Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Hank Aaron Award Has No Legitimacy And Needs To Be Fixed
We present here four simple solutions to the Hank Aaron award that will bring it to the level of the MVP and the Cy Young Awards, as well as fix the fatal flaw of the MVP award.

There are many reasons to love baseball...too many to list. However, there are a few things baseball just can't seem to get right. One of these is Major League Baseball's postseason awards. The American League and the National League began naming MVPs in 1911. There has been an AL MVP every year since 1924 and in the NL every year since 1931. Starting in 1956, the Cy Young award was given to the best pitcher in baseball. It was not until 1967 that a Cy Young award was given in both the AL and the NL.


One of the longstanding arguments in baseball is the criteria for an MVP. Should the award be given to the player deemed Most Valuable to his team or should the MVP be the best player in his respective league? In 1987, Andre Dawson won the award by hitting .287-49-137. He clearly was the best player in the NL that season. However, the Hawk played for a last place team. How valuable could he have been? The Cubs would still have finished last without Dawson. The very next season, Kirk Gibson was named the NL MVP after what many considered an average offensive season (.290-25-76). Clearly Gibby was judged on a different set of criteria. It was widely accepted that the Dodgers would not have made it to the postseason without Gibson (the award is voted on before the playoffs). In that same season Darryl Strawberry finished second in the MVP voting with what appeared to be vastly superior numbers (.269-39-101). A new argument was presented just this past year as the debate raged in the media and among fans over who deserved to be the AL MVP, Alex Rodriguex or David Ortiz. Both players had comparable numbers, but Big Papi was considered the more valuable by some because of his clutch hitting. Yet many thought Ortiz lost value because he did not field a position as Boston's DH. Ultimately, playing DH was too much to overcome and and the award went to A-Rod.

In 1999, Major League Baseball introduced the Hank Aaron Award. This award was designed to end the debate between Most Valuable Player and Best Player. The Hank Aaron award is given each year to the best hitter in each league. This was a noble effort by the league, but the award is flawed, and is not recognized as a legitimate award in the eyes of baseball fans. We see four significant problems with the award that need to be fixed immediately.

  1. The Hank Aaron award is voted on by the fans as well as broadcasters. The fan vote counts 30% towards the final tally. Unfortunately Major League Baseball has not learned their lesson from the All-Star game. Any award based in part or wholly on fan voting will never have any legitimacy among those same fans. A 'fan vote' is and always will be a popularity contest. Over the years, the number of players that have been voted to start an All-Star game without merit is too many to count.
  2. Only one player is on the ballot from each team. We first became concerned about this award when we noticed Carl Crawford was on the ballot for the award. We love C. C. and he has had a great season, but he is not deserving of the title Best Hitter in the American League. Just like the All-Star game in which each team must be represented, this too takes away from the legitimacy of the award. As Devil Rays fans we will be the first tell you there have been years that no player from Tampa Bay deserved to be on the AL All-Star squad (Lance Carter in 2003). Because of this rule, the Royal's David DeJesus is on the ballot and Manny Ramirez is not. As with the All-Star game vote, there is a place for write-in votes, but we all know how well that works.
  3. The Hank Aaron award is driven by sponsorship. The fan vote appears to be driven by Century 21, the sole sponsor of the award. The vote is a mechanism to drive baseball fans to the Century 21 website. We understand the need for corporate sponsorship in sports despite our hatred of it. However, corporations should have no say in how Major League Baseball's awards are distributed. The MVP and the Cy Young award are a key to the history of baseball. Major League Baseball would never tarnish the legacy of those awards with fan voting and corporate sponsorship that gets to make the rules.
  4. The Hank Aaron award has no history. The history of the game is at the core of many fan's love of the game...the stats...the debates...the winners...the losers. We can tell you the Yankees have won 26 World Series titles. We would argue Babe Ruth's best season was in 1921 (.378-59-171). We know Joe Nuxhall made his debut for the Reds at the age of 15 in 1944...For an award in baseball to have legitimacy, it needs to have history. It means nothing to true baseball fans that Alex Rodriguez has won three Hank Aaron awards, unless we can place that in some historical context. How many would Babe Ruth have won? Barry Bonds has won three, but how many would he have won had the award been around his entire career?
So is the Hank Aaron award destined to just become another glorified corporate advertisement disguised as a legitimate award? Is it destined to be an after thought or a just slightly more significant version of the Silver Slugger Award (given to the best hitter at each position)? Maybe the more important question is...

Can the award be saved and reach the same level as the MVP or the Cy Young Award in terms of legitimacy among the fans?

We have presented four significant flaws with the award. Each of these faults is fixable.
  1. Take the vote away from the fans. All-Star game rosters are not taken seriously and neither will the Hank Aaron award as long as fans are voting. The Hank Aaron award should not be a popularity contest.
  2. Make all players eligible. This is an easy fix and will be repaired instantly once the fan voting is removed from the award.
  3. Remove corporate sponsorship. Sure it bugs the hell out of us that every stadium has a corporate name and certain American sports institutions such as the Rose Bowl are now presented by somebody. Still, we understand the need for sponsorship. However, baseball has always been ahead of the curve in regards to keeping their game pure. Logos are limited on baseball uniforms and on the baseball field. The MVP and Cy Young are still sacred. The league needs to make the Hank Aaron award sacred. There should be NO sponsorship of the award. When a corporation spends top dollar, they want to be able to exert influence. Even if this influence which is clearly present now is eliminated, the hint of influence will always remain if the award is presented by somebody. Major League Baseball is a money machine. There are other avenues for sponsorship. If the league wants the Hank Aaron award to achieve some level of legitimacy, it needs to make the award sacred and clean.
  4. The Hank Aaron Award needs to be awarded posthumously. Take a selection of respected baseball writers, broadcasters, historians and former players. Find a weekend during the off-season and have this group of people get together and debate the merits of players from every season from 1900 to 1998. In seasons for which an MVP award was given, limit the voting to position players that finished in the top 10 of the voting. This will be the toughest to implement but also the most important. The award needs a historical context or it will forever be doomed. While they are at it, have them decide the league MVPs and Cy Young Award winners for ever season since 1900 in which one or both awards were not presented. Babe Ruth only won a single MVP award in 1923. The award was not given between 1914 and 1922 and in 1929. The Bambino would have been a leading candidate for the MVP in 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1929. It would be easier to compare Barry Bonds seven MVPs to a Babe Ruth that won five as opposed to a Babe Ruth that only won a single MVP.
These changes are simplistic. the first three changes could be made by the wave of Bud Selig's magic wand. Only the last change would take some effort, but is clearly feasible. Inevitably, there would be some stigma placed on any award given in hindsight, but debate is one of those reasons baseball is so great. Ultimately, the Hank Aaron award will never be taken seriously in its current form. There is a need in baseball for this award, but until it is fixed, it is just another example of baseball screwing up a good idea.

Vote For the Hank Aaron Award. [MLB]
Balloting, video game and consumer sweepstakes underway for the 2006 Hank Aaron Award presented by Century 21 [Century 21]

6 Comments:

Anonymous Schnaars said...

I fancy myself something of a baseball fan, and I had absolutely no idea what the Hank Aaron Award was for until I read this post. That's pretty sad (for the award and maybe for me, I'm not really sure at this point).

That being said, I agree with each of your suggestions except the idea of posthumously handing out awards. I'm on board with the reasoning, history is baseball's one true strength over other sports. I just don't think it would be possible to manufacture history by convening the kind of group you're talking about here. Neither should it be attempted. Christ, we'd inevitably end up with a Mariotti or some similar jackass on the selection comittee and that'd be worse than Century 21's shameless tie-ins to the aforementioned Hank Aaron award. The only way to build history is naturally, and maybe in 2056 the Hank Aaron will mean something, but we shouldn't try to speed that up by engaging in revisionist history.

As a side note, I think one of the best things about the Cy Young and the MVP is looking back at some of the surprises and disasters (paging Ken Caminiti). Plus the MVP award virtually guaranteed that one day we'd have the pleasure of hearing Keith Hernandez call Mets games, providing untold levels of unintentional comedy.

11:30 AM  
Blogger The Professor said...

WE understand the stigma of any award given posthumously. We too would look at it with trepidation and a mental asterick, but ultimately we think it is better than not having the awards. Of course, it will be a bit silly to see how many Hank Aaron awards that Hank Aaron would win or how many Cy Young awards that Cy Young would have won.

We would like to think that Bud Selig respects the game enough not to put somebody like Mariotti on the panel...and quite frankly (crap! did i just quote Steven A. Smith?) we dont think that Mariotti falls under the category of respected baseball writers, broadcasters, historians and former players...the key word being respected

12:08 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

"In 1987, Andre Dawson won the award by hitting .287-49-137. He clearly was the best player in the NL that season."

Really? Here are some players in the National League who were better than Hawk in 1987:
Jack Clark
Ozzie Smith (counting position scarcity and defensive ability)
Will Clark
Darryl Strawberry
Tim Raines
Tony Gwynn
Eric Davis
Dale Murphy
Mike Schmidt
Pedro Guerrero

The truth of the matter is that the MVP isn't particularly interesting anymore - now that every players' stats are readily available, and they're dissected every night on Baseball Tonight, there's little that the award tells us other than how many writers confuse "value" with "overall team success". The Hank Aaron award was a token gesture, not to fans, but to Aaron himself. When anyone with a computer can retrieve offensive figures and come up with a pretty sophisticated measurement of a player's achievement, who is ever really going to care what a bunch of fat old sportswriters think?

1:54 PM  
Blogger The Professor said...

there is a level of truth to what you are saying, but if nobody cares, then why did so many care whether Big Papi or E-Rod won the award last year?

2:15 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

I didn't mean to imply that no one cares about the MVP anymore, only that I (and a lot of other people) consider MVP debates to be kind of boring what with the wealth of information (and sophisticated ways of analyzing that information) are available to us in the 21st century. Arguments on the meaning of "value" continue to frame most MVP debates, and sometimes they ARE interesting (like last year's notion about how much DH's are inherently worth). Most of the time, though, you realize that sportswriters are woefully underprepared to vote on these things, and do aggravating things like discard all players on non-playoff teams or vote for hometown guys because they saw them play so often. The big 3 awards, MVP, Cy Young and ROY, will always be good for debate, but their inherent purpose (to determine the best player among their respective pools of eligible candidates) can be just as easily done with a computer and some smarts.

I don't mean to impugn your write-up about the Aaron award - you make some good points, and it could be made slightly more relevant than it is now, at the very least because it's a travesty that someone like Aaron is given this dumpy, unloved award and supposed to be grateful for it. But the inherent problem with the award is always going to be there - that it was anachronistic pretty much the second it was conceived, and only becomes more so with each passing year. Personally, I think it's probably beyond saving.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Something interesting I learned recently - when Ruth played, there was a rule in effect stating that if a player won the MVP award, he was ineligible for consideration in the future. Thus, Lou Gehrig was the MVP in 1927, when Ruth had one of his greatest seasons.

I agree that it's strange to posthumously hand out awards, but there's nothing wrong with discussing who MIGHT have won the awards had they been given out at that time (i.e. how many MVPs Ruth would have won). If I recall, Bill James did this in one of his books (maybe "Win Shares"?)

4:04 PM  

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