We should have been able to set our watches or at least our calendars by Dwight Gooden's retirement. The first post-BCS Tuesday in the first January that followed his first five years of not pitching was supposed to be a day of celebration and validation in Metsopotamia. No matter what historical Hall of Fame judgment was passed on Gary Carter or Keith Hernandez or Darryl Strawberry, we knew that the 1986 Mets would be represented in the sanctioned ranks of the immortals because we could absolutely count on an announcement that Dr. K was going to be elevated to Dr. Koop — as in Kooperstown.
Yes, they were going to change the spelling in his honor. It was a mortal lock.
The Dwight Gooden watch that was so state-of-the-art when we first strapped it on in 1984 turned out to keep not such good time. It slowed down perceptibly in 1987, but we brought it to the jewelers for rehab and repair, and it worked pretty well into 1991. However, it stopped ticking altogether in 1994.
We threw it out in 1996.
Dwight Gooden is not going into the Hall of Fame this afternoon or ever. By now, we're not surprised. There was a time…well, you know what happened and what didn't happen. (If you somehow don't, find out.)
Gregg Jefferies, Rick Aguilera and Orel Hershiser joined Doc on this year's Hall of Fame ballot and will no doubt keep him company on the castoff pile when the voting is announced at 2 PM. I'd be surprised if any of our four 2006 candidacies live to be considered in 2007.
But let's not give up on gaining another plaque for our guys. Let's start a movement. Let's get Jerry Koosman into the Hall of Fame.
So what if he retired in 1985? Who cares if he passed from the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot with four votes in 1991? Or that two revamped Veterans Committee elections came and went in 2003 and 2005 with 26 and 25 players listed, respectively, and that none of them was Jerry Koosman?
Big deal that it's almost never occurred to anybody with or without BBWAA credentials that Jerry Koosman is a Hall of Famer. He should be in anyway.
Why? Because Jim Bunning is. And if Bunning is, there's no good reason Koosman isn't.
Jim Bunning was not voted in by the writers but he had a ton more supporters than Kooz. He made the ballot all 15 years that he was eligible from 1977 to 1991. His support fluctuated from the 38.12% he got his first time out, down to 33.25% five years later and then, magically, up over 50% for the first time in his ninth attempt. In 1988, he came thisclose, with 74.24%. Seventy-five is what's needed.
Naturally, you'd think he'd make it the next year, but his vote total dipped to 63.31% in '89, then 57.88% in '90. His last shot saw him bounce back to over 63%.
Jim Bunning was voted on 15 times and passed over 15 times. That was it, over and out…until he was eligible to be elected by the Veterans Committee, which did just that in 1996.
His win total remained stagnant in the five years that followed the end of his career, stayed just as stagnant in his decade-and-a-half on the writers' ballot, held steady during the five years thereafter and hadn't increased or decreased by as many as one when he finally gained entrance to Cooperstown. To be fair about it, he had as many career losses in 1996 as he did in 1971 when he stopped pitching.
You could say the same about Koosman. Actually, you could say a lot of the same about Bunning and Koosman.
Jim Bunning pitched 17 seasons in the big leagues.
Jerry Koosman pitched 19 seasons in the big leagues.
Jim Bunning won 224 games.
Jerry Koosman won 222 games.
Jim Bunning won 20 games once.
Jerry Koosman won 20 games twice.
Jim Bunning won at least 14 games in nine separate seasons.
Jerry Koosman won at least 14 games in nine separate seasons.
Jim Bunning's average won-lost record, according to Baseball Reference, was 13-11.
Jerry Koosman's average won-lost record, according to Baseball Reference, was 13-12.
Jim Bunning won 54.9% of his decisions.
Jerry Koosman won 51.5% of his decisions.
Jim Bunning's career ERA was 3.27.
Jerry Koosman's career ERA was 3.36.
Jim Bunning threw 3,760-1/3 innings.
Jerry Koosman threw 3,839-1/3 innings.
Jim Bunning struck out 2,855 batters.
Jerry Koosman struck out 2,556 batters.
Jim Bunning gave up 1,000 walks.
Jerry Koosman gave up 1,198 walks.
Jim Bunning completed 151 games.
Jerry Koosman completed 140 games.
Jim Bunning tossed 40 shutouts.
Jerry Koosman tossed 33 shutouts.
Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game at Shea Stadium.
Jerry Koosman pitched a complete game to win a World Series at Shea Stadium.
Jim Bunning never pitched in the postseason.
Jerry Koosman was 4-0 in six postseason starts.
Jim Bunning won 106 games in the National League and 118 games in the American League.
Jerry Koosman won 160 games in the National League and 62 games in the American League.
Jim Bunning was an All-Star seven times.
Jerry Koosman was an All-Star twice.
Jim Bunning's most prominent pitching staff cohorts were Frank Lary, Chris Short and Rick Wise.
Jerry Koosman's most prominent pitching staff cohorts were Tom Seaver, LaMarr Hoyt and Steve Carlton.
Jim Bunning appeared on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot 15 times, receiving 3,213 votes and was later elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee as soon as they had the chance.
Jerry Koosman appeared on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot once, receiving 4 votes and has never been considered by the Veterans Committee.
Conclusion: The respective Hall of Fame statuses of Jim Bunning and Jerry Koosman make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Either they're both Hall of Famers or neither of them are.
Why on earth was Bunning a consistent if solid also-ran with the writers and then enough of a cause célèbre to merit immediate inclusion by the veterans? And with a career that was in so many ways a lefty mirror image of Bunning's, why was Koosman completely shunted aside by both constituencies?
A few theories for Bunning:
• He was in the U.S. House of Representatives when admitted to the Hall in '96 and baseball, still trying to nail down a Basic Agreement after the '94-'95 strike, figured it could use all the friends it could get in Washington.
• He helped form the Players Association in 1966, and while Marvin Miller's work has gone unrecognized by those who make these decisions, the players on the Veterans Committee appreciated their peer's action on their behalf.
• He threw a perfect game, which is pretty rare — and was extraordinarily so when he did it in 1964.
• He won 100 games in both leagues, a neat trick.
• He was the undisputed ace of most of the staffs on which he pitched.
• He was remembered fondly by some old buddy who got the ball rolling, standard operating procedure for the Vets before their committee was retooled in 2003.
• He wasn't a politician, either before or after he played. Though he was well liked by teammates, I don't know much about his networking skills.
• He didn't throw a perfect game.
• He didn't win 100 games in each league.
• He pitched alongside Cy Young winners and wasn't often looked upon as the No. 1 starter on his teams.
• His numbers are almost the same as Bunning's in virtually every relevant category.
• He was a 20-game winner for the Mets in 1976 and the Twins in 1979. That's two different leagues. It's not a hundred wins, but it's an accomplishment. Besides that, both 20-win seasons marked personal renaissances that followed first a series of beleaguering injuries and then two off-years in which non-support saddled him with dreadful records. Jerry Koosman won 20 for the first time at age 33 and 20 for the second time at age 36.
• He won 19 games as a rookie on a ninth-place team and would have been Rookie of the Year most any other year, but 1968 happened to be the year Johnny Bench debuted.
• He didn't make nearly as many All-Star teams as Bunning — perhaps a symptom of not being the ace on the Mets, the White Sox or the Phils — but he was considered the clutchest of September pitchers. (All-Star teams are picked in July.)
• He is arguably the best postseason pitcher the Mets have ever had, something Bunning can't claim for any team, as Bunning never got to October. The closest he came was 1964 when the Phillies fell apart. Bunning was shelled in his two must-win starts in the final week of that year, though it must be said he was pitching on two days' rest at the behest of the legendarily panicking Gene Mauch.
Truthfully, it's not so much that I think Jerry Koosman belongs in the Hall of Fame. Sure, I'd like to see it, but that's not my point. My point is what is Jim Bunning doing there? I recall only the tail end of Bunning's career first-hand, but I don't remember him being discussed in the stratosphere of the great pitchers of the day, either the old hands like Gibson and Marichal or the young guns like Seaver and Carlton. When his career was complete, there were no surprising Blylevenian totals that caught your attention. While it's interesting that his wins were split pretty evenly between the N.L. and A.L., he was facing Major Leaguers every year either way. In these days of player movement (perhaps facilitated by Bunning's union activity), it's less uncommon to see a pitcher succeed in two leagues. The perfect game was memorable but it was against us…the 1964 (53-109) us. And it was one game in June.
Speaking of feats at Shea, if I had to have one pitcher for one game, I'd take Kooz over just about anybody, based on the way he hung in against and then dominated the Orioles — 6-1/3 one-hit innings after spotting them a 3-0 lead in the third — in Game Five of the '69 World Series. He pitched 8-2/3 innings of two-hit ball four days earlier in Baltimore. Jerry Koosman pitched a New York team to a world championship. It was he who threw the last pitch of the most fabled underdog season of modern times. Ed Charles and Jerry Grote creating a Koosman sandwich is one of baseball's truly iconic baseball images. Where's that supposed New York bias when a fella needs it?
In his illuminating 1994 book The Politics of Glory, Bill James warned against falling head over heels for the “If-One-Then” argument, which goes “if this player is in and he's comparable to this other player, then the other player should be in, too.” What it gets you, he wrote, is a Hall of Fame filled with players whose main qualification is they are all better than the worst Hall of Famer. Comparisons of the “If-One-Then” nature, James said, can help you make a case but they shouldn't be the case.
Understood. But I'm still stumped as to why Jim Bunning was considered such a legitimate candidate for so long and why Jerry Koosman, his statistical near-doppelganger and the No. 13 Greatest Met of the First Forty Years, received all of four votes. Ideally, I'd simply throw Bunning out of Cooperstown, but they don't do that sort of thing.
If the Doc Gooden watch had kept better time, this wouldn't be an issue here today.
Even though Kooz wasn't on this year's HOF ballot, I filled one out anyway at Gotham Baseball.