Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The MVP, the Hall of Fame, and the Emmys

In the past I have written disdainfully of the BBWAA post-season awards, going so far as to say that I don't care. I've said the same thing about Hall of Fame voting.

Whenever I do this, the post seems to get linked somewhere and people ask "If you don't care about it, why are you writing about it?" It's true that "I don't care" is a fairly strong declaration, and that what I'm actually aiming for is "I don't care about the specific outcomes of the voting process. I am interested in ways in which the outcomes could be improved by changing the process or the voter pool". Of course, if you need to slap a title on your blog post, the former is a lot easier to work with than the latter.  In any event, if you're not interested in my opinion, that's fine by me.  Don't read it.

To belabor this point, let me give you an example by discussing four sets of awards/honors that I don't care about in one way or another: the Daytime Emmys, the Primetime Emmys, the BBWAA awards, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. The exact manner in which I don't care about each differs, and should be illustrative of what I'm getting at:

The Daytime Emmys--I don't care about the Daytime Emmys because I don't watch daytime television. Not only does the identity of the award winners have no impact on me, I know and care next to nothing ("next to" is a necessary qualifier to avoid a gotcha when it turns out I've heard of some soap operas) about what is being honored. I don't know who won the awards, I don't care to know, and I don't have any opinion about who should have won them.

The Primetime Emmys--I may not care who wins the awards, but I watch some of the shows eligible for consideration or know something about the others that I don't watch. I'm not a TV critic and make no claims to be one; I watch what I enjoy, and I don't care whether it is considered worthy of praise by critics or considered to be garbage. While I think that it would be cool if LOST won the Emmy for best drama every year (or Monk and/or The Office for best comedy), I can't say that Mad Men is unworthy, because I don't watch it, know little about it, and I don't evaluate TV shows in the same way that Emmy voters do.

Baseball Hall of Fame--Last year I wrote a couple of posts titled "Why I Don't Care About the HOF". The main point was that I don't care about specific Hall of Fame selections (i.e. "Should Blyleven or Trammell be in?" or the endless Jim Rice debates) because I believe the system is too far gone. There have been so many mistakes made that even a concerted effort going forward will not salvage the Hall of Fame as a means to honor truly great players. Additionally, I believe that one of the reasons for the mistakes is the haphazard means of selecting players that have been employed over the years, and the lack of a coherent vision for the player selection process when the institution was founded.

The concept of a Hall of Fame in general, and how a hypothetical one should be constructed, is of interest to me. And so I do offer comments from time to time on how I feel the current Hall could be improved (although this hypothetical improvement would still be insufficient to salvage the inductee roster at this point), or about how a Hall could be designed in theory.

BBWAA Awards--I think that the questions posed by each of these awards are interesting, and I follow the game closely enough to come to my own informed judgments about which player should win. I think the voting process (ten-man ballot, two voters per city in the case of the MVP) itself is solid. I'm not wild about the instructions laid out for voting, but they could certainly be worse. Most importantly, I think it's worthwhile to honor the best players of each season

However, while the voting process and instructions are okay, I don't hold the judgment of those doing the voting in particularly high esteem--particularly with respect to a number of de facto criteria have emerged (or seem to have emerged). Most prominent amongst the de factor prerequisites I find objectionable are that a player must play for a contender (or otherwise have a clearly superior season to anyone else) and that starting pitchers are not seriously considered. With respect to Rookie of the Year voting, sometimes writers apparently can't be bothered to ascertain which players actually are rookies. And there is the issue that people who will report the news are called on to make the news, which may not have a tangible impact on the voting but raises a red flag just a little bit up the pole.

So at the end of the day I have enough qualms about the BBWAA awards to be uninterested in the results of who wins, except to the extent that the results give us insight into how the voters view the game or how the selection process could be improved. If I feel player X is undeserving, yet he wins the award, I might chuckle and shake my head; I might accuse the voters of overlooking one facet of the game and overvaluing another; but I'm not outraged. I'm not going to write about how Player Y who I prefer was robbed of the award; instead, I'll write about why Player Y really was the most valuable player of the league, which is a question that may be raised and brought to the forefront by the BBWAA awards, but could easily exist in a vacuum (if you think this distinction is splitting hairs, I disagree but understand where you're coming from).

Comparing the Hall of Fame votes to the annual award votes, I prefer the latter. The voting process is designed better, but more importantly, the mistakes of the past only cast a small shadow on present results.

Silly choices by the BBWAA for MVP or Cy Young can set a precedent, to a limited extent. One could attempt to justify voting for a closer as MVP because Willie Hernandez won, or for a player solely on the basis of impressive home run and RBI numbers because of Andre Dawson, 1987. And poor choices, even those in the past, can serve to reduce the respect given to the award.

However, in the case of the Hall of Fame, the mistakes of the past are never far from discussion, since each election builds on the one that came before it. The awards slate is wiped clean each year, but each Hall candidate is compared not only to their ballot mates but to the previous inductees. No single voter is compelled to change his standards to fit previous choices, but comparison to past inductees is unavoidable. And while the impact of a single questionable selection can be minimized (Jim Bottomley doesn't come up much in Hall discussions), a series of questionable selections is harder to push aside (like the Frankie Frisch-era VC selections that Bottomley was a part of). Furthermore, the honor of being a Hall of Famer itself is cheapened by poor selections, as the honor is to be considered in a group with the past inductees.

To summarize, in order to flesh out what I mean when I say I don't care about a certain baseball award, I've offered four gradations of indifference:

1. I care about neither the mission of the award nor the entities being honored (Daytime Emmys)
2. I care about the entities to some extent, but not about the mission of the award (Primetime Emmys)
3. I care about the entities, and think the mission of the award is solid in theory, but the implementation is such that it has lost me other than as a theoretical exercise (Baseball Hall of Fame)
4. I care about the entities, and the mission of the award, but the people entrusted with bestowing the award severely dampen my enthusiasm (BBWAA post-season awards)


  1. I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  2. Yes, you can quote this post. I am on Twitter (@Toirtap).


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