It’s often been said that when it comes to baseball matters off the field, things can move at a glacial pace. The game, steeped in it’s traditional coverings, does not exactly embrace change.
And, it seems, this state of being isn’t relegated to the owners, or the Commissioner’s Office, or the players.
For anyone that has been a member of SABR, you know that racing head long into the Internet age has been a hot topic of discussion, regardless of the valiant efforts from the likes of F.X. Flinn. When your constituency still holds on to the past, moving into the future – rather the present – can be a challenge.
The same might be said of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
For those that follow the business, the newspaper industry is reeling on its heels as advertisement revenues shrink, and the issues of news availability through the internet eat away at its foundations. The BBWAA has been, up until recently, an exclusive association focused on those within the print media spectrum.
That is changing, albeit slowly, and in some senses, by need as newspaper columnists have jumped from the sinking ship of print media to Internet based publications. Whether it has been Gordon Edes (Yahoo! Sports), Hal Bodley (MLB.com), Mark Fainaru Wada (ESPN), or T. J. Quinn (ESPN) to name a handful, there has been a parade of marquee reporters heading to media outlets where the Internet is a key platform.
To add to this, at last month’s winter meetings in Las Vegas, Rob Neyer and Keith Law of ESPN, as well as Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus were included in the BBWAA’s roles.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Rob Neyer for lunch on Tuesday, where the topic inevitably came to his inclusion into the BBWAA. For those that may not have followed the story, Neyer and Law were denied inclusion in 2007 based upon the number of games that they attend – a hot topic of discussion, in itself.
Later in the day on Tuesday, Neyer ran a column on his newfound membership in the BBWAA (read BBWAA must speed up its voting requirements). As Neyer writes:
Many BBWAA members are still wedded to its original intent, and you can't really blame them. Change ain't easy. But change is inevitable, and so the BBWAA's membership now has a few years to figure out whether they want to get out in front of this thing, or be dragged kicking and screaming.
Including "a large number of internet writers" in the Hall of Fame process would be an excellent first step, and would have the added benefit of actually improving the process. There were 539 ballots cast this year. We know that some of those 539 ballots were cast by voting members who haven't actually covered baseball in many years, and may not have paid much attention to baseball at all. Getting rid of those voters probably isn't going to happen, but they could be more than balanced with all those talented and popular internet writers. Oh, but there's one more thing … Frankly, 10 years is too long to wait. I've been writing about baseball for 20 years, and now I have to wait another 10 before I'm qualified for a Hall of Fame ballot?
As Rob and I discussed, there are really three types of writers that cover baseball that would add value to the BBWAA:
- There are those that define the current BBWAA member – the beat writer that slugs it out everyday at the ballpark, and thus the member that really benefits the most from the protections that the BBWAA offers them in terms of access.
- There are those such as Neyer, Law, Carroll, and Kahrl that make their living from being baseball writers, but don’t necessarily need to be at the ballpark to provide content.
- And, then there are those such as Derek Zumsteg or Rany Jazayerli that dedicate vast hours of time covering baseball, but do not have it as their sole career.
As Neyer and I agreed, there is a need, and a benefit, to adding these layers of writers into the BBWAA.
As Neyer mentioned, change ain’t easy, but my impression is it is on the way, and not in a kicking and dragging fashion.
I also had a lengthy conversation with Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News at the winter meetings about the process. Ringolsby, the former president of the BBWAA and Spink Award winner in the Hall of Fame, seemed to understand the realities and the change facing the BBWAA. I got no sense that there was some attempt at stonewalling internet writers, but rather a grappling with the BBWAA’s mandate as an association dedicated to offering protections to those in the trenches at the ballpark, where for the vast majority of its existence, all BBWAA members were focused.
As mentioned, in relationship to baseball, it often is a game of slower pace punctuated by extreme action. There is movement going on within how the BBWAA is offering inclusion, and that should be applauded. Change is, after all change, whether the media industry is influencing matters, or not. Could it move faster? One could say so, yes. Could the BBWAA have stuck their heads in the sand and not recognize the change rapidly altering the face of what is deemed a “creditable” platform? Absolutely. The coming years will determine whether the BBWAA is warming to writers that have been deemed to be more “alternative” in nature or whether a purist faction remains. Watching the Tribune Co. or McClatchy Company, it is clear that the traditional newspaper industry is facing change. The BBWAA is, in many ways, is hitched to the industry, and needs to change, as well.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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