Awards season is upon us. With it comes all the usual conflict, controversy, and recrimination. In baseball, the dispensing of precious laurels is a venerated and hallowed process bloated with more than a century of precedent.
Blunders committed in 1913 still fester. How could they have given that season’s Chalmers Award to Jake Daubert, a slick but singles-hitting first sacker of the lackluster and sixth-place Dodgers. Although Daubert led the NL in hitting, at .350, he was hardly as feared as the Phillies’ Gavvy Cravath at .341 and leader in both homers and ribbies, nor as vital as 25-game winner Christy Mathewson of the NL champ Giants, already a legend in his own time. Somewhere, there’s a stat-obsessed baseball curmudgeon hiding in his garret and buried in frayed record books still bickering about that one.
The Chalmers was the original MVP citation and much prized as that distinguished auto company gifted the winner with one of its fanciest horseless carriages, quite a novel gem in 1913. When Chalmers bankrupted a couple years later, so did the business of presenting annual awards; peace prevailed in baseball until the late-20’s when the baseball writers invaded the act by establishing the MVP laurels we agitate over annually.
Added since then have been annual awards for rookies, managers, executives, humanitarians, even “comebacks.” There are silver-coated baseball bats for sluggers, gold-leaf iron mitts for fielders, the Cy Young for pitchers, and a fireman’s hat for relievers. Plus, all those bennies the Sporting News has been presenting for 80 years, and don’t forget the post-season trophies that include a flashy sports car hot off the lot. Lastly, there are those wrenching Hall of Fame canonizations allocating ultimate honors. No industry does baubles, bangles, and beads more devoutly than Baseball, not even Hollywood.
Which brings us to the 2016 sweepstakes. Many picks have seemed reasonable, particularly the Manager of the Year choices: Terry Francona in the AL and Dave Roberts over Joe Maddon in the NL. So, too, is the AL Rookie of the year pick, Detroit’s Mike Fullmer over New York’s Gary Sanchez. However difficult, it is fair.
But temperatures are deservedly running high on other choices. Anaheim’s Mike Trout gets the AL MVP, and in Boston they’re whining about Mookie Betts getting robbed. Boston’s Rick Porcello gets the AL Cy Young and in Detroit they’re blaming two Tampa writers who didn’t even rank runner-up Justin Verlander among the league’s top five hurlers, two unquestionably dubious judgments.
If they are hardly huge controversies – not in this cantankerous age – each illustrates basic problems that have long bugged these annual imbroglios and about which efforts to correct, ongoing fully a century now, have been insufficient.
On the Cy Young question, the issue of erratic voting, even downright incompetence, by electors is something you just gotta live with. Who’s likely to do it better than baseball’s beat writers? The players? The fans? Heaven help us!
A little stupid voting simply goes with the territory; always has, always will. There was 1967, when one addled character gave Cesar Tovar his MVP vote, thereby denying Carl Yastrzemski unanimous selection the season he fashioned “The Impossible Dream,” Or 1947, when Joe DiMaggio won even though Ted Williams clobbered him in every statistical category; the difference in the result being the Boston scribe who despised Williams and denied him any consideration. Still, it’s noteworthy that some still believe the fact that DiMaggio’s Yankees won everything while Williams’ team finished a distant third was relevant.
In the MVP thing, the basic notion of what constitutes a “most valuable player” – that is, how do you define or recognize one, and/or what qualities must one have to even qualify – have never been clearly established. So in the end, the player with the best numbers as measured by the ever-varying schools of statistical analysis ends up winning, and if a chap with good numbers happens to have starred for a team that excels, his chances are greatly enhanced. Within reason, that’s reasonable.
But it’s that last factor that’s now annoying Red Sox Nationals. They argue that Betts marched his team into the post-season whereas Trout, his consistent brilliance notwithstanding, was powerless to lift his team out of the caller. Welcome to the shaky premise that baseball is a one-man game. If, indeed ,you agree, maybe you should blame Betts for his team flopping in the playoffs.
Which, of course, would be dumb. Trout alone was unable to save the Angels this season any more than Williams on his own near-divine charisms was able to deliver the Red Sox over New York in 1947. The Yankees that year had a pitching staff that included Allie Reynolds, Spud Chandler, Vic Raschi, and Joe Page while the Red Sox countered with a gallant Joe Dobson and three guys with sore-arms, plus Denny Galehouse. That in was the difference, not Joe’s alleged superiority over Ted.
The writers got it wrong in 1947, but they got it right in 2016. Dandy as he is, and infinite as may be his promise, Mr. Betts is not now as valuable as Mr. Trout. Just ask the other 28 general managers.