The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, tucked away in upstate New York in a small town called Cooperstown, is far from any major media market or big league stadium. Yet no sports hall of fame’s membership is so hallowed, nor its qualifications so debated, nor its voting process so dissected.
Since its founding in 1936, the Hall of Fame’s standards for election have been nebulous, and its selection processes arcane, resulting in confusion among voters, not to mention mistakes in who has been recognized and who has been bypassed. Numerous so-called “greats” have been inducted despite having not been so great, while popular but controversial players such as all-time home run leader Barry Bonds and all-time hits leader Pete Rose are on the outside looking in.
Now, in The Cooperstown Casebook, Jay Jaffe shows us how to use his revolutionary ranking system to ensure the right players are recognized. The foundation of Jaffe’s approach is his JAWS system, an acronym for the Jaffe WAR Score, which he developed over a decade ago. Through JAWS, each candidate can be objectively compared on the basis of career and peak value to the players at his position who are already in the Hall of Fame. Because of its utility, JAWS has gained an increasing amount of exposure in recent years. Through his analysis, Jaffe shows why the Hall of Fame still matters and how it can remain relevant in the 21st century.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
JAY JAFFE is a contributing baseball writer for SI.com. He is the founder of the Futility Infielder website, one of the oldest baseball blogs, and from 2005-2012 was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus. He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network’s MLB Now and Clubhouse Confidential shows and a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America since 2011. He lives in Brooklyn. The Cooperstown Casebook is his first book.
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THE INS AND OUTS OF THE HALL OF FAME
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is an independent, non-profit educational institution dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime. The Hall of Fame's mission is to preserve the sport's history, honor excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball.
— Hall of Fame mission statement
Including the three players and two executives honored during the 2017 cycle — Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, John Schuerholz, and Bud Selig — a total of 317 individuals have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, starting with the inaugural five-man class of 1936. Not all of them have been elected for their playing contributions in the major leagues; some were pioneers, executives, managers, and even umpires. In terms of the primary contributions for which they have been honored, the breakdown is as follows:
Primary Contribution # in
Major league players 220
A good number of those elected for their nonplaying contributions did play in the majors at some point; some even starred, often for shorter time spans than those honored primarily for their playing careers. The same is true for Negro Leaguers Satchel Paige, Monte Irvin, and Willard Brown, who spent less than the 10 seasons in the majors required for election; those with Negro Leagues experience who did reach the 10-year mark — Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson — are enshrined as major leaguers. Additionally, some players elected as major leaguers did manage as well. Entire books have been written on those aforementioned subjects as they relate to the Hall of Fame, but those topics are tangential to this book, which is founded in the analysis of major league player performance.
"The major leagues" means more than just the currently existing National and American Leagues. Players and other figures from five bygone leagues, four whose lifespans were entirely contained in the nineteenth century, are part of the Hall, though all 220 of the enshrined major league players passed through either the NL (founded in 1876) or AL (founded in 1901) at some point. The lifespans of the National Association (1871–75), American Association (1882–91), Union Association (1884), Players League (1890), and Federal League (1914–15) weren't long enough to contain entire Hall of Fame careers.
Historically, election to the Hall has primarily consisted of two processes. The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) conducts annual balloting by mail among writers who have at least 10 consecutive years of service with affiliated publications (originally print publications, expanded to include Internet publications in 2007). Their electorate has more than doubled during the Hall's lifespan; for the 1936 election 226 ballots were cast, while the 2011 election saw an all-time high of 581, though a 2016 rule change to eliminate voters more than 10 years removed from covering the game whittled that year's total to 440 ballots. Charged with voting exclusively for major league players through a series of rules that has changed over time, they have elected 124 members through the 2017 ballot.
Beyond the writers is the Veterans Committee (VC), a term whose most common usage refers to a 10-to-20-member committee in service from 1953–2001 but is often used as a shorthand to cover a variety of small committees that have come and gone (detailed at greater legnth in Chapter 5):
Except for a short-lived expansion of the VC in the early 2000s, those various electorates have generally consisted of former executives, managers, players and media members, only some of whom were actual historians. Those bodies have elected 167 members, a breakdown that includes 96 long-retired payers, all of the major league managers, pioneers, executives, and umpires noted above, and nine Negro Leaguers. Additionally, the Committee on Negro League Veterans elected nine members from 1971–77, while the Special Committee on Negro Leagues elected 17 members in 2006.
Via the BBWAA, eligibility for election to the Hall of Fame as a player currently requires the following:
Activity as a major league player at some time during a period beginning 15 years before and ending five years prior to election. Thus a player has 10 years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot. From 1962–2014, players had 15 years of eligibility instead of 10; they could not be on the ballot once they were 20 years from retirement. A rule introduced by the Hall's board of directors in the summer of 2014, independent of the BBWAA, truncated the eligibility period of all holdover candidates save for three already in their 13th to 15th years, who were grandfathered. In one fell swoop, a candidate such as Tim Raines, who was presumed to have eight years of eligibility remaining following the 2014 ballot, suddenly had only three — a severe blow, given the slow but steady buildup of his support.
Activity in a minimum of 10 major league seasons, some part of which must have been within the aforementioned period. One game is sufficient to count as activity in a season, as established in the precedents of Ross Youngs (elected in 1972) and Amos Rusie (elected in 1977). The 10 "seasons" of Youngs, a 1920s outfielder whose career was cut short by a fatal illness, included seven games in 1917, the year he debuted. Rusie, an 1890s pitcher, outdid that with a three-appearance stint in 1901, after having sat out two years over a salary dispute and then a trade from the Giants to the Reds for Christy Mathewson.
Aside from the aforementioned Negro Leaguers and those elected as pioneers while falling short of the 10-year mark — Candy Cummings, Al Spalding, and Harry Wright among them — only once has the Hall's board of directors deviated from this rule. A 1977 special resolution made Addie Joss, a pitcher who died of tubercular meningitis in early 1911 after a career that spanned from 1902–10, eligible for consideration. The VC elected him the following January.
Retirement from playing for a minimum of five calendar years preceding the election. Participation as a coach, manager, or even minor league player is allowed in the interim. BBWAA ballots are generally released in late November with the results announced in early January, so the handy rule of thumb for eligibility means adding six to a player's last year in the majors. Thus 2013 retiree Mariano Rivera will be eligible on the 2019 ballot, released in late 2018.
It wasn't always this way. Babe Ruth was elected in 1936, a year after his final season. Lou Gehrig gained entry via a special election in December 1939, just months after the medical condition that would claim his life (and eventually bear his name) forced his retirement. Through 1945, no rule existed to prevent voting for active players, though none was elected as such. In the 1945 election, Joe DiMaggio — who had last played in 1942, prior to entering the military, though he was still understood to be active — received a vote. A rule enacted in 1946 required candidates to have been retired one year; in 1954, the now standard five-year waiting period was enacted, though any candidate who had previously received 100 or more votes in a single election (a caveat that only applied to DiMaggio) was grandfathered. He was elected in 1955, after a career that ended in '51.
The BBWAA has waived the five-year period in the case of an active player's death, albeit in uneven fashion. On March 30, 1973, three months after Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash, the writers voted to waive the five-year period and then held a special election via which he received 92%. Thurman Munson (died in 1979, included on 1981–95 ballots) and Darryl Kile (died in 2002, included on the 2003 ballot) received accelerated consideration but were not elected.
A candidate may not be on baseball's ineligible list. Thus a player under a lifetime ban for gambling (such as Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson) or three violations of the drug policy (hypothetical at this point; thrice-caught Jenrry Mejia didn't reach 10 years) is ineligible. This rule was enacted by the Hall's board of directors in February 1991, nearly 18 months after Rose was banned for life by Commissioner Bart Giamatti for gambling on baseball games. The move came amid a power struggle, as many in the BBWAA felt the decision to include Rose on the ballot should have been left to them, and the Hall feared he would be elected despite the ban.
Eligible candidates meeting the above requirements require nomination from any two members of the six-man BBWAA screening committee. While usually a formality, for players with no realistic shot at election, for whom just making the ballot is the honor, it can be a coin toss. Though generally of minimal consequence, omissions such as those of AllStars Chan Ho Park, the majors' first Korean-born player, and Javier Vazquez, ranked 30th all-time in strikeouts and first among Puerto Rico natives in wins, paint the BBWAA in a less than flattering light.
Upon reaching the ballot, a candidate must receive at least 5% of the vote in an election to retain eligibility for the following year. First introduced in 1979, and often referred to as the Five Percent Rule, this is the leading cause of Hall heartbreak. Among those who failed to reach that threshold are many players covered at length or in brief throughout this book, including Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Dwight Evans, Bobby Grich, Kenny Lofton, Ron Santo, Ted Simmons, and Lou Whitaker. Allen, Boyer, and Santo were among those whose eligibility was restored in a 1985 amnesty, though none was elected by the writers; Santo's 2011 election came via the VC (see Chapter 4).
To be elected, a candidate must receive at least 75% of the vote. For this requirement and the one above, voting percentages are not rounded upward, so 4.9% and 74.9% won't cut it. Nellie Fox (74.7% in 1985, two votes short) and Craig Biggio (74.8% in 2014, also two votes short) are examples of the "close, but no cigar" policy.
Voters may list a maximum of 10 candidates per annual ballot. This is often referred to as the Rule of Ten. In 2015, I was part of a BBWAA committee that recommended that the Hall of Fame revise the election process by expanding to 12 slots, both to help ameliorate a backlog of qualified candidates in the near-term and to help prevent underrepresenting current and future eras. The Hall's board of directors tabled the motion. More on this in Chapter 7.
If a candidate isn't elected during his window of BBWAA eligibility, he may be considered as part of the Today's Game Era Committee, a successor to the VC that focuses on candidates whose greatest contribution came from 1988 onward. That's one of four Era Committees created by a 2016 rule change, along with Early Baseball (1871–1949), Golden Days (1950–69), and Modern Baseball (1970–87). In the Hall's 10-year plan, the recent eras will be voted upon with greater frequency than the earlier ones, but given how often the institution has revamped the process since the turn of the millennium, don't be surprised if this changes again. For more, see Chapter 5.
Candidates who fall off the BBWAA ballot via the Five Percent Rule must wait until the end of their 10-year eligibility window to be considered by the Today's Game Era Committee. A lengthy screening process determines which candidates are considered for election on those committees' ballots, which may also include pioneers, executives, managers, and umpires. The voting for those committees takes place in person at the annual Winter Meetings in December.
As for the electorate itself, the BBWAA restricts voting to writers and editors of affiliated publications who have been active members of the organization for 10 consecutive years. Those who have reached the 10-year mark are eligible to continue voting for 10 years even if they retire or move on to Cat Fancy or Golf Flogger. In theory, that's because they are voting on players they once covered. Yours truly has been a member of the BBWAA since December 2010, which means that barring any rule change, I will get to vote in December 2020, for the players on the 2021 ballot, including those whose swan songs were in 2015.
For many a fan — particularly those born after World War II and thus positioned to take advantage of the Topps company's reboot of the genre — our connection to major leaguers as discrete personalities began with a pack of baseball cards. Those little slabs of cardboard not only gave us names, faces, and colorful uniforms to identify with our favorite teams, they sketched out biographical and statistical portraits of each player. "A chart of numbers that would put an actuary to sleep can be made to dance if you put it on one side of a card and Bombo Rivera's picture on the other," wrote Bill James in 1982.
Whether via cards, box scores, or the seemingly cryptic numbers on the television beneath a slugger's name, batting statistics often proved the most accessible. Batting average was the gateway drug, a bit of simple math magically imbued with the means to measure skill. We learned that stars hit .300 and sepia-toned legends .400. Home run totals measured a player's strength, with numbers like 60 and 61, 714 and 755 telling stories of unprecedented dominance and persistence. Runs batted in measured a player's ability to help his team by driving in other baserunners, and if not his moral fiber then at least his grace under pressure, his so-called "clutchness."
If you arrived in the last two decades clinging to those standards, you were in for a bumpy ride. While nobody hit .400, scoring levels skyrocketed, aided by expansion into better hitting environments such as high-altitude Colorado. In 1996, teams scored just over 5.0 runs per game for the first time since 1936. Every year from 1993–2009 featured teams scoring at least 4.5 runs per game, a level that had been reached just once since 1961, when MLB expanded beyond 16 teams. During the high-scoring 1990s and 2000s, balls flew out of the yard at record paces, and hulking sluggers toppled Roger Maris's single-season home run record and the career home run marks of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Meanwhile, complete games nearly became extinct, but pitchers struck out more hitters, as the stigma against the whiff receded, and careful study by sabermetricians showed that for hitters, strikeouts weren't as costly as previously believed.
Indeed, via both increasingly savvy front offices and the rapidly expanded media covering the game, sabermetrics has left a stamp both on play and team building. Over the past two decades, teams have placed increasing emphasis on everything from on-base percentage and optimal use of one-run strategies to defensive shifting and pitch framing, not to mention prospect and free agent valuations. At its base, sabermetrics provides a toolkit for grappling with the game's eternal questions. When is the right time to bunt or to steal a base? What is the best way to make out a batting order, or run a bullpen? How do baseball skills vary as players age? What do we know about the effects of performance-enhancing drugs on player performance? Entire books have been written about such questions, and Web sites such as Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, Beyond the Box Score, Hardball Times, and others continue to explore such matters.
That sabermetrics toolkit is helpful in comparing baseball from different eras, allowing us to place the recent offensive boom in better perspective, and to understand the game's evolution. What follows here is a quick tour through the tools I employ in this book, including Wins Above Replacement; I'll detail the Jaffe WAR Score — JAWS — system in the next chapter. There's more to be said on these topics than space allows — particularly in evaluating contemporary players in an age where we know the velocity of every pitch and batted ball — but for the sake of understanding Hall of Fame arguments, this should get you through the coming pages.
Going back to those numbers on the baseball card, the oft-cited Triple Crown stats and their benchmark plateaus (a .300 batting average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI) aren't especially good at telling even the most basic stories. Counting stats like runs and RBI are highly context-dependent and don't account for how many outs — how much of baseball's clock, so to speak — a player used.
Excerpted from "The Cooperstown Casebook"
Copyright © 2017 Jay Jaffe.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why Care About the Hall of Fame?
Part I: Battles and WARs
Chapter 1: The Nuts and Bolts of the Hall of Fame
Chapter 2: A Crash Course in Advanced Statistics
Chapter 3: Introducing JAWS
Chapter 4: How Voters Put Third Base in a Corner
Chapter 5: The Hall of Cronyism
Chapter 6: Blyleven, Morris and the War on WAR
Chapter 7: Representation and Reform
Chapter 8: This is Your Ballot on Drugs
Part II: Around the Diamond
Chapter 9: Catchers
Chapter 10: First Basemen
Chapter 11: Second Basemen
Chapter 12: Shortstops
Chapter 13: Third Basemen
Chapter 14: Leftfielders
Chapter 15: Centerfielders
Chapter 16: Rightfielders
Chapter 17: Starting Pitchers
Chapter 18: Relief Pitchers
Chapter 19: The Road Ahead