On the night of Sept. 29, I sat in my Dallas hotel room and pored over pages of statistics. I considered the opinions of managers, coaches and scouts. I agonized for hours. The American League Most Valuable Player ballot, to me, was a very big deal.
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In the end, I went with Justin Verlander, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista as the top three. I was proud of the work I put in, assembling and evaluating all the information I could find. When Verlander won the award seven weeks later, I believed strongly that we — the 28-person electorate of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — got it right.
As journalists, there is no greater pleasure than answering a difficult question through an honest, thorough accounting of facts. I’m satisfied with my AL MVP ballot. Our brethren who voted for the National League award deserve to feel the same way.
In the hours since ESPN reported Ryan Braun’s positive test for a banned substance, I have thought about those 32 colleagues — two from each NL city. Braun was their 2011 NL MVP, edging Matt Kemp. Now, through no fault of their own, the voters appear to have lacked key information about Braun’s season.
If they wish to revote once Braun’s appeal is complete, they should be given the opportunity.
If an arbitrator absolves Braun of wrongdoing, then he should be allowed to keep his award. Major League Baseball and the players union have a set of procedures for handling positive tests. Braun has the right to a fair hearing. If exonerated, he’s the rightful MVP.
There are, of course, issues with voting integrity. BBWAA ballots are due before the first pitch of the postseason, to ensure candidates are evaluated solely on what occurred during the regular season. The positive test occurred during the playoffs, according to ESPN. If program administrators certify that Braun had no banned substances in his system during the regular season, an argument could be made that he deserves to keep the award because his MVP performance was “clean.”
Right now, though, we don’t have information about the precise timing of Braun’s potential use of performance-enhancing drugs. Again, the BBWAA electorate is entitled to a review of the facts before determining whether a revote is necessary and fair.
In the event Braun is suspended for 50 games, the BBWAA voters should have the option to reconsider their ballots in light of the new information. On this matter, I’m speaking as someone who appreciates the careful work that goes into voting for these awards. I know what I would want to do if there were a similar revelation about a player on my AL ballot.
Some have referenced the manner in which the BBWAA has treated Hall of Fame candidates who have been linked to steroid use. That is immaterial to Braun’s case. This is a single-season award, and my friends shouldn’t have to answer for a decision based on incomplete information. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to Kemp, either.
The BBWAA awards — MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year — are the most significant individual honors in North American professional sports. They have more permanence, and inspire greater debates, than similar honors in the NFL, NBA and NHL. And the voters should be able to say their process was just.
Ultimately, it is up to us — the writers. They are our awards. We vote on them. We present them to the players. We have license to determine the procedure by which winners are determined.
To put it in the simplest possible terms: Should the league MVP be someone who had banned substances in his system while posting the huge numbers that qualified him for the award?
This isn’t an argument for large-scale retroactive justice. Alex Rodriguez used steroids during his 2003 AL MVP season with the Texas Rangers, but that wasn’t revealed until several years after the fact. Braun’s case is different. He will formally accept the award next month. This is a live ball.
The BBWAA has never revoked an award. Then again, the BBWAA has never been faced with a circumstance quite like this.
For now, we must wait for the result of Braun’s appeal. Then, if warranted, we should reserve the right to act. Sportswriters aren’t perfect, but accuracy and fairness still matter to us. There’s no reason we should have to cringe when the 2011 NL MVP is mentioned, now and forever.