Dec 4, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Los Angeles Dodger manager Don Mattingly answers questions from the media during the Major League Baseball winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
Sometime on Tuesday, it was announced that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had admitted four new members to its ranks. Those four new members just happened to be internet baseball writers, authors of web logs and the like. This means, lord willing, in ten years, there will be four new members eligible to vote for the MVP and Cy Young awards, and also Hall of Fame inclusion. Maybe I only find this to be a significant development because I myself happen to be a poor imitation of an internet baseball writer, or because I’m familiar with these writers work, or because I have low standards when it comes to enthusiasm, but nonetheless it strikes me as worthy of comment, and maybe even an encouraging sign of progress for the institution.
As current, there exists, I think it’s fair to say, a certain shroud hanging over the majority of the members of the BBWAA. They like to bring a lot of morality to their positions, they are reluctant, and sometimes even combative against, new statistics and ways of thinking about the game, many of them are older than you or me. Some fancy themselves gatekeepers, preservers of sanctity and history, others are emotional romantics. A lot of them don’t even write about baseball anymore or particularly follow the sport. I’m generalizing here, but I’ve also read and read about a great deal of these members, and anecdotal evidence has my back on this. Between the online baseball community that I’m familiar with, one that I felt somewhat a part of, and the community of the BBWAA, there seems to be a rather large chasm.
On Tuesday, that chasm may have lessened a bit. With the inclusion of Carson Cistulli, Eno Sarris, Sam Miller, and Joe Hamrahi, the online baseball community now has more representation in the BBWAA. I think that is a good thing and I suppose I’m supposed to go on and tell you why. I think it’s a good thing because these gentleman bring qualities to the BBWAA that, stereotypically, haven’t existed much in the past. These guys are well versed in advanced statistics. The know how they work and what they aim to accomplish. They also understand their limits and their margins for error. I would say they know how to responsibly apply new numbers to baseball analysis while also supplementing them with additional sources and methods. Additional methods like, say, scouting reports and video analysis and things like that. Despite popular opinion, it is not required that one pledge pure allegiance to only statistics, or only scouting and eye-seeing in baseball. There exists the possibility, get this, of combining the two (!), of using all available information available to make arguments and draw conclusions. Quaint, I know.
These guys write about baseball on the internet, so they are nerds, no doubt. But they are not the basement dwelling, hot pocket consuming nerds you read about in the curmudgeonly pages of your local newspaper. There’s this other preposterous assumption floating around out there that to know and understand sabermetrics is to actively despise live baseball and the beauty of the game. This, like most preposterous rumors, also turns out to be unfounded. An active antidote so such thinking, these gentleman celebrate baseball down to the most minute, and some might even say, the most insignificant details. In addition to traditional analysis, these guys write poems about the game, break down the facial hair of the all-timers, they examine baseball cards and write philosophical manifestos on the happiness inspired by following baseball. They are also transparent and accessible members of the community, which is significant, I believe.
If we accept that we care about post-season awards, and by extension, the Hall of Fame, then it becomes important that the voters are open-minded, inquisitive individuals, willing to write about, discuss, and argue their votes and selections. Right now, this is not the case. Voters lie in anonymity, sometimes presenting nonsensical ballots with zero explanation or accountability. History swings on the whims of the uninformed and silent. Awards voting and Hall of Fame selecting can only improve and regain respectability if the process becomes open and accessible, understandable and defensible, and what better stewards of such a revolution than people who write about baseball daily on the internet? Members who interact with readers and other writers through Twitter, and comment threads, and Email, and all sorts of other electronic marvels. One is much more likely to take one’s BBWAA responsibilities seriously if one is held to a high communal standard by one’s peers, isn’t one? Writers who live visibly in the light of the internet make better members than those who hide in the darkness of whatever not the internet is (real life)?
So here’s to progress, and the new BBWAA members, and to improving the process. Here’s to taking baseball super, super seriously, but not too seriously, of course.