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The Holy War of the BBWAA

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  November 16, 2012 09:01 AM

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I wonder if the Mayans had Miguel Cabrera winning the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player.

I’m all for the new wave of statistics in baseball, but if this year’s MVP Holy War is any indication of where the game is headed count me out. Cabrera was worthy, and I’m glad he won. Mike Trout was worthy, and I would have had no issue if the BBWAA satisfied the craving needs of the statistical-minded and handed him the award.

That stance apparently makes me obtuse.

It’s encouraging that the ancient BBWAA conducted the debate between Trout and Cabrera, actually giving some mind to numbers the organization once considered those sprouting from some preschool baseball know-nothings. But the whole process showed, yet once again, what is wrong with the hierarchies of the press box. The BBWAA reeks of arrogance and entitlement, dismissing any argument as uneducated, uninformed, or archeological.

We received it from both sides Thursday night when the vote came down. Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, blew Trout away in the voting, getting 22 of 28 first-place votes, and 22 of 26 if you consider that both Boston chapter members – Comcast’s Sean McAdam and the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton - gave their votes to Trout. Then came the backlash, most notably from ESPN sabermetrician Keith Law, who went on a statistical crusade last night rivaling only the Siege of Antioch.

Law also went on WEEI’s Hot Stove show Thursday night and truly showed how superior he is to anybody else with a differing opinion. The whole segment was like an overbearing mother disciplining an older child for stealing his younger brother’s Buzz Lightyear, the new toy on the block that some refused to give his due.

There’s a lot of truth to what Law says in that interview. The BBWAA is an antiquated old-boys club that looks at any and all new writers or medium with a suspecting and dismissive eye. In order to join The Lodge (copyright, Fred Toucher), you have to buy into the ways of the cult, and any new ways of thinking will be a detriment to admission. But Law goes off the rails with his assessment that a vote for Cabrera is equivalent to voting Hee-Haw to the TV Hall of Fame. Take the Triple Crown, or “the narrative” as Law arrogantly classifies it, out of the equation, in the final month of the season, Cabrera hit 11 home runs with a 1.071 OPS. Trout hit five home runs with a .900 OPS. Those are two great months. The Tigers made the playoffs. The Angels didn’t. That has to count for something. Sorry, it just does.

I understand the argument about the difference in competition over that stretch, but these guys didn’t make the schedule. Tom Brady has won the MVP playing the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets. Nobody ever holds that against him.

Law’s condescending nature is one primary reason why so many baseball fans are reluctant to embrace the new numbers that permeate baseball. If you don’t believe in WAR and VORP in that world, you’re dispatched to the far regions of the sport’s new generation of fans. So, let me ask; how is that any different from what Law claims of the BBWAA? Isn’t that a society that shuns members and principles if they don’t fall in tow with the company line?

At the other end of the spectrum, we had old friend Evan Grant, the Dallas writer who left Dustin Pedroia completely off the ballot when the Red Sox second baseman won the award in 2008. Grant, of course, represents the old guard of the BBWAA, an embarrassing segment that stalwartly refuses to budge from the stance of age-old theories.

Oh.

The BBWAA has plenty of fine, outstanding members, but that statement pretty much sums up how the group as a whole sees itself; the end-all, be-all when it comes to deciding right and wrong. Except for, you know, Bill Conlin.

The stats-minded have a proper battleground for their mission, and an unmovable force that they have remarkably managed to permeate over the years. But their argument that geezer voters simply voted Cabrera because of a narrative is so independent of enjoyment and reality that it makes them come off as sore losers. If Trout had won, the championing would have been just as nauseating. When did it come to this?

And you know what, so what if there is something mystical about the Triple Crown? Is it wrong to want to want to talk about that someday with my kids when we’re sitting at Fenway, or should I lay out a mathematical equation for them?

Stats enhance the game, but they shouldn’t be the primary reason why we’re baseball fans. In this case, nobody was right or wrong with his or her vote, despite what each political party has to say about the matter. The BBWAA has been a blundering organization for decades, but I fear the new wave that fought so heartily against the organization is creeping up on the aristocratic meter.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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