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Writers' Block…Heads
2003-11-13 14:27
by Mike Carminati

Charlie Mikolajczak writes:

Just curious as to what your opinion was of the 2 writers who chose to leave Matsui off their ballot as a way of "protesting" Matsui being considered a rookie. I thought it was pretty funny that these guys are SPORTWRITERS and chose to leave him off their ballot as a way of protest as opposed to voicing their opinions in their own columns. Personally, I think it was a way for them to boost their own profile (however negatively), especially after seeing their responses as to why they did it...

What he is referring to are Bill Ballou of The Worcester Telegram and Gazette and Jim Souhan of The Minneapolis Star Tribune, neither of whom listed Hideki Matsui on the ballots and admitted to omitting him on the grounds that he had played n the Japanese leagues.

"It had everything to do with that," said Ballou "Matsui's numbers are comparable to any of the other strong candidates. But I really think that while he is technically a rookie by the rules of Major League Baseball, he is not a rookie in the spirit of the award."

"I just don't think someone who's played at such a high level in an environment I consider to be a major league is a real candidate for rookie of the year," Souhan said. "I don't think it's a fair fight when someone who is an All-Star player in a major league goes up against someone who is learning how to play at the major league level."

Now, my first question is why a reporter from Worcester is even eligible to vote? Wustah is an hour outside of Boston and is far from a major city. Why not let the beat reporters for the Woburn Daily Times Chronicle and the Lowell Sun chime in. And lest you think I speak from inexperience, I lived in Wustah for a time and what a bleak and dismal hamlet it is, though I did enjoy plundering the Isaiah Thomas used bookstore often (no, not that Isaiah Thomas).

My second question is when did the voters get to make up the rules anyway? As Jack O'Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA states, "The baseball writers don't decide what a rookie is. That's decided by Major League Baseball: unless you have more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched [in the major leagues], you're a rookie. The rules simply state that if you are in your first season in the major leagues, you're a rookie."

Given that the vote was so close—four points separated Berroa, the winner, and Matsui—were these two voters to have listed Matsui, it is likely the award would have been his. Consider that Ballou's ballot was: 1) Rocco Baldelli, 2) Jody Gerut and 3) Berroa. Listing Baldelli first might be grounds for disenfranchising Ballou in the first place. Souhan had: 1) Berroa, 2) Gerut, and 3) Baldelli.

We can assume from their statements that Matsui would have made their ballots based on his performance but that his experience in Japan disqualified him in their minds. Otherwise, why even touch on the subject—two Even if we list Matsui third on each of their ballots (thereby dropping Berroa from Ballou's altogether), the totals change to: Berroa 87 points (12 first place, 7 second, 6 third) and Matsui 86 (10-9-9). If Matsui had placed above third on either ballot, the award would be his. Also, Matsui would have appeared on all the ballots (28) and Berroa would not (25).

So these were just writers sticking up for their convictions, right? Well, as Charlie points out they had all season to use their bully pulpit to change opinions and help force a rule change. Well, since my subscription to their fine publications have lapsed, I cannot say whether or not Ballou and Souhan had written extensively on the matter. Maybe they had writer themselves blue in the fingertips and yet no change was made. Therefore, this was their last stand and the made it. Of course, Ballou's deeply held convictions had nothing to do with Matsui playing for the archrival Yankees.

Aside from the fact that we are discussing an organization in which Tuffy Rhodes could hold the home run record, it's not as if Matsui is the first ex-Japanese player to win the award. Three other former Japanese league players have won, all since 1995. Hideo Nomo (1995) was a five-year veteran with Kintetsu, Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) was a ten-year veteran with Yokohama, and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) was a nine-year veteran with Orix.

Never mind that former Negro league players Jackie Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), Sam Jethroe (1950), Willie Mays (1951), Joe Black (1952), and Jim Gilliam (1953). Why by their standards, the NL did not have a true Rookie of the Year for six of seven years. And the Negro leagues, it is generally accepted, had a higher quality of play than the Japanese leagues do today.

Here's one last thing to consider, the 130 at-bat rule is somewhat arbitrary. Let's say it was 125 at-bats. Then Scott Rolen, the NL Rookie of the Year in 1997, would not have been eligible. He had exactly 130 prior to his award-winning year. His wrist is broken when a Steve Trachsel pitch hits him on September 7, 1996, thereby ending his year and ensuring that he will be eligible for the award in the 1997 season. Steve Sax had 119 at-bats before he won the award. Todd Hollandsworth,103.

Also, rookie pitchers are capped at 50 innings of experience. Why? Why not 40 or 30 or 60? John "The Count" Montefusco made 7 starts in 1974 and threw 39.1 innings that year—and hit a home run in his major-league debut September 3—, and then went on to win the award in 1975. Jason Jennings did likewise in 2001—7 games and 39.1 innings pitched—before winning the award in 2002. Jon Matlack pitched 37 innings in 7 games in 1971 and then was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1972.

Well, you could say in all these instances that the players in question just happened to inherent a job towards the end of the year. But surely there has never been a RoY who was juggled between the majors and minors for more than a season before winning the award. Actually, there have been 14, including Angel Berroa this year. Tommie Agee played in parts of four major-league seasons with two franchises before he won the award in 1966. Gary Peters had played in parts of four season with the White Sox before he stuck for good and won the award. Alfredo Griffin played parts of three season with the Indians before he was shipped to the two-year-old Toronto Blue Jays franchise, where he won the award in 1979. Angel Berroa spent two years apprenticing at the estimable Neifi Perez's feet before taking on the Royals shortstop gig full-time this season.

Consider that in 2001 the AL Rookie of the Year went to former Japanese player by the name of Ichiro Suzuki. Suazuki took 27 of 28 first place votes, the 28th going to C.C. Sabathia. Ichiro fever also infected the MVP award as Suzuki beat out Jason Giambi, Bret Boone, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez, and Roberto Alomar, to name a few, in one of the more controversial MVP votes of the last few years.

That same year Marke Buerhle was 16-8 with a 3.29 ERA, 40% better than the park-adjusted league average. His adjusted ERA was good for third in the AL only three percentage points behind Joe Mays, the league leader, and two behind Mike Mussina. But Buehrle was not eligible for the Rookie of the Year because he had pitched 51.1 innings in 2000.

Buerhle may not have won the award in 2001, but he had a much better year than Sabathia, who finished second. Ichiro's OPS was 27% better than the adjusted league average, but was 75 percentage points behind league-leader Jason Giambi. Many complained that he was too weak-hitting to be the MVP. He probably would have won the Rookie award, but it would have been much more interesting had Buerhle been eligible.

In 1993, Tim Salmon won the award unanimously with his typically solid numbers. However, the voting would have been more interesting if 19-game winner Pat Hentgen were eligible. You see, Hentgen threw 50.1 innings in 1992 and 7.1 in 1991, disqualifying himself. Kevin Millwood won 17 games in 1998 but was ineligible due to his 51.1 innings of work the previous year. However, I doubt he would have unseated Kerry Wood as the award winner that year.

In 1970 Bob Robertson hit 27 home runs and had an OPS 48% better than the league average, but he had 96 at-bats in 1969 and another 35 in 1967 for a total of 131 thereby barring him from the 1970 Rookie vote. Carl Morton won the award with only 46% of the vote, edging out Bernie Carbo, Larry Bowa, Cesar Cedeno, and Wayne Simpson. Robertson was inelgible because of one at-bat. What if he had walked instead of grounded out one time the previous year? Wes Covington, Joe Pepitone, Kevin McReynolds, Dale Murphy, Dave Winfield, Gary Roenicke, and Juan Gonzalez all had good "rookie" years but were ineligible for the Rookie of the Year vote because they had previously exceeded 130 career at-bats. Had the arbitrary cutoff been 150 instead of 130, they would all have been eligible.

What if someone had tried to vote for Hentgen or Millwood or Buerhle or Robertson even though technically they were not eligible? Well, I guess their vote would be thrown away because they hadn't voted according to the rules. The rules may not be fair in all cases, but hey, that's why you have rules after all, to draw those lines. You don't want to be deciding if the dividing line is 130 or 150 at-bats after the season is done.

So the rules decide who is eligible and who is not, and there are consequences if a voter casts his vote for an illegible player. His vote is not counted. This would be the baseball equivalent of voting for Pat Paulson. To my knowledge no one has ever done this, but what if someone did to protest the arbitrary rules?

This "civil disobedience" is in the vein of what the two writers say they were intending to do. They knew that Matsui was eligible, but voted for other players as a form of protest. This very probably impacted who won the award.

So why not do the following in this case: 1) Throw out their vote and 2) disqualify them from the voting process for at least one year (or better yet revoke their membership in the BBWAA). This is not about dangling chads: They openly acknowledged that they did not vote for the best players eligible. Voting is a privilege not a right. What people seem to forget now is that there has always been a price to pay for civil disobedience. Without their votes the final tally would be:

            1st  2nd   3rd  Pts
Mastui      10     9      7    84
Berroa      11     7      6    82 

Or better yet throw out their votes and let another two writers, one from Boston and one from Minnesota, cast their ballots. I realize that if Mastui won in this way, the award would be tainted, but isn't it tainted already? What the writers did in effect was place an asterisk next to Berroa. They inadvertently gave a deserving candidate a qualified award.

By the way, did anyone notice that one third place vote in the AL Manager of the Year award went to Alan Trammell? Now, Trammell may prove a fine manager someday, but there is no reason to believe that he is a passable one right now. His Tigers logged a 43-119 record for a .265 winning percentage and were arguable the worst team since the inception of the American League.

There have only been two managers all time with winning percentages under .300, who managed at least 162 games: Hall-of-Fame player Bobby Wallace, 62-154 .286 and Dave Rowe, who managed in the 1880s, 44-127 .250. Neither lasted more than two seasons. The Tigers would have to improve by at least 12 games for Trammell to get his career managerial record above .300. There are only 10 other managers all time to pilot a club for at least 162 games and have a record under .350. The Tigers would have to go 71-91 in 2004, a Herculean task indeed, for Trammell to reach .350 for his career.

In other words Trammell may be the worst manager record-wise since Roy Hartsfield. And still some writer looked at the 14 AL managers and selected Trammell for his Manager of the Year ballot.

Of course, this all calls into question the voting rules for the two awards in the first place. Why limit the Rookie and Manager of the Year to two writers per city and then open the other awards to the entire BBWAA? Two awards are the Senate and the rest are the House of Representatives? If the voting had been opened up for this year's RoY award, then the grandiose opinions of a couple of writers wouldn't have mattered because it's unlikely that the vote would have been so close.

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