Sunday media con’t: More Q&A with Jay Jaffe about ‘The Cooperstown Casebook’

If you can get a place to advertise your book-signing appearance in the men’s urinal, it seems like you’re truly No. 1.

Who should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame — in addition to the induction of players Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell this coming Sunday?
Jay Jaffe can make a strong case for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for starters.
Bobby Grich, Lou Whittaker, Alan Trammel, Dick Allen, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Trevor Hoffman, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Tony Oliva, Lee Smith, Reggie Smith and — most overlooked — Minnie Minoso also have strong merit.
Who got in and maybe shouldn’t have?
Bill Mazerowski, Phil Rizzuto, Pie Traynor, Lloyd Waner, George Keel, Rabbit Maranville, Catfish Hunter, Lefty Gomez, Rube Marquard and, for good measure, Jesse “Pops” Haines.
But case in point: Jaffe just wants the voting going forward to make use of all materials available to be fair and justified. In addition to the Q&A is posted thus far, we have more to talk about with Jaffe and his book, “The Cooperstown Casebook”

Q: If we take the book title as a statement rather than a headline, are we advocating the Hall of Fame membership that has voted over the last 70-something years needs a do-over? Could we wipe everything clean and pick 325 players in one massive re-election?

 

A: That’s a bit of a red herring. I don’t advocate we remove anyone. If you ask me about players who don’t belong, sure, I could start with Tommy McCarthy (outfielder inducted in 1946) or some others that are listed as “dubious” in the book. But I spent my time on this book actually trying to understand why those guys that I’d kick out are in, and how they got in, and what they did bring to the game. It’s too late to evict anyone. No one should pack their plaques. It’s all part of the game’s history and how our definitions of what a Hall of Famer changes. There’s nothing set in stone. After the original five went in (in 1939 – Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb), we may have had stars of the game but there was a dearth of statistical information. No Baseball Encyclopedia to compare guys or even for player to know where they stood. If players like Sam Crawford (elected in 1957 with 2,961 hits) or Al Simmons (elected in 1953 with 2,927 hits) knew they were short of 3,000 hits, maybe they would have played longer to achieve that, but maybe they weren’t aware of those milestones. Interpretations change. Now we compare players better and we should just do a better job of choosing going forward. We have better tools to examine careers.

Q: The forward to the book by Peter Gammons refers to you as “the preeminent Hall of Fame scholar … my research library, my consciousness, my research assistant and ballot.” Isn’t that a lot of pressure to take on?
A: I embrace it and I’m flattered anyone, let alone Peter, sees me in that light. I know I’m putting in the work every years and having the platform at Sports Illustrated and the MLB Network exposes me to a lot of prominent people within the writers’ association to look at my work. I do put in the work and do it even-hand, divorcing my own feelings and aware of my vulnerabilities. I’m lucky Sports Illustrated has also let me run with this. This is always great for hot-stove content, but I’ll continue to do more with the space they give me. A whole series about the Top 20 on every ballot every year is a cool thing.

Q: You’ve not developed yourself as just a gatekeeper, but someone who takes on this beast of burden?
A: It’s a responsibility but one I embrace. I’m lucky to be here at a time when more people are covering the game and to have stumbled on this niche where I’m regarded as an expert and they await my work. There’s a lot worse ways this could have worked out.

Q: There are many cases you make in the book for or against someone’s credentials to get in. Two interesting cases you discussion involve Andruw Jones (10 Gold Gloves, five-time All Star) and Kevin Brown (15th all time in ERA, seven-time All Star). Jones has one awful year with the Dodgers in 2008 in his age-31 season, three seasons removed from a NL best 51-homer and 128-RBI year, might have killed any chances he had of a Hall of Fame resume he built the previous 12 seasons. Brown has a JAWS ranking of 46, which is better than Don Drysdale (49), Don Sutton (69) or Sandy Koufax (87) and outranks 26 others who are already in the Hall, but his time with the Dodgers (1999-2003) and then the Yankees (2004-05) also didn’t help him.
A: It is interesting how both sabotaged themselves when they went to L.A., viewing it from afar. The Mitchell Report probably hurt Brown more than he realized, and he already left people mad in just about every city he pitched in. Being part of the 2004 Yankees collapse, with the broken hand, getting bombed by the Red Sox in Game 7, there are a lot of knocks against him. Maybe 10 years from now, when viewed at the vantage point a smaller committee, they both might get a better shake.

Q: If Clayton Kershaw’s career ended today – 141-62 in his 10th season, 2.35 ERA, three Cy Youngs, an NL MVP, four-time ERA leader, three-time strike out leader, seven-time All-Star) do the numbers say he would he get in? Or if he faltered with an injury and hung around as a .500 pitcher for the next five-plus seasons, would that harm him? You have him listed as the No. 65 pitcher going into this season, already ahead of 18 who are already in (and the Hall of Fame requirement is 10 seasons in the major leagues).
A: Aside from Roger Clemens, for other reasons, there are no three-time Cy Young winners outside of the Hall, and using the sheer dominance template that we have for Koufax, there would be a surge of support for Kershaw (53.8 JAWS when average Hall pitcher has a 62.1), just as there was for a Kirby Puckett (10-time All Star and four-time hits leader, 2,340 hits in 12 seasons ending with an eye injury). If he kept pitching, we have Bret Saberhagen  (two AL Cy Young Awards by age 25, 167 wins over 16 seasons, 3.34 ERA) who would be comparable (51.3 JAWS).

Q: Same question about Mike Trout – his career ends today, at age 25. He’s only got seven seasons of stats but six All Star games, two AL MVPs, one Rookie of the Year. Or if he has a sharp decline after 10 seasons – like Andruw Jones.
A: Jones becomes the cautionary tale of having not much to offer in his 30s. Once Trout gets 10 years in and 2,000 hits … but then, it’s fun to see where he ranks for someone just five full seasons. I have him No. 14 in JAWS of all time (as a center fielder) but more importantly at No. 6 in his peak years behind only Mays, Cobb, Mantle, Speaker and Ken Griffey Jr., and he passes Griffey just by playing out the end of this season. That’s remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s also interesting now to see how guys age with better medicine. But they could have financial security to walk away when they’re 32.

Q: It’s also fascinating to think about Bobby Grich (10 of his 17 seasons with the Angels on three playoff teams, 1,833 hits, 224 homers, 320 doubles, 104 stolen bases, .794 OPS-plus) could use a re-evaluation in the Blyleven-type style. His career WAR of 70.9 and JAWS of 58.6 is better than the average of 20 Hall of Fame second basemen of 69.4 and 56.9.
A: We didn’t have the tools again to appreciate him back then. We saw the .260 average without paying attention to 80-to-100 walks or a defense measure that saved 10 or 20 runs above average. His Gold Gloves get lost in all that. Retiring at 37 with a back injury left him short in some career stats – you might be surprised that in post-1960 you absolutely need 2,000 hits to get in otherwise you’re pushing a rock uphill. That’s what has happened to Dick Allen (1972 AL MVP, 1964 NL Rookie of the Year, seven-time All Star, 1,848 hits in 15 years, four-time league-leaders in OPS) and Tony Oliva (led the AL in hits five times, .304 average, but ended a 15-year career with 1,917 hits) … and a player like Chase Utley (1,823 hits in 15 seasons) could be next in that category. I root for him to hang out long enough to get 2,000, because there are so many things you can appreciate about his game. Not a lot of things to hang statistics on. But that’s the part of doing this Hall of Fame voting is conceding where we run out of evidence, what the numbers can do and what they can’t.

Q: You’ve mentioned your most egregious dubious picks for the Hall these days. How about the most egregious omission so far? Minnie Minoso?
A: That one really infuriates me on a lot of levels. You’re talking about players who had the color line become a big reason why they got a late start in their career – and as I pointed out in the book, they have to be lenient and consider Negro League and Major League phases of their career as one package, and not doing it seems ridiculous. He starred no matter where he was for 15 years. We need more empathy for that. We’d be accused of middle-aged, white-guy arrogance if that happened today.

Q: You also advocate for having Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in. Because of their pre-steroid numbers?
A: A lot more people with ballots are advocating for getting them to speed up and get Bonds and Clemens into the Hall rather and putting them through this wait when it looks inevitability it won’t serve the game or the institution or anyone well otherwise. I think we’ve reached a tipping point in that one, and once they cross the 50 percent (voter) threshold, whether it accelerates or draws it out, Bonds and Clemens have the numbers far above a Mark McGuire or Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmiero, but all their PED transgressions are in a pre-testing era. We have to judge that different that post-testing. Unfortunately for Palmiero, he spun out in the last mile, so to speak. Who tested positive versus what happened when there was no consequences and policing and the fallout from a decade-long labor war where the owners colluded against the players.

More:
== Jaffe, who also appears on the MLB Network, lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Emma Span, and their daughter. In 2010, we reviewed Span’s book, “90% of the Game Is Half Mental: And Other Tales from the Edge of Baseball Fandom”
== The book introduction at this link

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