November 11, 2003
While I was writing about high school basketball players going to the NBA, the American League and National League Rookie of the Year awards were handed out on Monday.
At the time, I had the following to say about my six selections:
"I have a hunch that none of those six guys will end up winning the actual award. Of course I could be wrong and I certainly hope so, but I would bet that, at most, two of those six guys will win."
When I saw the announcement for the AL Rookie of the Year, I was pleasantly surprised. The winner, Kansas City shortstop Angel Berroa, is the same guy I chose as my pick. In fact, the top-three of Berroa, followed by Hideki Matsui and Rocco Baldelli, is the exact same top-three that I had on my "ballot."
In that sense, I am obviously pleased with the overall result of the AL voting. What I am not pleased with is the reason for that voting. According to ESPN.com, two voters left Hideki Matsui completely off the ballot, simply because they did not feel Japanese League veterans should be eligible for the award.
While that is a defensible opinion (although one I find flawed and personally disagree with), I do not believe the action of not voting for Matsui because of that reason is proper at all. The baseball writers who vote for these awards are asked to chose the player that deserves to be honored, by following the guidelines issued by Major League Baseball. In this case, those guidelines make it very clear that someone like Hideki Matsui (or Ichiro! or Kaz Sasaki before him) are 100% eligible for the award and should be considered just the same as any other rookie.
Yet, two writers took it upon themselves to go against the guidelines and decide to make up their own rules. Like I said, I don't particularly have a problem with someone thinking Matsui shouldn't be eligible. But since he is eligible, I have a huge problem with someone disregarding that because of their personal opinion.
If you don't think Japanese League veterans should be eligible, make an effort to change the rule. Don't simply do nothing and then ignore it.
One of the two writers who left Matsui off the ballot is Jim Souhan, a writer for the newspaper I read the most, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. I actually like Jim's writing quite a bit and I think he does a better job than a tremendous number of other baseball writers across the country, but I'm severely disappointed in his actions here.
Also, as much as it pains me to say this, I am in agreement with George Steinbrenner, whom I actually think put it the best, when he said the following yesterday:
"Two misguided writers -- Bill Ballou from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune -- in voting for American League Rookie of the Year, clearly made up their own rules to determine who was and was not eligible for the award and disqualified an eligible candidate who could have won."
Of course, I suppose it would have been just as easy for them to say that they didn't vote for Matsui because they didn't think he deserved the award, on the basis of his play. And I guess I respect them for being honest about their motivation, but that doesn't make what they did any less wrong.
In a situation where a major award is being handed out on the basis of a very limited number of votes being cast (in this case, 28), there simply can't be 26 people following one set of guidelines and two others going by their own rules. It undermines the entire point of the award and basically turns the entire process into one big joke.
[Update: Souhan responded to Steinbrenner's criticism in today's paper and there is a thread started over at BaseballPrimer.com where you can read the article and discuss it]
Over in the other league, there wasn't really a controversy in the voting, other than the fact that the wrong guy got the award. I went into this in some detail a while back, so I won't repeat everything I said, but I think it is clear to anyone who looks at actual performance and not simply a player's hype and who the best "story" is that Dontrelle Willis was in no way the best rookie in the National League this season.
Here's a little of what I said about the issue, way back in September:
"I am almost certain that, when the actual voting is done, Dontrelle Willis will win the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year award. And I am even more certain that he doesn't deserve it."
I then went into all of their numbers from this year, showing how Brandon Webb had a huge advantage in just about everything, except for wins and hype. Webb was better in innings pitched, ERA, strikeouts, strikeout/walk ratio, homers, opponent batting average - you name it. And he did all that while pitching in a severe hitter's ballpark, while Willis did his pitching in a severe pitcher's ballpark.
After examining all of that, I came to the following conclusion:
"I don't want to say something overly dramatic, like "anyone who votes for Dontrelle Willis over Brandon Webb should have their voting privileges taken away," but that's essentially how I feel. This is not a close contest and if a person can't see that Brandon Webb has been better than Dontrelle Willis this season, it is ridiculous to think that that person actually plays a part in determining which baseball players win awards every year."
Sadly, I was right about Willis winning and, not only didn't Webb win, it wasn't even particularly close. Willis got 17 first-place votes, compared to just seven for Webb. And, in fact, seven different voters left Brandon Webb completely off the ballot, which is utterly ridiculous.
The fact the people paid to report on baseball and vote on baseball's biggest awards are unable to see what anyone willing to spend any sort of time and effort in examining the seasons of players can easily see is fairly despicable, in my opinion. Any person who calls themselves a "baseball writer" and is willing to take part in voting for baseball's awards should be ashamed of themselves if they sent in a ballot without Brandon Webb's name on it.
As every year passes, I become more and more disinterested in baseball's "official" awards. The people in charge of voting constantly disappoint me and make decisions that I feel are without logical reasoning or any sort of thought and effort. And the sad thing is that in 50 years, people are going to look back on these things and see stuff like Dontrelle Willis winning the award and Brandon Webb finishing a distant third in the voting, and they aren't going to realize just how ridiculous the entire thing is.
Not only was Willis rewarded with something he in no way deserves and not only was Brandon Webb completely shafted, there were actually two writers who gave third-place votes to Jeriome Robertson of the Astros, who finished the year with a 5.10 ERA in 160.2 innings pitched. And there was another voter who gave a third-place vote to Ty Wigginton of the Mets, who hit .255/.318/.396 this season.
If you want to give the award to someone who doesn't deserve it, that is one thing. But you mean to tell me that there are seven professional baseball writers out there who honestly don't think Brandon Webb was one of the top three rookies in the NL this season? That is going into a whole nother level of ridiculousness. When you add in the votes for people like Robertson and Wigginton, I just don't see how you can call this entire process anything other than idiotic and bordering on completely useless.
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