David Rubin: Hall Door Wrongly Shut in Koosman's Face!!

*Editor's Note- this is a "modernized" version of a post that I wrote about 11 years ago, back in the days of my first blog about the Mets, "Mets Trades" - which began back in 2005!! The sentiment still holds true, the argument especially salient in light of compromised modern HOF pitching stats!!

In 1968, when I began watching Mets games on TV with my grandfather (in the days of Rheingold Beer and Royal Crown Cola), the third pitcher I ever watched was the great Mets' lefty, Jerry Koosman (Nolan Ryan was the first, Tom Seaver the second). That season, the great Kooz was an all-star, won 19 games, had an E.R.A. of 2.08, pitched 7 shut-outs and completed 17 games, all of which remain rookie records for the Mets. He was runner-up to the legendary Johnny Bench (my favorite all-time non-Met) in rookie-of-the-year voting, winning the rookie pitcher of the year. Combined with Seaver, he gave us not only the best lefty-righty combo in our teams' history, but one of the best combos of all-time! In 1969, Koosman's second season, he came back with 17 wins, 16 complete games (out of 32 started - an amazing 1/2 of his starts), threw 241 innings, pitched 6 shut-outs, struck out 180 while walking only 68, and had an E.R.A. of 2.28. Best of all, in the '69 series, he beat the Orioles twice, hence the great 1970 Topps Baseball Card, "Koosman Shuts The Door!"

In 1976, the only thing standing between Kooz and the Cy Young award was future Met, Randy Jones. Every Met fan knows Kooz got robbed, as his 2.63 E.R.A., 21 wins with only 10 losses, 32 games started with 17 completed, 3 shut-outs, 200 strike-outs with only 66 walks, and 247 innings pitched on a team that went 86 - 76 (with Kooz responsible for almost 25% of the teams wins!) should have been enough to bring the trophy home. Sadly, Kooz had a bunch of other bad breaks while with the Mets. He had arm troubles in 1971, posting a 6-11 record with a 3.04 E.R.A., and this coincided with a downward spiral by the Mets, propped up amazingly (all pun intended) in 1973 by their loss to the A's in the world series, but leaving Kooz to pitch for mediocre teams for the remainder of his Mets career. On a better team, with Koosman's stuff, he would have had at least 45 more victories, bringing him up to over 260 victories and a more realistic chance at the hall. In 1979, at the age of 37, Koosman won 20 games for his hometown Twins, and there's no reason that he couldn't have been doing that with the Mets if we provided him with a better product behind him.

Koosman has been compared to the likes of Mickey Lolich, Luis Tiant, Dennis Martinez and Frank Tanana, when it comes to overall stats, but most importantly, at www.baseball-reference.com, he is compared to hall-of-fame pitcher Jim Bunning. (BTW: I also believe that El Tiante’ belongs in the HOF, too, but that’s an argument for another day.)
Let's look at this comparison:
Seasons: Koosman - 19, Bunning - 17
20 Win Seasons: Koosman - 2, Bunning - 1
E.R.A.: Koosman - 3.36, Bunning - 3.27
Innings: Koosman - 3839, Bunning - 3760
K's: Koosman - 2556, Bunning - 2855
Comp. Games: Koosman - 140, Bunning – 151
Total Wins: Koosman - 222, Bunning – 224

As you can see, there is little to no difference between their stats. Well, there's one major difference- Kooz was 4-0 in 6 post-season games, and Bunning never pitched in the post-season. And the other difference is that Koosman was only on the HOF ballot once, garnering an embarassing 4 votes, and has since been ignored by the veteran's committee.

Bunning, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was good enough to make the ballot 15 times, and lose the election 15 times as well. Bunning was NOT overlooked by the Veteran's Committee, however, and so the major difference between these hurlers is that Bunning is a member of the HOF since 1996. He's been a member of the House of Representatives, was an active participant in the creation of the player's association, won 100 games in each league, and threw a perfect game vs. The Mets, on Father's Day, 1964, as part of a doubleheader that was witnessed in person by my father and grandfather. (Quick Note: My grandpa loved baseball, and especially the Mets, but he told my dad that the perfect game bored him. History, it seems, is not always as interesting in person.) Koosman didn't have any of these things going for him, and unlike Bunning, he was usually the second bananna on his pitching staff's (a la Tom Glavine), mostly in the shadow of the great Tom Seaver. If you look, however, just at the stats, you must come to the conclusion that if Jim Bunning is in the HOF, Jerry Koosman belongs as well. This won't happen, however, because the HOF is NOT going to expel Bunning, and rightly so, and Koosman will never get the push he deserves from the Veteran's Committee.

I only wish that Koosman came around today, as he would certainly be a HOFer and be appreciated outside of NY and Minnesota for his greatness on the mound. He will be remembered by baseball card collectors for being the "other player" on the Nolan Ryan 1968 rookie Topps baseball card (I looked at the card back then first as Koosman's rookie card), but he will be remembered by me for his 1972 card, which was the 2nd hardest Mets card that year for me to get. The hardest was Gil Hodges, but that was because my friend kept taking them from me.

Koosman was hard because both his regular card and his "In Action" cards came in the later (6th) series of cards, which were not as easy to get as earlier series were. Therefore, I believed that Koosman must be a great player since his card was so hard to come by. That and the fact that he signed an autograph for me at Lum's Chinese Restaurant will always endear him to me. All that aside, though, in this person’s opinion, Kooz belongs in the HOF, right next to his old friend, Tom Seaver.

We'll talk about Keith Hernandez soon...


Mack Ade said...


Jerry Koosman.

Ya know, these are the kind of posts that David does the best. Mets history. He has it all up in his head.

I never thought Koos got his just do living in the shadow of Tom Terrific. And I never got to see him play because of my commitment to the business world.

Keep these pieces up David. They are the difference from other Mets blogs.

Thomas Brennan said...

Great article - loved it, David.

"Sadly, Kooz had a bunch of other bad breaks while with the Mets. He had arm troubles in 1971, posting a 6-11 record with a 3.04 E.R.A."

I actually did an article on the Koos last year, with a similar thrust, but a different comparison - Mike Mussina.

Mike had fine hitters almost his whole career.


Which is why a guy could go 6-11, and not 11-6, with a nifty 3.04 ERA. I estimated that if Koos had pitched for the same teams Mussina had, he'd have won 80 more, lost 80 less...and absolutely been a hall of famer. Even with average hitting teams, probably 50 more wins, 50 less losses.

Jerry deserves to be in the Hall - his teams failed to hit for him, over and over and over and over. Very sad.

Hitters get penalized very little if on poor teams vs great teams in terms of performance over the course of their careers. Pitchers are at the mercy of their team's hitters.

Look at Jake this year - this is a hitting team, not the best in baseball but a good one, above average in scoring. If he was on some of those Koosman teams, instead of 12-3 this year, he might be 8-7.

Thomas Brennan said...

I had that 1968 rookie card as a kid - who knew they would go 546 wins, 501 losses, 3.10 ERA, 9,225 innings, 8,270 Ks between them?

Hobie said...

Remember watching Koos from that low angle WOR camera (with the CF visible in the distance)--that drop off the table curve. How did anybody ever hit him?

Fjs said...

In 1964 I went on active duty at Fort Bliss in El Paso. It was the same unit that Koosman was assigned. For my 2 years there his former sargents followed his career in the minors always bragging how good he was, they talked about how we was discovered...they were so right.

Thomas Brennan said...

Fjs, very cool memory. Thanks

Michael Semmi Jr. sem said...

His '68,'69, and '76 seasons were only part of his fine career that saw him garnish 2 20 win seasons. His record is superior to Jesse Haines and compares favorably to Jim Bunning. He won more games than Koufax, Drysdale and Dizzy Dean. He flirted with a no hitter in game 2 of the '69 , only days later, hurling a complete in the the game 5 finale as the Mets shocked Earl Weavers Orioles. From '72 to '75 , he posted solid seasons . He was undefeated in post season competition and finished with 225 wins. I would say that he belongs in Cooperstown along with Hodges. What would the history of the Mets look if Koosman never joined them ?

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