Saturday, July 01, 2006

BASEBALL AWARDS AT RISK--Gordon Wittenmyer, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 11/07/05

"The future of the BBWAA awards could be in jeopardy because of a sudden lack of eligible voters in some cities.

What it means for the BBWAA and its awards is that a pool of potential voters already in gradual decline because of a decades long decline in the number of daily newspapers has almost dried up in some major league markets.

Until this year's bans, ethics policies had not limited the pool of voters since the early 1980s, when the New York Times and Washington Post banned their writers from voting, said BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O'Connell, who administers voting for postseason awards and the Hall of Fame.

  • 2005's bans added the LA Times, the Baltimore Sun, & the Atlanta Journal Constitution to the already banned NY Times, Washington Post, & AP writers.

"I'm hoping this isn't becoming a trend where we have to give this thing up," O'Connell said of the postseason awards. "I think we've done a great job the last 70 years. … All it takes is a Houston Chronicle that comes up and tells me I can't use them anymore. Then what do I do?"

The Houston chapter of the BBWAA has only 11 members, and eight are Chronicle employees. It takes eight BBWAA members from each chapter, two for each award, to fill all the voting committees every year.

The predicament was underscored in this year's NL MVP balloting. With nobody from the only daily in Atlanta allowed to vote this year,

That meant no writer who covered Atlanta's Andruw Jones, one of the top three MVP candidates in the NL this year, voted on the award.

"That's not right," said Dayton (Ohio) Daily News baseball writer Hal McCoy, a member of the BBWAA since 1970 and member of the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame since 2002. "To me it's a slap in the face when the newspapers aren't going to let you vote for something, when there's no remuneration. You just do it because you're a baseball writer who sees almost every game and your vote means something."

But ethics policies have as much to do with the appearance of conflict of interest than actual compromises, editors say.

"You're stepping into the realm of making news rather than reporting," said New York Times sports editor Tom Jolly, who said he agreed with the rationale behind the policy that was in place before he became sports editor.

  • "Particularly in this day and age where major league baseball players and other athletes get enormous bonuses for winning these awards, it puts us in an awkward position to be judging their worth and also reporting on it in a way that's supposed to be unbiased."

The Washington Post uses the same rationale, said Post sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz.

  • The only reason the Hall of Fame voting ban wasn't spelled out before this year to Post reporters was because it had "slipped between the cracks," said Garcia-Ruiz,
  • a former Pioneer Press sports editor.
Although the number of Hall of Fame voters remains strong, O'Connell said he is bothered that he has lost so many qualified baseball writers from the papers with the voting bans."
  • Idelson at the Hall of Fame will not get involved. Says it's 'speculative.'
"Right now it's very speculative," said Hall of Fame spokesman Jeff Idelson, who said the hall's board of directors is "very satisfied" with the job the BBWAA has done over the years. "It's something we'll obviously have to monitor. We'll stay in touch with the BBWAA and look at the number of voters, and if they're dwindling, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
  • They continue to dwindle. (sm)


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