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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book Recommendation: Cooperstown Confidential, Zev Chafets

A few days ago, I finished the book Cooperstown Confidential by Zev Chafets. And I would highly recommend it. Chafets doesn’t normally write about baseball, but he is a fan, which is probably the best combination possible for a book on airing the Baseball Hall of Fame’s dirty laundry. He was able to form an opinion based more on his research than any veneration of the institution, and the result is a book that does a great job at examining Cooperstown from every angle imaginable.

There’s the historical, with Chafets detailing the politics that led to the creation of the Hall. There’s the monetary, as he examines many of the more cynical benefits to Hall election. He takes on the character clause, with great efficiency. His stance on steroids and other drugs is everything that I always want to write, but don’t have the space to cover. Overall, the book is informative and compelling, and brings up many issues that I didn’t even realize existed with the Hall.

Many of the deepest issues are with the Hall leadership and the voters themselves, which almost totally disillusioned me with Cooperstown. I think the time that has passed since I finished the book has cooled off, and I think something can be done to fix it. If nothing else, it provides interesting things to write about in the off season. I’ll still be paying attention to all of that, even if I’ll be keeping a closer eye on the Hall of Merit elections and the Hall of wWAR updates at the same time.

For all of his good points, there are a few issues, most stemming from his not following baseball as closely as others. The biggest problems come from when he tries to make a point on the Hall’s election process by pointing out snubs. For example, when he tries to use a comparison between Steve Garvey and Wade Boggs character issues, or racism and the Hall.

For example, he points out that Garvey and Boggs were both subject to infidelity, but only Garvey had his Hall candidacy torpedoed for it. He blames that on the Baseball Writers feeling taken for fools by his “Senator” persona, and taking revenge by withholding votes. I don’t think that’s at all an unfair accusation, actually. Chafets has evidence that people at the time thought of him as a Hall of Famer, at least. However, he then compares his situation to Boggs, who had a similar cheating scandal. His conclusion is that, since Boggs didn’t have the reputation, there was no retribution. That totally ignores the fact that Wade Boggs was totally on a different level than Steve Garvey, performance-wise. Maybe Boggs would have been hit vote-wise if he had a similar reputation. But the disparity in career achievements makes the comparison as it is a little useless.

He has the same issue when he examines the Hall’s track record with minorities, noting the problems black players have had in past voting. However, some of his evidence is lacking at best. When he points out that Andre Dawson and Jim Rice took years to get elected, he ignores many of the real problems in their candidacies (for example, Dawson’s low on-base percentage and Rice’s inflated numbers from playing in Fenway Park). He also drags in Dave Parker and Albert Belle, although both players are, in reality, rather far from deserving. He does bring up several good players, though; using some of that time on Dick Allen (who he mentions) or Tim Raines (who he doesn’t) might have helped his case. There was plenty of good evidence to use, and Chafets gets a lot of it. But there are ways it could have been further refined.

It doesn’t take away too much from the book, though. Most of the general points stand, even if Chafets could have used some help getting the best evidence possible. But if you really want to understand all the ins and outs of the Hall of Fame, its history, and what exactly it means, then I would definitely recommend Cooperstown Confidential.

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