Paul Dickson is the author of over 60 books, including some staples of any baseball bookshelf. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary is an essential reference book, one that I consulted many times in writing the Casebook, so I was tickled pink when I was told that he did the Wall Street Journal‘s review of the book — and enjoyed it, even if he was daunted (and a bit off base) when it came to Wins Above Replacement. No matter.
Mr. Jaffe is a clear and clever writer who does an excellent job of putting statistics into play and explaining how his own metric evolved as a tool for Hall of Fame voting. (Indeed, many Hall of Fame voters now point to JAWS ratings when explaining their votes.) The statistical portion of the book, however, will appear somewhere on a scale of daunting to dull to many readers. Fortunately, Mr. Jaffe is far more than a skilled sabermetrician, which he shows when he gets down to the specific cases of men whose election to the Hall of Fame has been either denied or delayed. His chapter on third basemen, for example, dwells on the career of Ron Santo, who despite obviously worthy credentials wasn’t elected until 2011, 37 years after the end of his career and a year after he died. In Mr. Jaffe’s final ranking, Santo ends up in seventh place at his position, somewhere between George Brett and Brooks Robinson.
Mr. Jaffe warns us at the beginning of the book that as much as he personally admires Sandy Koufax, the JAWS system shows him no mercy: Mr. Koufax places No. 87 among all starting pitchers and in the lowest quartile of the starting pitchers now in Cooperstown. The author admits that this ranking alone may cause some readers to become very upset and politely asks those who break the book’s binding by throwing it against the wall to consider buying a new copy. He ends his Koufax entry by adding that, despite his poor JAWS score, “if you needed one pitcher to win one game, prime Koufax would get strong consideration.”
In his most provocative sections of “The Cooperstown Casebook,” Mr. Jaffe rails against past injustices. Larry Doby, the first African-American to play in the American League, was turned down in 1967; an additional 31 years had to pass before he was elected by the veterans committee, five years before his death. After recounting this travesty, Mr. Jaffe adds a one-word sentence, in which a term unsuitable for this forum is inserted between “un” and “believable.” For a man of numbers, Mr. Jaffe can sound a lot like the guy at the other end of the bar. But that’s why his book is so much fun to read, whatever one might think about our ability to precisely measure baseball greatness.
This actually isn’t the first time I’ve been noted for dropping an F-Bomb in the Wall Street Journal, you know. Don’t act so surprised.