Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 17, 2022

MLB’s Awards Week Needs a Pitch Clock

While the phrase can be traced to a minimalist approach to modern architectural design that became popular in the middle of the last century, “less is more” is a concept with broad applicability.  Just don’t tell that to any major sports league.  If a 16-game NFL season is good, a 17-game schedule must be better.  Surely there is no reason to limit March Madness to 64 teams, or the College Football Playoff to just four contestants, when 68 basketball squads and an even dozen teams in the football bracket mean more games and, of course, fatter TV contracts.  So too for the World Cup, where the 22nd edition of the men’s competition, kicking off this weekend in Qatar, will be the last with 32 national squads.  When the U.S., Canada and Mexico jointly host the next quadrennial championship in 2026, 48 countries will be represented.

Fans of American football weren’t clamoring for another week of regular season play, and the quality of international competition in the game that is football to the rest of the world doesn’t support a fifty percent increase in the size of the World Cup field.  But at least those examples, like the increase in the size of the collegiate playoff brackets, have an economic justification.  That was also the driving factor behind this year’s expansion of the Great Game’s postseason to 12 teams.  But it can’t possibly be the case for MLB’s insistence on stretching the announcement of its major individual award winners out over nearly a week, complete with two-hour broadcasts on four consecutive nights.  Each show is dedicated to revealing just two names, the National and American League winners of that evening’s award – Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Cy Young, and Most Valuable Player.

The awards shows run on the MLB Network, which naturally caters to a niche audience.  Those tuning in are virtually all dedicated baseball fans already familiar with the three finalists for each award, whose identities were revealed one week earlier.  They are unlikely to learn much from the season retrospectives of the candidates, and the next bit of news that breaks from the cliché-filled interviews with MLB Network’s talking heads will be the first.  This is not Meet the Press during the glory days of the late Tim Russert.  None of which matters, because in every major sport, the “bigger is always better” crowd is not known for backing down.  As much as one might hope for retrenchment from the stultifying eight hours dedicated to these announcements, it’s more likely that some well-educated fool in MLB’s marketing department will decide that twelve hours would be an improvement.

As much as the announcements themselves are overdone, in some years fans would dearly love an extended chance to debate the results once they become known.  There’s nothing quite like an unexpected award winner or a surprisingly close vote to unleash a torrent of strongly held opinions from fans while they wait for the Great Game’s annual Winter Meetings, and the likely acceleration of free agent signings and offseason trade activity, early next month.  But this year MLB’s Award Week brought very little controversy.

Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez fell just one vote shy of being a unanimous pick for AL Rookie of the Year, and Atlanta center fielder Michael Harris II easily fended off his main competition, teammate Spencer Strider.  The voting for the two Cy Young Awards was even more decisive.  For just the second time since the prize for the best pitcher in the major leagues started being awarded separately in the AL and NL in 1967, both winners were unanimous choices by the voting members of the BBWAA.  There was some grumbling among fans in thrall to advanced metrics when the three Cy Young finalists in both leagues were also the pitchers with the lowest ERA’s.  But with Houston’s Justin Verlander and Miami’s Sandy Alcantara both receiving all 30 first place votes, it didn’t really matter who was second or third, or what statistics were most important to the two writers in each MLB city who cast votes.

The one genuinely close race was for National League Manager of the Year, with first place votes split among five different skippers – Buck Showalter (Mets), Dave Roberts (Dodgers), Brian Snitker (Atlanta), Oliver Marmol (Cardinals), and Rob Thomson (Phillies).  Showalter and Roberts each were named first on eight ballots, with Snitker just one behind.  The Mets field general became the honoree by being named second on ten ballots, three more than Roberts.  It was Showalter’s fourth award, each won in a different decade and at the helm of a different team.  More than a few fans felt Thomson was shortchanged in the voting after he took over in Philadelphia and turned a dismal season that was spiraling out of control into a campaign that didn’t end until Game 6 of the World Series.  In contrast, there were few complaints about Cleveland’s Terry Francona winning in the American League after he guided the Guardians to the postseason in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

There was also little turmoil around the naming of Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and free agent Aaron Judge, the once and possibly future face of the Yankees, winning MVP honors.  Goldschmidt had twice finished second in the balloting but left little doubt this year after leading the NL in OPS and finishing in the top five in each of the Triple Crown metrics.  There was back and forth between fans of Judge and those who favored two-way star Shohei Ohtani of the Angels for much of the season, but after the New York outfielder set the American League home run mark and came within four base hits in his 570 at-bats of winning the Triple Crown, Judge winning all but two first place votes was expected.

As was the long wait for fans, from the beginning of the Rookie of the Year show early Monday evening, until the week of announcements was capped with the picture of Judge, his wife, and parents learning of his award near the end of Thursday’s broadcast.  But in sports, unlike in life, less is apparently never more.

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