Yesterday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America named Justin Verlander as the AL MVP, making him the first pitcher to win the award since Dennis Eckersley in 1990 and the first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986. Congratulations to him after what was an excellent season by baseball’s most electric pitcher.
While we are celebrating Verlander and his accomplishment (you can legitimately contend Verlander doesn’t deserve the MVP, but that’s not what this post is about; let’s just feel good for Justin for a minute), controversy has again erupted and the MVP award voting has become a political nightmare. Voters are ignoring the instructions of the BBWAA in voting, are laying out nonsensical criteria to support local candidates, and essentially ignoring worthy players.
The trouble, as we’ll find out, is that there’s really no way to stop it…
Evan P. Grant, of the Dallas Morning Observer, was the only person to give Michael Young a first place vote, which reminds me that Michael Young is very similar to Warren Harding…
Warren Harding just looked like a President when he ran for office in 1920. Tall, gray-haired, and serious, he was regal, like a bald eagle made human. He inspired trust and confidence, despite being an empty suit who rarely attended the Senate in his six years representing Ohio, and rarely spoke. When Republicans deadlocked at their convention, Harding became the compromise candidate and went on to demolish Democrat James M. Cox in a landslide.
Michael Young doesn’t look like a President, but he sure as hell looks like an MVP candidate. He’s sharp-looking in a uniform. And he gets that uniform dirty. And he hits for a high batting average, played a bunch of positions in 2011, is generally praised as a team leader, and helped his team win the AL West. But, like Harding, that initial impression fades once you look deeper.
Harding had a lot of secrets. For one thing, he was a serial womanizer, who had affairs with at least four women, including his secretary, a young high school girl in Ohio with whom he fathered an illegitimate daughter, and a Germano-phile who supported Germany in both WWI and WWII and ended up blackmailing the Republican party into an extended trip to Asia as payment for her silence. He also embraced cronyism and influence peddling, and his administration was horribly corrupt from top to bottom. Indeed, the full extent of his administration’s corruption wouldn’t become known until years after his death in 1923, and will never truly be known given that his wife destroyed almost all of his personal papers upon his death.
Michael Young’s secrets are far more out in the open, if you know what to look for. He may play a lot of positions, but he publically balked at having to play each of them and has twice demanded to be traded because of having to move around. He also doesn’t really play any of them well, displaying a lack of range at SS and 2B, poor reflexes at 3B, and bad hands at 1B. And while he fields enough to DH, his offense there was good, not great. He also is helped tremendously by his home ballpark, which had a one-year park factor of 117 according to Baseball-Reference, and hit .322/.377/.399 with just one homerun on the road.
Which is not to say that Michael Young is not a good ballplayer. He is. But he’s not the most valuable player in the American League. He’s not even the most valuable player on the Rangers. And just about everyone can see that, except for Young’s personal Nan Britton, Evan P. Grant, who fetishizes Young to a disturbing extent.
Jim Ingraham is the only guy who didn’t vote for Justin Verlander at all because he was protesting the fact that pitchers are eligible for the MVP, which is dumb. Like, voting for Ralph Nader in Florida dumb…
If you’ll recall, the 2000 Presidential election was pretty damn close. Al Gore, the sitting Vice President actually won a plurality of the vote against Texas Governor George W. Bush, but the Electoral College came down to Florida. I was watching that night in my dorm, a college senior who had not yet been beaten down by life and still had hope. Just before 8:00, CNN called Florida for Gore and it looked like he’d won the election. I went to bed extremely happy a couple hours later. However, that was soon retracted, and many networks decided in the early morning that Bush had won. Then that was retracted. Eventually, after all the recounts, Bush was declared the winner by the state canvassing board by 537 votes, giving him the electoral votes he needed to win the election.
That year, Ralph Nader had been running as the Green Party candidate and had gotten significant coverage by the media. Supporters were hoping to use his candidacy to protest the two-party system, and the direction of the Democratic Party. In Florida, Nader garnered 97,488 votes and you have to figure that many of those would have gone to Gore. Thus, because these voters chose protest over constructive action, the United States veered wildly to the right for eight years, simultaneously fought two wars on foreign soil (one of which that was based on erroneous intelligence), and saw the Supreme Court go from a liberal majority to a conservative majority, and led to massive debates about the Constitutional right of the Federal government to listen in on telephone conversations without a warrant and the definition of torture. Good job.
Ingraham’s vote had none of those effects. He just the one guy who didn’t vote for the guy who ended up winning anyway. But the principle is the same. In refusing to follow the expressed rules of the MVP voting, and refusing to consider pitchers on principle, Ingraham is making his protest on the back of Justin Verlander, which seems like a crappy thing to do. Pedro Martinez lost the MVP in 2000 because two writers made a similar decision not to follow the rules, and given the wide open voting this year, there’s a chance that Ingraham’s decision could have made a difference. If Ingraham wants the rules of the BBWAA to change to make pitchers ineligible to receive the MVP award, that’s fine. He’s a member of the organization and can lobby them to change their rules. But to refuse to follow the rules at the expense of another person is pretty terrible.
These controversies illustrate that the BBWAA voting for awards is not perfect, but frankly I can’t think of anything better, which is kind of how I feel about the Electoral College itself…
Yes, the craziness of the Electoral College system led to President Bush running the United States for eight years. But I’ll be honest, I can’t really think of a better system. The US is a big country and different regions have different interests. And small states should not have their interests immediately marginalized by the needs of the large states. This ensures that rural parts of the U.S. receive adequate funding to maintain roads, schools, and communications infrastructure and protects them somewhat from being run over roughshod by larger states. Majority rule sounds like pure democracy, but it doesn’t do a great job of defending the rights of the minority, and the Electoral College, amongst other Constitutional protections, is designed to account for that.
I can’t really think of a better system than using the BBWAA for voting either. It’s an accredited organization, with more legitimacy and greater controls than simply opening the voting up to the fans. Remember how silly the final fan voting for the All Star Game is? Or how the Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente awards are basically controlled by whichever teams are best at turning out the vote? Player voting has some appeal, but there’s little evidence that players know any more about who the best players are than we do. Consider their votes for NL All Star positions, in which they continually go with the biggest names, or former players’ work on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee. Nor are managers and coaches a truly great electoral body, given their history with the Gold Glove voting. The best decision is to stick with the BBWAA for now, but to urge them to revisit their criteria for allowing writers to vote. Too often, editors and columnist with little consistent connection to the game get an opportunity to make uninformed choices. Likewise, the BBWAA should insist that writers follow the criteria and rules for each award, and suspend voting privileges for any member who admits to breaking them. Finally, all votes should be public, to eliminate where possible examples of clubhouse cronyism and to encourage voters to think critically about their choices. Maybe then we can start to see better results across the board.