Baseball writers in a tough spot when it comes to voting for awards – Trentonian


As an American, the ability to vote is a precious right. For a sports journalist, it is sometimes more than that. I have always voted in November, but I have also voted in many other months. It has become the norm.

A typical year would begin with the Motor Racing Hall of Fame voting in January. Then there would be the John R. Wooden Award in March, the Heisman Trophy in November, and the Baseball Hall of Fame vote in December. Some years there would be a National League Cy Young Award ballot or a Rookie of the Year ballot in September.

I always felt honored to participate in these awards and took the responsibility seriously. I was well aware that the quotes meant something to potential recipients as well as the millions of fans who supported and idolized them. Nonetheless, I have always felt comfortable posting my selections.

I was not as comfortable on two other occasions. Both times I found myself on a three-person panel tasked with picking the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player. The price, itself, was almost insignificant. As the second roll of the World Series rolls around, few people care — or even remember — which players have been named MVPs of their respective LCS. There was another reason why this vote made me worried.

The winner would receive a brand new automobile.

As a voter, I did more than just decide who I thought was worthy of a particular honor. I was voting to grant material wealth to someone. Believe me, it’s not the same thing. At least it wasn’t for me. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if there were millions of dollars on my vote, but several members of the Baseball Writers Association of America might be about to find out what that feels like.

The BBWAA was given heavy new responsibilities last week and didn’t even have a chance to say no.

The BBWAA awards eight post-season awards each year – Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year in each league. Each award is voted on by a panel of 30 writers, made up of two from each city in the league. It’s how the writers recognize who had the biggest positive impact on each particular season. None of these awards were ever intended to be more than an honor and a legacy.

Last week, the owners and players ratified a five-year contract that potentially makes BBWAA awards something they weren’t created for. In some cases, a player’s contract status and annual compensation will depend on the outcome of the post-season vote. Not a single scribe was consulted before the owners and players jointly decided to hand over this responsibility to the writers.

One of the gripes of players at the bargaining table is that clubs deliberately detain minor-league rookies just long enough to deny them first-year service credit. By doing so, the team is effectively delaying the date the player will be eligible for salary arbitration and the date he will be eligible for free agency by one year.

The players demanded an end to this practice but achieved nothing except a concession from the owners. They agreed that any player who places first or second in the Rookie of the Year ballot will receive credit for a full year of service time, regardless of when they were called up to the majors.

In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be a problem, but when money is at stake, human beings tend to be less than perfect. Sooner or later, there will likely be players and their agents pushing for votes. Sooner or later, there will likely be CEOs and owners pushing to suppress votes. How far will they go to influence voters? Where is the line between lobbying and threat? Where is the line between lobbying and corruption? What happens if someone crosses this line, which is initially blurred?

And that’s just the rookie of the year award. There are potentially bigger issues related to the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young award voting.

The most contentious issue at the bargaining table was the players’ assertion that the most productive players sometimes receive the lowest wages because they have little or no bargaining power. Teams can get away with paying the major league minimum to pre-arbitration players, regardless of their contribution to the team’s success.

Again, the owners insisted on keeping the existing rules in place and, for the most part. have made their way. However, they have agreed to provide an annual fund of $50 million which will be divided among the pre-arbitration players. Each player’s share will be determined by a statistical formula and, if applicable, their position on the BBWAA rewards ballots.

Saint Abner Doubleday, look how it feels!!!

Last season, Corbin Burnes of the Brewers won the National League’s Cy Young Award, winning after a close race that saw three pitchers receive first-place votes. A single writer’s vote could have made the difference.

Burnes’ reward was impressive material and his name etched forever alongside those of Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux and other immortals. What he didn’t get was money — at least nothing beyond the $562,800 he earned for the season. The Brewers weren’t obligated to pay him a penny more and they didn’t.

Had that happened under this year’s rules, Brewers still wouldn’t have to pay him anything else, but Burnes would have been entitled to a big chunk of that $50 million bonus pool. According to one estimate, the Cy Young award paid him an additional $4 million.

It’s amazing. A writer’s vote would have earned a man more money than most of us will see in a lifetime.

Think of the pressure that will put on every voter this season. I guarantee you they will think about it, especially if a close vote is expected. Obviously, the potential for external pressure is enormous.

Many years ago, The New York Times said that its sole function was to report the news and that it should never participate in the making of the news. As a result, he banned his employees from voting for awards in baseball or other sports or participating in weekly football and basketball ranking polls. To my knowledge, no other newspaper has followed suit, but I wonder if that might change. I think some editors and publishers will think long and hard before allowing their contributors to continue voting for awards under these new circumstances.

Maybe the BBWAA should take the first step. Maybe the BBWAA should just suspend all post-season awards until players and owners find a different way to resolve their feuds.

Former Hall of Fame voter Jay Dunn wrote baseball for The Trentonian for 54 years. Contact him at [email protected]


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