Without managers making IDIOT calls and baseball broadcasters saying the STUPIDEST THING EVER, baseball fans have been forced to direct their vitriol at the annual parade of ridiculousness that is MLB Award voting. It’s an easy target. And this year, the bulls eye got a whole lot bigger with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) deciding to reveal each the ballots of each voter on its website after individual award winners are announced.
The BBWAA section found at BaseballLibrary.com informs us that the organization was officially founded on October 14, 1908, as a means of improving working conditions for sportswriters. In 1910, the BBWAA’s exclusiveness was recognized for the first time when baseball teams in New York began only admitting registered members of the association to the press box. This is the last thing that the website tells us about the BBWAA, presumably because very little has changed since then. Even their website looks as though it was designed through the help of GeoCities during the early part of the 20th Century.
A little bit more research reveals that the BBWAA presented American and National League MVP awards unofficially in 1930, with their awards not being officially recognized by Major League Baseball until a year later. Currently, the group of writers vote solely on four awards – Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year – with two writers from each chapter in each league getting a vote. Every city that calls itself home to a Major League Baseball team has a BBWAA chapter, and each chapter has a president who decides on the voters. When short-handed, a chapter president will request a vote from a national writer who calls a local chapter home, a retired local writer who still has honorary membership, or even a current member who has already voted on another award.
The bureaucracy of the whole thing is a bit silly, with an added element of inflated self-importance. It’s all reminiscent of imagining the construction of a ship in a bottle to be far more important than it truly is. On top of this, the process consistently yields questionable results. It’s one thing to award Miguel Cabrera the MVP award over Mike Trout even though the younger player had a slightly better season, but quite another to suggest that Jim Johnson was the third most valuable player in the American League in 2012.
So, here’s what’s wrong with Major League Baseball’s award voting:
Outdated And Archaic
Back in 1910, it wouldn’t be difficult to believe that baseball beat writers watched more baseball than anyone else. In 2012, that’s more than likely not the case. While many members of the BBWAA cover a specific team, and likely watch more than 90% of their games, only a minority of those voting would be able to watch as many games as a fan who has MLB.tv or an Extra Innings cable television package. Those who decide on who wins what award are more than likely to be chasing after quotes and writing stories instead of watching baseball.
Accounts For Wrong Bias
Insulting many on multiple levels, the BBWAA doesn’t allow MLB.com writers to vote on the end-of-season awards because of a potential conflict of interest. I’m really not sure which is worse: implying that so many of those covering baseball for the league’s website don’t have the capacity to act as professionally as their colleagues; or suggesting that very same potentially biased writers can’t vote on awards, can freely share their opinions and thoughts to all MLB.com readers throughout the entirety of the baseball season, while receiving BBWAA accreditation.
Meanwhile, other writers are allowed to vote for the players that they cover or not vote for players that they don’t cover that are competing with the players that they do cover for an award.
Awarding the subjects of a writer’s coverage also poses a problem beyond conflict of interest. It means that a player’s personality can sway voters on what’s supposed to be an award based on the merit of performance. How easy would it be for you to look past a person’s less than charming characteristics to reward them?
Writers, by habit of their profession, are more inclined to appreciate a good narrative over accuracy. For instance, a 38-year-old pitcher without an ulnar collateral ligament having a career year is much more interesting than a 24-year-old pitcher exerting his usual dominance over the batters of the National League. Guess which one of those two players is more likely to win an end-of-season award.
We already have statistics in place that give us an idea of who provided the most value to a team. Why do we need to make that definitive with the unnecessary certification of others, bringing bias and putting their spin on such matters? Why do we even need to label a most valuable player or best pitcher at all? The entire enterprise is the pursuit of a correct answer in an area where no such thing exists.