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Original Issue

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

The decision to pass out MVP and other baseball awards was as half-baked as the '94 season

Congratulations to Buck Showalter of the New York Yankees, who last week was named the American League Manag And kudos to outfielder Raul Mondesi, the 14th Los Angeles Dodger to be voted the National League Rook

Get it? Those incomplete sentences reflect the just-incompleted baseball season. Unfortunately the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) didn't get it when it decided to select, as usual, the top manager and the rookie of the year plus the winners of the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards in each league. Never mind that there was no resolution to this season, never mind that nobody played in the crucible of September, never mind that the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies are still the defending league champions. The BBWAA is giving out 1994 MVP awards, even though the 1994 season itself had no value.

Thus the BBWAA is lending repute to a season that should forever be reviled. The organization, which oversees the postseason awards as well as Hall of Fame voting, is also generating bonus money for players such as Atlanta Brave pitcher Greg Maddux, who will receive $750,000 for winning his third National League Cy You, and Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, who will get $100,000 if, as expected, he repeated on Wednesday as the American League's Most Valuab. Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz may be a biased observer because he has to pay Maddux, but he does have a point when he says, "[The bonus] should leave a sour taste not only for club operators but also for fans. It's somewhat blasphemous to talk about individual honors in a season that was devastated. There were no team champions. Why should there be individual honors?"

Not all baseball writers wanted to give the awards. "The record books should always reflect what a sham this season was," says Tom Pedulla of New York's Gannett Suburban Newspapers. "That's why I submitted a blank ballot for the AL Cy Young." Pedulla's gesture was a noble one, but the BBWAA doesn't believe nobility has a place in the voting. It disallowed Pedulla's ballot, as well as four others left blank in protest, and found five alternate voters willing to submit completed ballots. "The rules clearly state that...a ballot should be filled out," says Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA. Oh, an incomplete season is O.K., but an incomplete ballot is not?

Says Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who submitted a blank ballot for American League MVP, "I could have been a jerk and voted for [non-MVP candidates] Daryl Boston Number 1, Gerald Williams Number 2, Felix Fermin Number 3...and they would have had to count my ballot. But that would have been making a travesty out of a travesty. I had a problem voting for MVP in a season in which there was no team accomplishment."

The strike was still only a possibility when the BBWAA decided at its last full meeting, during the All-Star break, to go ahead with its voting business as usual. However, many of the beat writers—Pedulla and Sherman included—weren't there because they, too, take a traditional All-Star break. "We had a freewheeling debate at the time," says Murray Chass of The New York Times, "and we overwhelmingly decided that we would go ahead with the awards. Shortened or not, it was still a legitimate season."

The players went on strike on Aug. 12, and the balance of the schedule and the postseason were called off on Sept. 14, but BBWAA members were not polled again. "We had no mechanism for that," says Chass. Actually, the BBWAA does have a mechanism; it's called a conference call.

"These are the three arguments I kept hearing, trying to justify the voting," says Sherman. "One, we had awards in '81, when the [strike-interrupted] season was about the same length. Well, that season at least had closure. Two, Andre Dawson was MVP for the last-place Cubs in 1987. so what difference does winning have in the MVP voting? Well, I and a lot of other writers [who didn't have National League MVP votes at the time] wouldn't have voted for Dawson that year, because his team accomplished nothing. Three, a lot of teams were playing like they were in a pennant race as Aug. 12 approached. Hey, I saw the Yankees every day during that stretch; Showalter was managing for a pennant, but the players were playing like they expected they would be back."

Those rationalizations aside, the most compelling reason for the BBWAA to continue voting was its own insecurity. Says one writer who did fill out a ballot, "There was a real sentiment that if we didn't give out the awards, some other organization, like ESPN or The Sporting News, would. And that we would be giving up our right and relinquishing our power." It would have been better if the BBWAA had declared 1994 a nonseason and, thus, asserted its authority, rather than try to protect its power by pretending '94 was just like any other season, only shorter.