My issues with the National Baseball Hall of Fame have been well documented on this site. Those views haven’t changed, but I am a fan of Jay Jaffe’s writing for FanGraphs, and that made his book The Cooperstown Casebook an easy grab while perusing a local Half Price Books a few months back. I knew I’d struggle with some of the information Jaffe presented, while I respect him I don’t view Cooperstown with the same reverence as he does. All the same, reading a book from a writer I like is never a a bad thing.
At its core, The Cooperstown Casebook is about the election process of the NBHoF (Hall of Fame or Hall from here on out) and profiles of players who are in the Hall, should be in the Hall, and have no business being in the Hall. On these matters, Jaffe’s novel delivers, and delivers in a big way. His profiles, whether the beginning chapter case studies or the rest of chapter bite-size paragraphs, give a great rundown of a player’s career and why they are in the position they are in. The level of detail that Jaffe puts into his book is welcome and once he moved past the minutiae of the Hall’s selection process I found myself breezing through his player profiles because they were a healthy combination of detailed and interesting.
The first 5 or so chapters are a bit of a slog though, there’s just no two ways around that. For people who are more invested in the Hall, they probably won’t care. For someone like me who isn’t super into the dumb rules the Hall uses, those chapters took some time to get through. When it comes to the process chapters I don’t think most will have the same takeaway as I did, and in that regard, Jaffe’s novel hits the exact mark it is seeking because Hall aficionados will eat up the time he spends detailing the nuts and bolts of getting into Cooperstown.
Little ticky-tack things about The Cooperstown Casebook bugged me. I didn’t like the references to Major League Baseball as organized ball. This is belittling towards other leagues as if somehow they aren’t organized and professional like MLB. I get that Jaffe probably didn’t even intend for his uses of the organized label to come across that way, but they do. I also found the reasons for his support of Curt Schilling’s candidacy to not be valid. This is more of a difference of opinion than any sort of critique on Jaffe’s writing, but, ultimately a book is a conversation between author and reader. In the Schilling conversation, I found myself completely disagreeing with Jaffe’s stance. Schilling is a scumbag, Jaffe agrees, but whereas Jaffe doesn’t think he should be kept out of the Hall because of his transphobia, racism, sexism, and Islamophobia I see no reason to celebrate him because he is all of those things. Again, a personal difference more than anything else, but, it still affected my enjoyment of The Cooperstown Casebook.
The one area where I was extremely disappointed in The Cooperstown Casebook was in its handling of the Negro Leagues. There’s no chapter devoted to them and Jaffe is all too willing to fall back on the accepted claptrap of, “well, the Negro major leagues played a shorter season and we don’t have all the records, so they can’t really be factored into a player’s career.” That’s hogwash, and while Jaffe isn’t the only baseball writer or historian guilty of this it would have been nice to read him buck the MLB party line and include Negro major league stats. I have an inkling that Jaffe knows the Negro major leagues are major, no matter the narrative MLB and the Hall may try and shove down people’s throats. That Jaffe didn’t take a stand for Negro major league stats being included in a player’s candidacy made sections like his case study on Minnie Miñoso pretty hard to stomach.
After the last couple of paragraphs, it may surprise you that I highly recommend The Cooperstown Casebook. On the whole, I greatly enjoyed the player profiles. Just because I disagreed with a few of Jaffe’s arguments doesn’t mean this isn’t a good book. The Negro League stuff does really bother me and I did find the opening few chapters to be a slog. But, most won’t care about the Negro League stuff (which bothers me for other reasons) and those who are interested in the Hall will love the early chapter stuff. To those interested in the Hall Jaffe’s book gets the highest recommendation possible. If you’re like me and aren’t too keen on the Hall of Fame I’d still recommend The Cooperstown Casebook because the attention and care that Jaffe put into the player profiles more than makes his book worth your time and money.
Lead photo courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books