Tag:BBWAA
Posted on: August 20, 2012 4:55 pm
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Barry, JoePa & Record Books

It’s not everyday you read something good about the NCAA.

Mind you, I’ve got no major gripe with the landlord of college sport. Not too happy about their cozy relationship with profiteers (Nike) and relaxation of player-standards in recent decades, but other than those two, most of what they do flies above my radar.

The NCAA is like your high school VP, a dirty job but someone’s gotta’ do it. Roaming the hallways, keeping order and quick to judge. No gray area with this guy. And he’ll probably turn gray fast, given the thankless nature of the job, policing the big-hearted youths of today, or as Joe Pesci would call ‘em, “utes” (My Cousin Vinny).

Last month the enforcers of collegiate merriment did something rarely done in today’s sporting world: they altered a record book. Not as shocking as Brett Favre hitting the Twin Cities’ tarmac and donning purple & gold (2009), but still, pretty big doings.

As part of the penalties levied against Penn St. per the Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, 111 of the Lions’ football wins from the years 1998-11 were “vacated” from NCAA rolls, knocking coach Joe Paterno from atop the D1 victories list (409 / 298) and moving the recently retired Bobby Bowden into the top spot with his tally of 377 (“Bobby” / CBS / 7-23).

Of all the sanctions handed down, that one’s gotta’ hurt the most. The others, including the 4-year bowl ban, scholarship cutback and fine ($60 XL) will all be absorbed easily enough over time. Some at PSU may welcome the shake-up as a means of penance to cleanse the soul. And the hefty fine, that’ll just get passed on to the students, like the insurance company that jacks their rates when the hurricane claims start blowing in.

It wasn’t the substance of their action that got my stamp of approval. While I appreciate the awkwardness of leaving JoePa’s name atop the wins-list, sadly, in striking 100+ from his total you hurt those people most who had nothing to do with the wrong-doing, the players & fans. Add-up the shame that will linger for decades at Penn State, the criminal course and other penalties, all together seemed punitive and deterrent plenty.

Instead, it was the NCAA’s deviation from SOP that has me nodding in agreement.

Changing a record book typically requires something just short of an Act of Congress. That’s a good thing. Records are sacred stuff. Whether they’re category leaders, personal or team titles, individual stats or holders of top marks, all will, in theory, stand the test of time. The number & name will change but the record itself will resonate long.

Can’t say the same for the Halls of Fame. Like today’s bloated Olympic field, HOFs are becoming so diluted with a steady-stream of marginal inductees that they’re fast losing that special flavor. Caught up in the enablement age, voters are turning what used to be a days-long walk amongst immortals into a three-day trek through Halls of Good ‘n Plenty.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Just imagine in the not-to-distant future, when those collectible crazed kids who put their Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds rookie cards under glass, hold sway over the BBWA and become guardians of the Hall. “Uh-oh!” ("Mr. Gopher" / Caddyshack). The flood-gates are gonna’ open wide.

There are two battles raging over baseball’s Hall of Fame.

One is over quality control. Is the candidate’s stature such that it separates him from his peers, like say, Warren Spahn and Bob Clemente, or, is he a ballot choice that develops a patina of greatness over time, building support for election like…well, you can fill in the names yourself. If you need help, give Reggie Jackson a jingle. His timing is tacky but his standard is right on point (SI / “Reggie / Taylor / 7-5).

The other is about PEDs, where one emerging standard goes like this: ‘He gets my vote because he was a Hall of Famer before he started juicing.’ Oh, brother. Assuming you have the powers of Carnac the Magnificent and can accurately pick the first year a PED suspect ‘Got needles,’ if you apply that standard, Pete Rose and Joe Jackson get in because both were Hall-worthy before they messed-up big time.

So, while the pride & joy of Cooperstown grows fat and a niche of players keep playing fans for fools (Ryan Braun / Melky Cabrera), the official record book must become the safe harbor for greatness, buffered from the winds of changing mores & personal extremes.

Long before Halls of Fame were doing a splendid job of preserving & displaying the rich history of sport, a myriad of record books & statistical surveys were telling the tale.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Officially maintained by Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s rolls are tainted, filling-up fast with performance-enhanced pretenders of excellence. Some of the most cherished records are topped by seriously-suspected or proven PED-men.

Enter the NCAA. They’ve set a precedent, of sorts, in re-writing a small part of their own college football record book. It was a tough call that created some collateral damage (See above), but they had good cause, acted with all due speed and didn’t blink.

Now Bud Selig has a template, an impetus to finally move to fix baseball’s record book.

Sure, he’s got other fish to fry. Cheating, being the biggest flounder on his plate.

Victor Conti (BALCO) may actually believe “as many as half” of all players are juicing today (“Victor” / USAT / BN / 8-15). But anyone with any sense knows that recent test-troubles are par for the course when trying to change a culture of drug-use that’s international in its reach and as deeply imbedded into baseball as is performance-enhancement.

The PED problem will resolve in time. The clean-up effort has the backing of the nation, most players and the independent media. Patience & persistence are the watch-words.

But the foul odor that’s rising up from MLB’s record book is not going away on its own.

Naysayers will argue, ‘How can you fiddle with a record book when some of the marquee names never tested positive?’ Two-part answer: 1) An evolving test-policy that was way-late in coming can’t be the sole standard for finding a record-holder to have a PED pedigree, and 2) If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Go back in time to August of 1921. The Cleveland Indians are the reigning champs and Babe Ruth is in pinstripes, but the biggest story in baseball is the Black Sox scandal. When the implicated Pale Hosers are acquitted in a dubious Cook County trial after crucial evidence disappears, the newly appointed baseball Czar Kenesaw Mountain Landis is undeterred. Making reasonable inferences from available evidence, the next day he bans the lot of ‘em from pro-ball for life and adds a toxicity-tag.

Bud Selig has seen the evidence of proven & suspected PED users. As Commissioner and having no power to deny liberty (jail) or award civil damages, he’s not bound by the same standard of proof required in a judicial setting. Maybe that’s a good thing. As such, he can do, within certain parameters, as he pleases with the record book.

It won’t be easy. This ain’t 1921. Classifying the proven users vs. strongly suspected, removing names vs. asterisking (*), and then whether or not consideration should be given those few men who decided, for whatever reason, to come clean (Brothers Bash, Canseco & McGwire), will all make for one big sticky wicket.

And the media will have a field day. Some with their own form of collectible to protect, they’ll do their damndest to make sure it’s as thankless an undertaking as policing the high school hallways. It’s an action that’s likely to raise challenges by those players directly affected, claiming a right (intellectual property?) to a place in the hallowed book.

Set to retire after 2014, Selig certainly has the stature these days to afford the boldness that a record book revision requires, with rounder’s popularity and a drug prevention program that seems to be working, if not deterring some pompous players.

There’s no money to be made in re-working the record rolls. But it would be a big step in restoring to baseball some of what was lost when PED users and their enablers started disrespecting themselves, the fans, the game and its history.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” (JFK).  Doing nothing is no answer, Bud.

Steven Keys
Posted on: May 7, 2012 3:57 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2012 2:37 am
 

MVP Voting in Vogue

It’s a bit early in the baseball campaign to be writing about MVPs, though, that didn’t stop some this spring from doing just that. Not too many endeavors as frivolous as pre-season prognostications on likely, after-season award winners. But it’s a free country, fast becoming jobless, but free.

This piece isn’t about predictions nor intended to depreciate award winners of the past.

It’s about a bad standard many MVP voters are adopting before checking their ballots.

Today, more and more voters are making their choice by applying a team standard. Even when player-candidates have numbers that are easily differentiated, the player on the better team will take the trophy, regardless. A 'better' team can simply mean more victories but is more likely to be playoff-bound. No ifs, ands or bunts about it. It’s all very tidy and misguided.

I’d been hearing about this rigid rule in recent years but never paid it much mind. That was until last month when I was leafing through my backlog of periodicals and happened upon a compilation of final statistics for MLB 2011.

One thing jumped out. That was the DodgersMatt Kemp not winning the NL MVP.

The winner, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun had a terrific season. And like that juror who’s heard inadmissibles during trial and instructed to disregard, I’ve tried to not let Braun’s two positive test results from 2011 color my view. Officially, his testosterone level was not twenty times higher than any ever recorded by MLB and he’s as clean as a whistle.

By August it was a two-man race in the National. And it was close, but not that close.

Even as one applies a team standard, Kemp should’ve taken the hardware. Using those stats that bear directly on club success (games, runs, RBIs, Fld % and sacrifices), the Dodgers’ star outfielder gets the nod:

Braun: G (150), SF (3), Fld%(.996 / 1E / 8A / 268 CH), runs (109) and RBIs (111);
Kemp: G (161), SF (7), Fld% (.986 / 5E / 11A / 361 CH), runs (115) and RBIs (126).

As long as the candidate has no PED-markers or Delmon-Milton tendencies, if he’s got the numbers, he gets the trophy. That’s a player performance standard. Simple & sound.

It’s a criterion in line with today’s stat-crazy fandom (fantasy), the baseball world’s long love affair with individual numbers and formed the basis for the earliest MVP accolade.

Starting in 1910 with a car conferment for highest BA (Chalmers / Wikipedia), the MVP has been part promotion and part prize, its goal couched in idyllic vagaries like “most important and useful player to the club and the League (Gillette & Palmer / “The ESPN”) and “the player who’s of greatest all-around service to his club (Newman / “One of a Kind”).” But popular perception has always been clearly & squarely focused on individual player output.

The MVP selection was never intended as a fashionable, feel-good party favor for writers as they pack their pens and board the baseball bandwagon for post-season play. Anyone given the privilege of casting-vote should have the requisite skill for finding fact or figure to distinguish close candidacies without the simple fall-back of better team record. Ugh.

If anything, shining statistically on a lesser team, where turmoil can reign and talent will beckon to opponents like a tourist in a Turkish bazaar (R. Steves), should garner more praise, more points from a voter who appreciates the full-flavor and nuance of the game.

For the first 60 years (1931) the BBWA, while giving no special favor to stars on pedestrian clubs, also never barred-the-gate to such men either. Cubs’ Ernie Banks is prime example, winning back-to-backs on bottom-feeders in the late 1950s (‘58 (72-82 / 5) & ‘59 (74-80 / 5)).

Some other non-PS recipients since the 50s include Shantz ‘52 (79-75 / 4); Burroughs ‘74 (84-76 / 2); Hernandez ‘79 (86-76 / 3); Murphy ‘83 (88-74 / 2); Dawson ‘87 (76-85 / 6); Schmidt ‘86 (86-75 / 2) and Yount ‘89 (81-81 / 4). Uncommon result, yes, but still, a real possibility.

With arrival of the 90s came the new, hoity-toity MVP standard. Now it was etched in stone: players on so-so clubs NEED NOT DREAM of an MVP. Cal Ripken ‘91 (67-95 / 6) and Larry Walker ‘97 (83-79 / 3) remain the last of a vanished breed (Baseball-reference.com).

Which is more laudable: riding the wave of success on a frontrunner with talent galore, or thriving in mediocrity by making the most of what you have? For many, it might be the latter as it speaks more to their own experience, their own vision of the American dream.

Playing on a contender (most MVPs) shouldn’t work a penalty on a candidate, but it shouldn’t work an advantage either and certainly not tip the scale and prove decisive in the vote. Along the same line, toiling on a cellar-dweller shouldn’t hurt the player who’s miraculously put together a stellar season against the odds.

Somebody’s gotta’ tell voters the MVP, in whatever sport, is not a team award.

Admittedly, it can get confusing these days, given the other troublesome trend where honorees feel compelled in their addresses to give credit to every man, woman & child they’ve ever encountered while taking none for themselves (Brees). You might want to plan ahead (S. Field / Oscars), but a measure of public, self-congratulation is acceptable.

In MLB, the team awards are called the Pennant (League) and Championship trophy.

Braun’s pivotal play for a division champ gave him the edge with voters (LAD 82-79 / 3). And look how that turned out. Brewers were the class of the Central and then proceed to flame-out in NLCS to a rival that squeaked into the PS (STL). The Braves win umpteen divisions from 1991-05 but only one WS crown. And these are fairly typical outcomes.

One then has to wonder, what’s the point of this better team standard when so many title aspirants prove to be paper-tigers, pretenders in the post-season? What exactly are these voters hanging their hats on anyway?

I take no joy in casting doubt on Ryan Braun’s MVP bestowment. Using the player performance standard, Braun’s numbers stack-up well against Kemp’s. Reasonable minds could then have differed on who the more deserving candidate was in 2011.

I’m trying to show the fallacy of the current, prevailing team criterion. It’s not just senseless, its proponents don’t even apply it correctly. Not with style, at any rate.

If today’s mass of voters were casting in the 1950s, Mr. Cub’s mantel would be as bare as Crash Davis’ (Bull Durham). And that’s what Annie Savoy would’ve called a sin in the “Church of Baseball (BD).” Amen.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com