s that all about? I started to read.
Beth came over and said she wanted to look around. I continued to read. Beth came back and said she was ready to go. I continued to read for a bit longer before finally concluding I had a purchase to make.
That night when I was home, I continued to read, and I couldn’t stop. Every page was a revelation, not only in the numbers but the writing. It was unlike anything I’d seen: simple yet complex at the same time. You could open it up to almost any page and learn something. The next thing I knew, it was 2 in the morning. I was hooked.
After that, for the next 6 years until James moved on to other things, I looked forward to Abstract Day with as much relish as Opening Day itself. I’d buy the new edition the second it came out and stay up all night reading it that first night, unable to put it down.
It changed my views on baseball, of course, but also my writing style. It later inspired me to start a website of my own baseball writings, and I certainly never would have quit my job to work on a baseball book of my own if it hadn’t been for that first Abstract.
And it all happened because Beth wanted to go shoe-shopping one day.