Rounded Up Radio and Podcasts II

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The great Joe Posnanski dropped by my table on Cooperstown’s Main St. to invite me onto the Poscast

Bergino Clubhouse, New York, July 26. Here’s *most* of the interview I did with Bergino proprietor Jay Goldberg during my Launch Week appearance there. Alas, for some reason the recording stopped at some point during the Q&A.

WRAL SportsFan, Durham, July 28. Discussing the book, the system and this year’s Hall of Fame Class with Adam Gold and Joe Ovies.

Ed Randall, New York, July 30. A good Induction Day chat about the book and the advances of sabermetrics within baseball on WFAN.

This Week in Baseball History, August 2. For the 38th anniversary of the tragic death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, I spoke to longtime SABR pals Mike Bates and Bill Parker about his Hall of Fame case and my memories of his career for their weekly podcast.

The Poscast, August 3. There aren’t many writers who geek out on the Hall of Fame more than I do, but the great Joe Posnanski may be one of them. Here we discuss the book, the origin of JAWS and the upcoming 2018 Hall of Fame ballot and its controversies.

Richard Neer, New York, August 5. Chatting with another WFAN host, this time connecting current catcher pitch-framing metrics to a discussion of the book and the Hall.

 

We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

Thank you to everyone who bought The Cooperstown Casebook during its first week of availability, whether online, in stores, or in person at one of my half-dozen appearances. It’s a genuine thrill to hear people tell me how much they’ve been anticipating this book and how much they value my work. What’s more, the reviews have been uniformly positive, and the initial sales strong as well. In fact, either the hardcover or Kindle version has ranked number one in Amazon’s Baseball category every day since the release date. Eight days later, the hardcover — which climbed as high as #600 overall on Amazon — is still number one, which is amazing!!!

For the moment, those strong sales have apparently made it harder to get the book, with Amazon customers reporting mid-August ETAs, and Barnes and Noble and Powell’s temporarily out of stock. I’d love to believe that demand is so high that the thing is just impossible to find, but the more likely explanation is bad distribution algorithms and supply chain hiccups, and so I understand the frustration of anyone who wants this in his or her hot little hands but can’t get it.

I’m told by my publisher that those situations should clear up soon, and that canceling your Amazon order and then reordering might speed up your delivery time (some who have tried this have said it’s not the case, so caveat emptor).

Update: I’ve officially been informed that the book is into its second printing (!), which should help clear those situations up fairly soon. Holy cow!

Meanwhile, there are other ways to get the book. Books-a-Million is still showing availability as I write this, and you can use the IndieBound system to find an independent bookstore that stocks it or will sell it online.

And speaking of independent bookstores, I am using Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore to fulfill requests for signed, personalized copies. I’ll be heading over to sign the first batch to go out later this week.

 

 

 

Rounded Up Radio and Podcasts I

Between my pre-existing connections and the work of the book’s PR team, I’ve had no shortage of radio and podcast spots since the book appeared on the horizon. Some of them disappear into the ether immediately, but here I’ve gathered a bunch of links to the archived ones into one post.

The Bernie Miklasz Show, St. Louis, July 20. Some Cardinals-related chatter here as well. Any day where get to talk Hall stuff with Bernie is a good day.

WGN, Chicago, July 23. When you bring up the Hall of Fame, some people can’t let go of the topic of steroids, so it’s all the more important that I take a deep breath and talk them through my logic.

The DA Show, July 24. One of my favorite spots amid this media whirlwind, a 30-minute in-studio appearance with Damon Amendolara of CBS Sports Radio

The Felske Files, July 26. Interviewed by John Stolnis of the Phillies-phlavored blog, The Good Phight.

The Ringer, July 27. Discussing the book and the Hall with former Baseball Prospectus colleague Ben Lindbergh and his partner in crime, Michael Baumann.

The Jeff Blair Show, Toronto, July 27. On Tim Raines’ candidacy and election, the book, and other Hall stuff.

Going Deep, July 28. Chatting with NBC Sports Radio’s Dan Schwartzman on the eve of my Cooperstown weekend.

Chin Music, Washington, DC. July 29. Discussing the book with Al Galdi on his sabermetrically-inclined show on ESPN 980.

Around the Big Leagues, Atlanta, July 29. My conversation with Grant McAuley for the Braves’ pregame show on 92.9 in Atlanta.

The Jody Mac Show, July 30. CBS Sports Radio.

Livin’ on the (Maine) Edge

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If I’m big in Bangor, it’s thanks in part to my occasional spots on the great “Downtown with Rich Kimball” radio show on WZOR. Allen Adams of the Maine Edge, a weekly out of Bangor, interviewed me for a July 26 cover story which was coupled with his review of the book. From the feature:

Jaffe – whose own BBWAA voting clock started ticking in 2011 – will get his own first ballot for the 2021 class. The electorate might look considerably different by then; new rules have trimmed the number of eligible voters significantly. And Jaffe’s like-minded peers are starting to show up on the rolls as well.

“I think the electorate is evolving,” he said. “It’s younger – 100 voters away from the game for 10 years or more were removed. And the ones that are coming in have been exposed to the increased use of statistics going all the way back to ‘Moneyball.’

“Not everyone has to embrace it to this degree. But our understanding of what makes a Hall of Famer should grow into the tools we have available to us at the time.”

And from the review:

As a longish-time reader (and fan) of Jaffe’s work, it’s fascinating to see what he does with the room to run that a book offers. His research is exceptional and his analysis is remarkably deft; when it all comes together, it’s as thought-provoking a Hall-related read as you’re likely to find anywhere. It’s incredible – he shines a light both on beneath-the-surface greatness and mediocrity shined by empty stats and old teammates.

Baseball fans don’t have to be statheads to dig “The Cooperstown Casebook” – although it certainly helps. The sheer magnitude of this undertaking will impress any lover of baseball; most baseball lovers embrace this kind of discussion regardless of which side of the subjective/objective line they might come down upon. It is smart and thorough and wonderfully informative; advanced enough for the more statistically-minded, but still engaging and informative to the layman.

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.

The Hardball Times Reviews the Casebook

The Hardball Times’ Paul Swydan wins the award for being the first person to request a review copy of The Cooperstown Casebook — he did so in late March, roughly four months before the book hit the streets. Judging by his glowing, in-depth review, the wait was worth it, and he shared his deep appreciation for even the small details:

Throughout these chapters, which span the first 104 pages of the book, Jaffe is economical with his words, which allows each essay to flow very quickly.

That’s not to say that each chapter isn’t packed full of tidbits that I either didn’t know or had completely forgotten. In the chapter “This Is Your Ballot on Drugs,” Jaffe recounts the history of players using PEDs in less than three and a half pages, from the 1930s through the Mitchell Report…

Note the breezy and concise way Jaffe recounts history, walking the reader back through events they likely already know, but not in a condescending way. It reminds the reader of the main bullet points, but doesn’t drown them in minutiae. He also spices the text up with gems like the Tom House quote, and noting the Red Sox fans taunting Canseco, something I didn’t remember even as a Red Sox fan (though to be fair, I was nine at the time). Those small points show that he really does know what he’s talking about. These examples, obscure yet pointed, demonstrate that if he needed to, Jaffe could have dropped another half-dozen anecdotes into these three paragraphs, but that’d be beating you over the head and he wisely doesn’t do that.

…The Cooperstown Casebook is a book nearly 15 years in the making, and it was most certainly worth the wait. The book is a master stroke for Jay Jaffe, and if you consider yourself a serious baseball fan, it’s a book that you need to add to your bookshelf post haste.

I couldn’t ask for a better review!

Baseball America Reviews the Casebook

Given that so much of their focus is on draft picks and prospects — the NEXT thing, rather than baseball history — you wouldn’t necessarily expect Baseball America to give coverage to a Hall of Fame book, but the beauty of the topic is that it resonates in so many places. BA’s Matt Eddy gave the Casebook a wonderful review. In part:

“The Cooperstown Casebook” is essential reading for all baseball history enthusiasts and is recommended for anyone interested in intelligent discourse about the Hall of Fame.

Jaffe writes informative, entertaining capsules about every player enshrined in Cooperstown, from inner-circle members to the most dubious Veterans Committee selections. He devotes space to more than 50 additional players who deserve at least some consideration for the Hall, saving the most deserving for pullout essays that precede each of the “Around The Diamond” chapters.

…It is the most comprehensive, most enjoyable evaluation of the Hall of Fame since [Bill] James two decades earlier. I know I will return to “The Cooperstown Casebook” year after year to get my Hall of Fame fix.

 

 

Excerpts, Get Yer Excerpts Here!

 

Besides the introduction to The Cooperstown Casebook, three other chapters have been excerpted online at three different outlets.

At Sports Illustrated’s web site, my home base, is a portion of Chapter 4: How the Voters put Third Base in a Corner, which tells the story of the Hall’s origins and the voters’ long failure to honor third basemen. No player bore the brunt of that failure to a greater degree than Ron Santo, a nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner who now ranks seventh in JAWS at the position. He was finally elected on the 2012 Golden Era Committee ballot — posthumously:

Santo, a Chicago Cubs great, had died almost precisely a year before the Hall corrected one of its most glaring oversights. He had spent 15 years in the majors (1960 to ’74), mostly as a star third baseman for the Cubs, then 15 years on the BBWAA ballot (1980, then ’85–98, after a rule change restored his eligibility), and nearly a decade being bypassed by various forms of the Veterans Committee (2003, ’05, ’07 and ’09) before finally gaining election. Unfortunately, the beloved Chicago icon had passed away at the age of 70 due to complications from bladder cancer and a body worn out from battling diabetes, which had shortened his career and eventually cost him both legs from the knees down. Rarely had claims of baseball immortality collided with the reality of human mortality so violently.

Alas, the BBWAA and VC voters have rarely gotten it right when it comes to third basemen. Through the 2017 election cycle, fewer major league third basemen are enshrined (13) than at any other position except relievers. Through eight decades of Hall history, at no other position have voters’ inconsistent standards and the messy, inefficient process been so readily apparent. Few players have borne the brunt of their missteps as directly as the late great Cub.

At FanGraphs is a portion of Chapter 6: Blyleven, Morris and the War on WAR, which is about how two pitchers — or rather their Hall candidacies — came to symbolize one front of a culture war within the game, and to redefine Hall of Fame debates in the twenty-first century. The candidacy of Bert Blyleven benefited from sabermetric research and a grassroots campaign by a new generation of baseball media, while that of Jack Morris was slowed by similar research; ultimately, he benefited from a backlash against the same forces that helped elevate Blyleven.

If and when Morris gets in, it will be another example of a small committee electing a subpar candidate, though hardly the worst. Those committees’ processes are opaque, with ballots never seeing the light of day and voters far less accountable than the writers. They’re more likely to share Morris’s disdain for sabermetrics — “Ninety percent of the general managers are in it. That’s why the game is messed up,” he told [blogger Murray] Chass in 2013 — than to reexamine his (or anyone’s) career in an objective light.

If Morris does get elected via that route, will it mean the battles of the late 2000s were for naught? I don’t think so. Subsequent elections have solidified the incorporation of advanced statistics into Hall of Fame debates, with that of Tim Raines — elected in 2017 after a slow, Blyleven-esque climb (see Chapter 14) — a shining example. WAR may not be a staple of every fan’s daily diet or every writer’s work, but its appearance on broadcasts, on ballpark scoreboards, in daily game coverage and other reporting, and even on the backs of baseball cards, is no longer uncommon. As the BBWAA electorate evolves, with younger voters having greater exposure to Bill James, Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, JAWS, and much more, that trend will continue.

And finally, at Baseball Prospectus, where JAWS was invented in 2004 (though it didn’t initially have the catchy acronym) it’s the Case Study of slugger Dick Allen from Chapter 13.

Any way you slice it, Allen’s a bit short on the JAWS front, so choosing to vote for him means focusing on that considerable peak while giving him the benefit of the doubt on the factors that shortened his career. From here, the litany is sizable enough to justify that. Allen did nothing to deserve the racism and hatred he battled in Little Rock and Philadelphia, or the condescension of the lily-white media that refused to even call him by his correct name. To underplay the extent to which those forces shaped his conduct and his public persona thereafter is to hold him to an impossibly high standard; not everyone can be Jackie Robinson or Ernie Banks. The distortions that influenced the negative views of him— including Bill James’s crushing dismissal (“[Allen] did more to keep his teams from winning than anybody else who ever played major league baseball. And if that’s a Hall of Famer, I’m a lug nut”) in The Politics of Glory—were damaging. To give them the upper hand is to reject honest inquiry into his career.

As Seen on SNY TV

On Wednesday, July 26, I sat down with the SNY Daily News Live cast — host Jonas Schwartz and panelists Peter Botte, Dan Graca and Anthony McCarron — for a lively discussion of The Cooperstown Casebook. Everyone had good, thoughtful questions about the book, the Hall of Fame processes (both Botte and McCarron are BBWAA voters) and my research, and Schwartz and I had a good laugh calling back to our backstage discussion of life in Salt Lake City, where I grew up and where he spent a few years working. Since the video on SNY’s site isn’t loading via some browsers, I’ve uploaded it here as well.