Who deserves the next Commissoner’s Award?

One of my favorite things about Commissioner Bud Selig is how he just created a bunch of tools to accomplish his personal goals …

There was the Commissioner’s Discretionary Slush Fund, for example, and the Division Serieses. And there’s also the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award, the latest recipient of which is Vin Scully. From MLB’s press release:

Scully is the 14th recipient of the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award, which was created in 1998 to recognize accomplishments and contributions of historical significance. The most recent recipient was New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who was honored during the 2013 World Series. Scully is only the second non-player to be recognized, joining a fellow member of the Dodgers family, Rachel Robinson, who was honored in 2007 for advancing the legacy of her husband, Jackie Robinson.

Scully’s 65 years of consecutive service with the Dodgers is the longest of any sports broadcaster with one team. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers’ broadcast team in 1950, a year removed from graduating from Fordham University, where he played baseball. In 1953, the 25-year-old Scully became the youngest person ever to broadcast a World Series game. Two years later, he was behind the microphone for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ first and only World Series Championship. On October 8, 1956, Scully was in the booth for the only perfect game in Postseason history when Don Larsen of the New York Yankees blanked the Dodgers in Game Five at Yankee Stadium.

Last week I finished reading Andy McCue’s new book, Mover & Shaker: Walter O’Malley, the Dodgers, and Baseball’s Westward Expansion. By my count, Mover & Shaker is this year’s fourth outstanding baseball book, joining Jonah Keri’s history of the Expos, Kostya Kennedy’s Peter Rose biography, and Dan Epstein’s book about the 1976 season.

Anyway, I really can’t recommend Mover & Shaker highly enough. And I’ll use this opportunity to snip just a few paragraphs about Vin Scully and what he meant to the Dodgers in Los Angeles:

In Brooklyn Vin Scully had started as Red Barber’s understudy. Then, he had been a young man working in the shadow of Barber and Mel Allen with the Yankees and Russ Hodges with the Giants. In Los Angeles he was a phenomenon. A couple of decades later, after three World Series wins and exposure to Hall of Famers Snider, Reese, Koufax, Drysdale, Sutton, and Alston, Dodger fans would overwhelmingly select Scully as the most memorable person in team history…

–snip–

Vincent Edward Scully was born in New York City on November 29, 1927. His neighborhood, the Washington Heights area at the far northern tip of Manhattan, was not too far from O’Malley’s Bronx homeland. Also like O’Malley, he grew up a Giants fan, making the pilgrimage to the Polo Grounds to watch his boyhood hero, Mel Ott. It was clear from an early age that Scully had a fantastic ear for accent, rhythm, and tone. His father died when he was eight, and his mother took Scully with her on a trip back to Ireland, a trip from which the red-haired Scully returned with a brogue it took him months to lose.

In eighth grade, Scully remembered, Sister Virginia Maria asked his class to write essays on what they wanted to be when they grew up. Scully said he wanted to be a radio announcer. Instead of telling him of the long odds, the nun set him off on a program of reading aloud to prepare him. At Fordham Prep the Jesuit fathers reinforced the program with debate, oratory, and dramatics… His education and lifelong reading would enable him to steal a line from T.S. Eliot in the middle of play-by-play or quote Shakespeare between pitches.

I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of the Commissioner’s Award, actually. Might we assume that Scully has created and educated more baseball fans than any player ever has, with the possible (but unlikely) exception of Babe Ruth? I’m just glad they finally got around to this. Because Scully won’t be around forever, even if it does seem like he will.

Who might be next, though? It sure seems like the new commissioner will be short of great candidates. For reference, here’s the complete list:

1998 – Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa

2001 – Tony Gwynn & Cal Ripken, Jr. & Seattle Mariners

2002 – Barry Bonds & Rickey Henderson

2004 – Roger Clemens

2005 – Ichiro Suzuki

2006 – Roberto Clemente

2007 – Rachel Robinson

2011 – Ken Griffey Jr.

2013 – Mariano Rivera

2014 – Vin Scully

Those awards given to McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and Clemens do look a bit odd now, no? But of course the Commissioner later was shocked, shocked to find that baseball players were using drugs to pile up bigger statistics.

I don’t see any particular pattern in the awards. Only McGwire, Ripken, Bonds, and Henderson broke well-known and long-standing records. Ichiro did break the single-season hits record, while Gwynn, Clemens, and Griffey basically were rewarded for their long and meritorious careers. If you can explain why Clemens got this award but Greg Maddux didn’t, I’m all ears. Unless Clemens was simply rewarded for being both old and really good.

And the next recipient? In just two years there were five winners, so we might see Derek Jeter get one very soon. Considering that Albert Pujols is signed through 2021, he’s going to finish with huge career stats. But there’s not likely to be any particular impulse to honor him before his career ends (granted, that will probably happen before 2021, because he’ll just get released before then).

My guess – and of course everything is subject to the new commissioner’s whims – is that once Jeter gets his, there won’t be another until a player breaks some single-season record, or Clayton Kershaw wins three straight Cy Young Awards, or the Commissioner’s Office opts for a symbolic choice like Minnie Miñoso (except that particular ground seems to have already been covered with Roberto Clemente).

What do you think? After Jeter, who’s next? Who should be next?

p.s.