Musings: Baseball Writers Can't Be Wrong - Or Can They?

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

BASEBALL WRITERS CAN’T BE WRONG – OR CAN THEY?

Was Alex Cora robbed when he didn’t win the American League Manager of the Year

for 2018? It’s impossible to conceive of anyone doing a better job than Cora did this year;

108 wins is an all-time record for a Red Sox team. His managing during the post-season

was flawless, with 11 wins against only 3 losses, and a World Series championship,

although the voting is done before the playoffs begin. But was he robbed?

Bob Melvin of the Oakland A’s, the eventual winner, had a team with the lowest payroll

in baseball at the season’s start ($68.6 million); a team that finished last in the American

League West in 2017; a team that in June of this year had an eleven game deficit to make

up for the wild card berth; and he led it to the post-season with a record of 97 and 65.

That’s nothing to sneeze at, so it’s hard to say who deserved it more. I think Cora earned

it because the object of the game is to win, and that’s exactly what the Red Sox skipper

did. But it wasn’t an out and out hijacking.

It’s not the first time that a Red Sox skipper has been denied the honor that should

rightfully have been his. Terry Francona, the most successful manager in the team’s

history, never won a manager of the year award while he was with the Sox. He did win in

2016 with the Indians.

If Cora wasn’t exactly robbed in 2018, Pedro Martinez was robbed in 1999. He was

edged out for Most Valuable Player by Ivan Rodriguez because two members of the

Baseball Writers of America, who do the voting on these things, left him totally off their

ballots – and they get to choose up to ten players each! George King of the New York

Post and Lavelle Neal of the Minneanapolis Star-Tribune were apparently under the

impression that pitchers are not players and thus shouldn’t be considered for an MVP

award. Rodriguez was a terrific player and had an outstanding year in ’99, but he did not

lead the league in a single offensive category. Pedro, on the other hand, won the pitching

Triple Crown that year, leading the league in victories (23-4), earned run average (2.04)

and strike outs (313). But, as Neal, one of the robbers, said, “It was nothing personal

against Pedro.”

With Ted Williams, though, it was personal. Ted was robbed, virtually at gunpoint, of the

MVP award a number of times, and it was because a lot of the voting writers just plain

didn’t like him. He was edged out by a single vote in 1947 when one writer reportedly

didn’t include him as one of the top ten players in the league and Ted had won the Triple

Crown that year. The winner was Joe DiMaggio, whom Williams had out hit (.343 versus

.315), out homered (32 versus 20), and out RBI’d (114 versus 97). Williams believed

that the writer who didn’t even give him a tenth place vote (which would have been

enough to put him over the top) was Mel Webb of the Boston Globe, but Webb was

almost certainly not the guilty party. He was an old-timer in his seventies by then, didn’t

write on baseball regularly anymore, and he was not one of the voters in either 1946,

when Ted did win the MVP, or in 1948.

The 1947 robbery, bad as it was, was not as outrageous as 1942, when Williams also won

the Triple Crown but lost in the voting to Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon. The

discrepancy in numbers was even wider than in 1947; batting average, .356 to Gordon’s

.322, home runs, 36 to 18, and runs batted in, 142 to 113.

Those brazen stick-ups were in addition to 1941, when he lost out as MVP despite batting

.406 and leading the league in home runs; and again in 1957 when, at age 39, he was

passed over in spite of batting .388.

Clearly, some of the writers voting in those elections did not like Ted very much. Just as

clearly, he had given them ample reason not to like him. He was a high strung guy with a

hair-trigger temper that he struggled to control all his life; and he really had no family life

as a child and had not been taught how to deal with adversity. When he was criticized in

print he lashed out, sometimes at any writer who happened to be around. That didn’t win

him any popularity contests with those who wrote about him – and who voted on who

would win awards. Let’s just say that their relationship was adversarial.

As the years went by and Ted mellowed, things got a little better between them. In 1969

the writers voted him American League Manager of the Year when he led the expansion

Washington Senators to a third place finish. He’d had a pretty good year, though it was

hardly of Triple Crown caliber.

In an effort to rectify the questionable choices sometimes made by the writers, the task of

choosing Gold Glove winners was turned over to managers and coaches. Who could be

more qualified and more relied upon to make worthy choices, right? In 1999 the

managers and coaches, in their unquestioned wisdom, awarded the Gold Glove for first

basemen to Rafael Palmeiro, who had played only 28 games at first base in that entire

season. So much for baseball’s fool-proof decision making process.

It turns out that managers and coaches, just like baseball writers, are people, too. And

people sometimes make mistakes. When choosing the recipients of high honors they can

be right more often than they are wrong, though at times those choices can be called into

question. And every once in a while they can be wildly off the mark.

You know, just like in presidential elections.