Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 16, 2017

Lots Of Awards, But Only One Ring

With Thursday evening’s announcement of the 2017 Most Valuable Players in each league, baseball’s annual awards week reached its conclusion. It began Monday with the Rookies of the Year, continued Tuesday with the two Managers of the Year, and marched on into Wednesday’s revelation of this year’s Cy Young Award winners. One could reasonably ask if it’s really necessary to drag out the announcements of the results of votes cast by a very select group of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, but then the Great Game is not immune to the fits of grandiosity that afflict all our major sports from time to time. When seized by this disease the logic seems to be that if a one-hour special on the MLB Network is good, then four one-hour specials must be truly great.

Since its founding more than a century ago, the BBWAA has done much to improve the working conditions of the scribes who sit in the press boxes of thirty stadiums across the land, writing against deadlines to bring readers news of that day’s action on the diamond. These days many Association members are as likely to reach more readers via Twitter than through the sports pages of their employer, which may be one reason why the BBWAA opened its membership to full-time web-based reporters a decade ago. Still the “W” at the middle of BBWAA remains paramount; membership remains closed to television broadcasters and radio announcers. Indeed, even a writer who doesn’t work a full-time baseball beat need not apply. That stipulation led to the oddity of the Association giving Roger Angell its highest honor, the J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 2014. Over the decades Angell has written some of the most lyrical and luminous prose on baseball, most often for the New Yorker magazine. But he remains the only non-BBWAA member to receive the Spink Award, since without a full-time baseball beat he wasn’t eligible for membership.

Given the parlous state of print journalism, those restrictions make the Association’s membership a breed whose numbers are slowly but surely declining. Yet that’s done nothing to diminish the outsize role that BBWAA members play in recognizing individual achievement in the Great Game. Members for ten years or more are entitled to cast a ballot each year for the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is certainly the Association’s most public role. A dozen or so members also comprise the Historical Overview Committee, which puts together the annual ballot for consideration by the Hall’s three 16-member committees that vote on a rotating basis for otherwise ineligible candidates from different eras. And in the role that culminated this week, thirty members – one for each major league team – vote at the end of the regular season for the four big individual awards in each league.

With but a single exception, this year’s announcements were lacking in drama. That’s not to say that the winners were unworthy; to some extent just the opposite. In most of the categories there were performances that stood out so clearly that while as is traditional the names of the top three vote-getters were announced in advance as “finalists” for each of the awards, the outcome was never really in doubt.

That was certainly the case on Monday, when Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers were both unanimous choices for their league’s Rookie of the Year Award. Judge broke Mark McGwire’s record for most home runs by a rookie, slugging a league-leading 52 while also topping the AL in runs and walks and finishing second in slugging percentage and OPS.

Like Judge, Bellinger received all thirty first-place votes in the NL Rookie balloting, after a season in which his 39 home runs set the National League rookie record, eclipsing by one the old mark held jointly by Frank Robinson and Wally Berger. Bellinger continues a proud Dodger tradition by becoming the 18th member of the franchise to be names Rookie of the Year, easily the most of any club.

Tuesday Paul Molitor of the Twins and Torey Lovullo of the Diamondbacks easily outdistanced their closest competitors in the Manager of the Year race. Given that those chasers were Cleveland’s Terry Francona and L.A.’s Dave Roberts, the results were a reminder that this award often recognizes not just winning, but changing the direction of a franchise. In Molitor’s first year as Minnesota’s skipper the Twins lost 103 games. This year they finished eight games over .500, good enough for the second Wild Card in the American League. Unfortunately for the team and its fans, that meant they had to play the Yankees, and as every baseball fan knows New York owns Minnesota in the postseason.

Lovullo’s Diamondbacks had a similar turn around, going from 93 losses in 2016 to 93 wins in 2017. Arizona fared slightly better in the playoffs, beating Colorado in the NL Wild Card Game. Unfortunately for the team and its fans, that meant that in the NLDS they had to play the Dodgers, winners of 104 games during the regular season.

Both Cy Young Award races were thought to be close, but the final results were anything but. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber took 28 of 30 first-place votes in easily outdistancing Boston’s Chris Sale, and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer was named at the top of 27 ballots in a runaway over Clayton Kershaw. It was Kluber’s second Cy Young and Scherzer’s third, making them two of nineteen pitchers in baseball history who have won the award multiple times. Sale may have been hurt by a bit of a late season slump, and Kershaw’s chances for a fourth Cy Young took a big hit when he lost extended time to a back injury.

Thursday’s NL MVP announcement finally brought some drama. For much of the season the Nolan Arenado of the Rockies was the betting favorite for the honor, but he wasn’t even named a finalist, finishing fourth. Instead the BBWAA voters honored the slugging prowess of Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, but only by the narrowest of margins. Both Stanton and the Reds’ Joey Votto received ten 10 first-place votes. Stanton received one more second and one more third place vote than Votto, but was left entirely off one ballot, while Votto was named on all thirty. The result was a two-vote margin, 302 to 300, in favor of the 2017 home run king.

Finally, Houston’s Jose Altuve took 27 first-place votes to outpace Judge by a wide margin for the AL MVP. In 2017 Altuve pounded out more than 200 hits for the fourth straight season and led the league in batting average for the third time.  It was coincidence of course, but fitting that Altuve’s honor should be the last one to be announced. For as much as these awards can bring fame and fatter contracts to the players who receive them, the Great Game remains a team sport, with each franchise pursuing the one goal that no single player can achieve on his own – a World Series title. Of all the awards recipients named this week, the Astros second baseman is the only one who finished the season by winning a ring.

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