Graham Womack Reviews the Casebook

Near the beginning of my recent appearance on Joe Posnanski’s PosCast, Joe suggested that the two of us were “the two biggest Hall of Fame nerds in America.” Agreeing, I noted that the only other writer “who makes the platform” is Graham Womack, who covers the Hall beat for The Sporting News — where he’s interviewed some of the players I’ve covered such as Bobby Grich and Lou Whitakerand the National Pastime Museum.

Womack, an eagle-eyed researcher who tipped me off to a couple finds in the Casebook, gave the book a very positive review calling it “a must-read” and adding:

Among contemporary baseball writers, Jaffe’s been in a class by himself for Hall of Fame statistical analysis for years. This is on display throughout his book, whether Jaffe’s showing how Tim Raines was a comparable Hall of Fame candidate to Tony Gwynn or how Scott Rolen “may well become the position’s Bobby Grich” among third basemen or how relievers might be best-differentiated by WPA…

Overall, Jaffe has produced a superb, fun Hall of Fame book, worth the wait for the past few years since Jaffe announced his book deal on Twitter. This is the book Hall of Fame enthusiasts might have had in their heads for years. “The Politics of Glory” has long needed an update. Jaffe’s done it.

Womack did also note a few misspelled names within the book, which I’m working to correct for the next printing.

Upcoming Appearances

In addition to my upcoming appearance at Brooklyn’s Bell House on August 7, I have two more appearances to add to the calendar:

Monday, August 7, 7-10:30 pm
Pitch Talks
The Bell House
149 7th St, Brooklyn, New York 11215

Thursday, August 24, 6:30-9 pm
El Paso Chihuahuas vs. Sacramento River Cats
Southwest University Park
1 Ballpark Plaza, El Paso, TX 79901

An actual ballpark appearance — in Texas, no less. Thanks to the imagination of ESPN El Paso’s Steve Kaplowitz, with whom I’ve been doing weekly radio spots since 2009,  a sponsor, Longhorn Distributing, is flying me in for a game, during which I will throw out first pitch (!!!), spend an inning in the broadcast booth alongside play-by-play announcer Tim Hagerty, and sell and sign copies of my book. I’d better get my arm in shape!

Saturday, September 2, 2-3 pm
The King’s English Bookstore
1511 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84105

I’m pairing an upcoming visit to my parents’ home — which I left long ago, after graduating high school in 1988 — with a stop at a local independent bookstore. Hope to see some longtime friends there!

The Wall Street Journal Reviews the Casebook

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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.


Joe Sheehan Reviews the Casebook

I’m not sure whether I actually started reading Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus before I stumbled upon Bill James’ Politics of Glory (reissued in paperback as Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?) circa 1997, but I don’t think I’ve read a writer who’s referred to it in the context of Hall arguments more often. A mentor at BP and now a fellow contributor at SI (though he mainly works the print side of the street while I’m on the web side) reviewed the book for the July 26 edition of his essential subscription newsletter and found the Casebook a worthy successor:

Outside of the player chapters, Jaffe gets into the history of the institution, building on James’s work to attack 21st-century issues like the influence of modern statistical analysis on the process. There’s a long digression into the question of “the character clause” that is a key part of the book. Jaffe digs into the ongoing problems created by the 5% rule, the ever-changing veterans’ committees, and of course, the question of who took what 20 years ago and how they might be punished by the gatekeepers.

For more than 20 years, I’ve said that you can’t argue about the Hall of Fame if you haven’t read The Politics of Glory. The details of the institution’s history, the voting process through the years, the way in which the 1946 Old Timers’ Committee forever skewed the honor…you had to know these things to discuss Bert Blyleven or Jack Morris or Tim Raines. It was the one essential book.

I am comfortable in saying that there is now a second. The Cooperstown Casebook is critical to an understanding of what the Hall is now, in 2017, how it got here, and how it can get through the next 20 years. It’s also a deeply-researched reference on Hall of Famers old and new, a collection of passionate arguments for players shorted by the process, and most importantly, an entertaining read. If you are interested in the Hall of Fame on any level, you have to read this book.