“The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s In the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In and Who Should Pack Their Plaques” by Jay Jaffe
Baseball, professional, history, Hall of Fame
June 27, 2017
4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)
One topic that is certain to ignite debates among baseball fans is the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pick any year, and the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) will certainly draw praise and criticism. Similarly, there are arguments whether certain players who are already inducted truly belong there. These types of debates will be conducted as long as there is a Hall of Fame.
While this book by Jay Jaffe is not intended for casual fans, it is one that every serious baseball fan should pick up. There is statistical information on every player currently enshrined in the Hall and a brief career bio on each one that explains why Jaffe believes whether or not the player is a worthy inductee. He uses advanced statistical analysis to make these decisions with a formula he names JAWS (Jaffe War Score). The score is primarily derived from the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic, using each player’s peak performance and allowing for factors such as different ballparks and eras where either offense or pitching may be more dominant than at other times. It isn’t perfect, but certainly a fair method to evaluate each player.
However, before ranking each player within his position (and, spoiler alert, there are some big surprises on the rankings of some of these players) Jaffe does his best work in the book in two areas. One is that he does a very nice job of breaking down some of the advanced statistical categories such as WAR, OPS+ and other statistics so that fans can better understand them. There is also a full chapter devoted to the argument the author makes on why players who have been suspected of using performance enhancement drugs, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, should not be kept out of the Hall of Fame. The only part of this argument that seemed flawed to me was not about these players, but he does not allow the same type of leeway for the inclusion of players who have been banned from the game for gambling, specifically Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson. This isn’t a criticism of his opinion – just that the two specific situations seem to be approached differently when they may not be all that different.
One other aspect of the book’s structure that I appreciated was that each chapter on the players inducted at a specific position gave an example of a player that should be inducted but has not been voted in by either the BBWAA or a committee, of which there have been several throughout the history of the Hall. (Note: there is also an excellent chapter on the flaws of the voting over the years by both the committees and BBWAA.) Using JAWS, traditional statistics and some old-fashioned logic, Jaffe makes a good case for each of these players. That was a nice touch to add to each chapter as a lead-in to the breakdown of each player’s write-up at each position.
The Hall of Fame may be a source of debate among baseball fans as long as it exists, but there should be no debate about the worthiness of this book. Every serious baseball fan should read this for a better understanding of some of the advanced statistics that have been used to bolster the chances of some Hall of Fame players such as Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines as well as just gain some valuable information to use the next time an argument breaks out about the worthiness of some player who supposedly doesn’t belong there.
I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press and Thomas Dunne Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book Format Read: