Sports Outside the Beltway

The Schilling Claus(e)

This Holiday season, the Baseball Writers Association of America are proud to present a new film, starring Boston Red Sox righthanded starter, Curt Schilling and the 28 writers who vote yearly for the Cy Young Award. It’s the Schilling Claus! A tale of corruption, averted by pointless bureaucracy. See Curt Schilling negotiate his contract with the Boston Red Sox and add a clause that pays him One Million Dollars for getting a single vote for the Cy Young Award. Watch as the Writers band together to avoid the appearance of impropriety, beginning in 2013, five seasons later. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll wonder why.

Thankfully, there is no Christmas Musical coming to a cineplex near you. But the recent action of the BBWAA “to disqualify from its awards players who would profit from them” prompts me to wonder why.

First, why wait until 2013 to implement the rule, which has become known as the Schilling Clause? By that time, Curt will be up for a Hall of Fame vote (barring another encore for 2009) not for any more Cy Young votes. So why wait. If it is so important, implement it now. Unless, the BBWAA understands that there is a firestorm of corruption that will sweep through its ranks beginning in 2013, and nothing short of this pre-emptive strike against it will stem the tide of darkness which threatens their hallowed association. Perhaps not. More than likely, they are saying that implementing this rule now would bar deserving players from consideration. But frankly, if they want to avoid the perception of corruption, then implement it now. And let the chips fall. If not, they are implying that they swear they will be incorruptible for 2008-2012, but then all bets are off.

Second, why is this rule even necessary? Writers have a responsibility to their stories. Their coverage should be fair, even-handed, accurate and thorough. Journalists are supposed to be above reproach, seared with integrity. If they are incapable of that, then should they really be trusted? The Association is in effect saying that their members are incapable of displaying integrity in the voting process, that without such a rule, they would succumb to the temptation of filthy lucre. A rule like this would not be necessary if their members were above reproach. That such a rule is deemed necessary by their members makes me feel warm and fuzzy about the coverage I read in the paper or on the Internets. After all, they are saying (by a 41-21 vote, I might add) that either individually or corporately that they are corruptible.

Schilling of course reacted on his blog:

Give me a break. Don’t get me wrong, 100k, 500k, 1 million dollars is a huge sum of money. But to think that these guys ever approached this as anything other than them being touted as the ‘experts’ on who wins what is crap. Add to that I seriously doubt anyone ever looked at this from a perception standpoint and thought wow, they are making this guy rich. I would disagree.

The only step that hasn’t happened yet is to stop them from voting on awards altogether. They shouldn’t do it. Anytime someone is allowed to vote on this, on the Hall of Fame ballot, and that person injects personal bias into their vote, they should lose the privilege.

My only quibble is that Curt uses the conventional “Give me a break”, rather than the beloved, “Break me a give.”

But taking Curt’s point a bit further, these writers are in the making these guys rich business. Jackie MacMullan, a wonderful columnist at the Boston Globe, spilled massive amounts of ink supporting Mike Lowell’s desire to get a contract extension from the Red Sox during the season. What purpose did she have in writing these columns? To inform the fans of the Red Sox that Mike just wanted three guaranteed years (which grew to four when he won the World Series MVP)? Of course not. Her writing was to advocate for his worthiness of such a contract extension, which is directly impacting his ability to get rich.

What makes this an even greater farce is the ham handed actions of these ink-stained wretches. The annual votes on the Hall of Fame ballots provide an example of bias, score settling and flat out ignorance about the game of baseball. Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts has made it his mission to explain why Bert Blyleven deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame. His quixotic quest has earned him the scorn of many writers who frankly cannot understand why Blyleven deserves inclusion. Often these writers, including the ESPN’s Buster Onley, will denigrate Blyleven without looking at what he did. Their ignorance of the game they cover and about which they are allegedly experts illustrates the absurdity of having these men vote for awards.

If the goal of this silly rule is to eliminate the appearance of impropriety, then there is a simpler and less controversial solution. Open up the process to public scrutiny. The BBWAA should publish the ballots they receive from their members, with a justification of their votes. So last year, when a Hall of Fame voter submitted a blank ballot, an explanation can be offered. By doing this, the biases that were rife in past voting can be weeded out. Sunlight kills corruption. The BBWAA should let the sunshine in. Otherwise it is clear that the writers want to keep their biases in play without suffering the consequences of public condemnation.

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