ESPN’s Buster Olney Is Mad Online About Baseball Writers Voting On Baseball Awards

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Many people were mad about the results in the American League Cy Young Voting on Wednesday, perhaps no one more than Kate Upton, the fiancée of runner-up Justin Verlander. It’s difficult to say what was most upsetting to people, but the field in the AL was ridiculously tight so there was always a good chance someone was going to be angry.

If you had Buster Olney of ESPN being the most upset in the wake of Rick Porcello’s victory in the anger pool, good for you, because that’s one I did not see coming.

Olney penned a scattershot column about why baseball media people voting on baseball media awards is bad. It seems to be about a conflict of interest, but it’s also about reporters making themselves the story or creating the news, but it’s also about the vote itself, and it’s also about, “Hey, these bad voters make me look bad.”

Here’s the column with some thoughts on why he’s so wrong about this.

Like any parent to teenagers, I often present advice that will be ignored, inevitably. Even while knowing this, however, I provide thoughts in the hope that one day a simple baseline of reason becomes a rudder.

You won’t find a more condescending opening paragraph anywhere today. “I’m so much smarter than my brethren, who are dumb idiots, so hopefully these wise words will echo through eternity and be embraced when the human mind has evolved to the level on which mine currently exists.”

So I’ll leave this idea here without expectation it will ever be seriously considered: The baseball writers should get out of the business of voting for awards and honors, once and for all.

Personally, I think it’s a good idea for an independent body filled with men and women who watch baseball more than anyone to vote on awards, but I’ll hear him out, even as he works in one more condescending line at the outset.

Because time and again, the writers demonstrate they are much better at reporting news than making news. Kate Upton reacted viscerally to the American League Cy Young Award voting, after her fiancé lost to former teammate Rick Porcello, and maybe her choice of words wasn’t perfect, or politic.

This is perhaps the thing he’s most wrong about. Upton’s words were perfect. Well, she had that your/you’re misstep, but that one tweet was a 10/10.

But the illogic she illuminated with her Twitter rant is dead on: It really doesn’t make sense that Justin Verlander could have more first-place votes than Porcello but lose out on the award partly because he wasn’t named for second place or third place or fourth place or fifth place on a couple of ballots.

It makes perfect sense, actually. So here’s one of like a half-dozen things Olney is mad about — the weighted voting system. This is how college sports polls have been doing things forever. I’m not sure how this applies to the notion of reporters “making news” because no one ever got mad when The Associated Press awarded a national championship to a college football team. This is how the ballot works. It’s a very fair way of voting. And, again, with Verlander, Porcello, Corey Kluber, Zach Britton, JA Happ and others with such comparable resumes, this shouldn’t be a shock. It was destined to be a close vote and someone getting the most first-place votes and losing was always a possibility.

This is only the latest chapter in the strange history of problems with writer balloting, which date back to the years when Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were inexplicably left out of the top 10 in MVP voting, or in 1996, when Alex Rodriguez got 10 first-place votes but was somehow listed seventh on two ballots, or in 1999, when Pedro Martinez missed out on the AL MVP because he was omitted from two ballots. Five years after Willie Mays retired at the end of his historic career, 23 writers didn’t vote for him for the Hall of Fame, and a few years later, nine writers failed to vote for Hank Aaron, and 45 for Frank Robinson.

Yes, these are examples of bad balloting. This happens in all sports. Heck, it happens at the Oscars. Titanic over L.A. Confidential? The way to solve this isn’t to take ballots out of the hands of baseball writers; it’s to put the ballots in the hands of those that do not vote in asinine ways. And if this bad voting history is your compelling reason (of the half-dozen) to take away the vote from all writers, who are you giving it to that will be better? Where’s the solution? General managers? Everyone that works in front offices? What’s the better option? Why aren’t you arguing for taking away the right to vote from the nine idiots that didn’t vote for Aaron?

The rest of the writers are supposed to take solace in the fact that many of the clear voting mistakes have been made by a small minority of the BBWAA, but the reality is that these results impact the reputation of all writers, just as an ethics scandal of one congressman feeds into the negative image of all lawmakers.

This is the flimsiest argument of the bunch and I bet it’s the one that drove Olney to slap this together — these bad voters make me, the smart one from earlier that posited myself as a father educating stupid children, look bad. Because Dick Barnswallow of the Picadilly Times voted stupidly, I do not assume all people are stupid. That’s the beauty of the public ballot — I can see who is stupid.

The major baseball awards, like the MVP, are property of the BBWAA, and not Major League Baseball, so the BBWAA cannot distance itself from the Cy Young Award in the same way it could the Hall of Fame voting.

But it should, if it followed the simple principles taught in any credible Journalism 101 course. Reporters should not be creating news; they should aggressively steer away from any conflicts of interest, and voting for awards and honors is a clear conflict of interest.

Voting on something and writing the results of the vote is not a conflict of interest, much the same way Christopher Hayes of MSNBC voting for President then talking about the election isn’t a conflict of interest. You can vote or not vote and still have a conflict of interest in how you do your job. Does anyone think Kirk Herbstreit is unbiased because in the morning he doesn’t pick the game he’s covering that night? Every human being has biases. Any reporter that works for a network that is a rights holder for a major sports league has a looming conflict of interest at all times. That’s how concussion documentaries get yanked from your airwaves.

And reporters shouldn’t be creating news? ESPN lives to create news. Your column about taking away the rights of the BBWAA is news.

I’m a PHWA member and no one was more upset about Drew Doughty winning the Norris Trophy over Erik Karlsson, who had the best season by a defenseman in about 30 years. And even I didn’t flip out to this extent.