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Bob Dutton Addresses the BBWAA Inclusion Process PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Monday, 10 December 2007 09:59
A Biz of Baseball ExclusiveBob Dutton, President of the Baseball Writers' Association of America Addresses Process of Credentialing

Before I get started, it’s important to make mention of the incredible willingness that Bob Dutton, president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), has done to address some of the questions about the criteria by which a potential candidate for the BBWAA is granted inclusion, or rather, as it pertains to news on Friday, the non-inclusion of two members. While some of the answers presented may not give what some are looking for, Dutton's willingness to address the questions straight on is commendable.

It should be noted that the full intent of this article is not to make a case for whether Neyer or Law should be members of the BBWAA (although, it is this author’s opinion that they should be), but rather it is an attempt to address some of the questions that have surfaced about the BBWAA’s process. - Maury Brown

It may not have been front page news in the sports section, but it has created a firestorm of debate in baseball circles. The BBWAA agreed to open up its membership to internet-based authors, which on the face of it, is a win for those that produce baseball related content for the internet, and not just for those that work in print, such as newspapers.

16 members were recommended for inclusion into the BBWAA. They are Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian, Amy Nelson, Buster Olney, and Jayson Stark from ESPN, Scott Miller from CBS Sportsline, Ken Rosenthal from FoxSports.com, Tim Brown, Steve Henson, Jeff Passan, and Dan Wetzel from Yahoo! Sports, and John Donovan, Jon Heyman, and Tom Verducci from Sports Illustrated

Two up for consideration were not recommended for approval. They were ESPN’s Rob Neyer and Keith Law, based upon the BBWAA’s criteria of members being required to attend, what they deem to be a “sufficient number of MLB games.” It is that criteria which is being questioned. It is that non-inclusion of Neyer and Law that have sparked the heated debate.

That debate has raged across the blogsphere, from The Baseball Analysts, to Keith Law’s blog, to Baseball Think Factory, and beyond. It has pulled in members of the BBWAA (one member from the Denver area referenced in Law’s blog posting went as far as calling Law “a liar”) and others (Neyer, for one) have moved into a he said/he said back and forth via comments posted in the aforementioned locations.

After reading through the comments regarding Law and Neyer, it seemed clear that there were a considerable number of questions around the BBWAA’s process, which were not well known.

To attempt to get answers to some of these questions, I contacted Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, who is currently the president of the BBWAA.

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Here are some replies to questions asked:

Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: What is the exact number of games that a prospective member should attend at ballparks to be considered for approval?

Bob Dutton: There is no specific number in our constitution. For years, the traditional number was 100 games, and most full-time beat reporters still cover between 110-130 games.

But a specific number was omitted when we revised our constitution in 1992. The reason, I believe, was an effort to be inclusive. I think it's safe to say, though, that few members would view anything less than 40 games as an acceptable cutoff. That's roughly half of any team's home games. For example, someone who only covers 20 games at big-league parks is going to have trouble convincing many members that they merit a BBWAA credential.

Brown: What are your comments about the members that were included? Some have suggested that those that were approved were more or less grandfathered in. What are your comments for those that are asserting that claim?

Dutton: I assume you mean the new internet members since we usually have a few dozen new members each year from traditional sources.

Our procedure with internet reporters is new this year. The amendment starts the calendar in October and specifies that we exclude MLB.com employees. The amendment also specifies that other internet sites credentialed by MLB for the World Series serve as a starting point for consideration.

The full membership at our World Series meeting is supplied with a list of those sites and has the option of accepting or amending the list either through additions or deletions. This year the list was accepted intact (again, except for MLB.com).

That meant five internet sites were invited to submit candidates by  Dec.1: CBSSportsline.com, ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, SI.com and Yahoo.com.

The requirement was that candidates be full-time employees whose primary ob is to write about baseball. Those candidates would also need to meet he BWAA's general requirements.

The five sites submitted a total of 18 names. The national board of directors is charged with reviewing the list of candidates and submitting a recommendation to the entire membership for consideration at the winter meetings.

The board recommended that 16 of the 18 be accepted for membership. Two candidates were not recommended for membership because the best information available to the board indicated they had not demonstrated a regular presence at big-league parks.

The full membership has the option of approving the board's recommendation or amending it. In this case, a motion was made, seconded and passed to accept the board's recommendations.

Brown: On the “best information available”… There has been quite the back and forth going on about who at ESPN was contacted at the winter meetings, regarding Keith and Rob. There is a stream of conflicting stories (the side that was not included saying that they spoke to an editor at the winter meetings and that he said he did not speak with anyone at the BBWAA, and the BBWAA saying that they did) .

Can we set the record straight once and for all... Who at ESPN was contacted?

Dutton: I won't identify whom I, or any board member, contacted at ESPN or any of the web sites regarding this matter. Or when and where. They were informal conversations and private background checks.

I've been asked by some of those contacted whether I planned to identify them and reveal the nature of their comments. I've told them I wouldn't  do so without their consent. I plan to stick by that.

Brown: Regarding your comments on "40 games being the cutoff"... have you ever known a member of the BBWAA sponsoring a prospective member  for inclusion that was below this threshold? This gets to addressing the chorus of voices that are saying that there's a "good old boy" network at play.

Dutton: The way our membership works is qualifying outlets (newspapers, wire services, etc., and now internet sites) send us a list of candidates. There's no such procedure of a member sponsoring a prospective member.

Also, the 40-game standard is mine. I didn't mean to imply it as an association threshold. It isn't. As I [mentioned] previously, there is no specific standard.

I do doubt, however, many members would recognize someone who attends fewer than 40 games as needing a BBWAA credential.

Brown: Understanding what the prime reasonings behind the BBWAA requesting that writers attend games directly at the ballpark, is there a sense that a shift in this position could occur based on the high degree of coverage for matters such as the HOF vote now receives?

Dutton: The BBWAA is evolving. The new amendment to admit internet reporters shows this. I expect us to evolve further.

Brown: Is there a need to be "at the ballpark" to add value to the BBWAA with the advent of MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV that allows writers the ability to see games, and therefore, the only difference is physically being at games?

Dutton: Physically being at games, I believe, means more than your question seems to imply unless you see no value in direct contact with players, management, staff, etc.

I believe the access granted to such people through our credential, which is the result of negotiation with MLB and the MLBPA, is the primary benefit most members value.

That is also the main reason the association places a premium on members demonstrating a need to be at ballparks.

Brown: One aspect of the BBWAA that many wonder about is who is exactly a badge member? The BBWAA’s site does not list who is a member.

Dutton: It is not a secret. The names (I believe) are within all the media guides.

(NOTE: After looking through several of this year’s media guides, this is not the case. As an example, the Orioles list the Baltimore/DC area members, but several guides that I examined – Red Sox, Braves, Cubs – did not. On the latter issue of the listing, Dutton made an extra effort to provide me with a listing of all badge members as of May 2007.)

(See the complete BBWAA badge listing here on The Biz of Baseball)

It should be noted that the list currently does not reflect the Hall of Fame voting list, which includes many lifetime members who are no longer active.

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As mentioned at the beginning of this article, on the face of it, the addition of 16 internet-based writers appears to be a clear move forward for alternative media. I will not debate that matter, but it should be noted that more than one member on the list was already listed as part of the BBWAA’s rolls prior. Jeff Passan (2004), Tim Brown (1994), Steve Henson (2005), and Jon Heyman (1988) are all shown as badge members. This appears to show more of a “reclassification” than “new inductee” to the BBWAA’s rolls.

Also, looking at the list sees a bit of a administrative issue that the BBWAA is bumping into, which may or may not, impact how the BBWAA works toward growing membership.

Even before the BBWAA decided to allow internet-based writers to be considered for inclusion, the rolls have been growing at an ever increasing rate. As but one example, 1986 sees 20 members added. Ten years later the figure is very close to the same (18 members), but by 2006, that figure jumps to 58.

As a final commentary, the “number of games to be attended” needs to be addressed.

Understanding the BBWAA’s mandate to attend games, as well as the change in the times to address the increased role that the BBWAA plays in determining awards such as the Hall of Fame induction, MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year, is at a crossroads.

The ability for the BBWAA to adapt their bylaws seems doable to address both issues. There could be methods that would allow a prospective member that does not attend the current requisite number of games in person, yet allow them to add exceptional value to the voting process, in. Some form of logging time in an online system as to when they are actively watching games via MLB Extra Innings or on MLB.TV is a suggestion. Another consideration would be that given the vast number of members on the BBWAA’s rolls, is it not conceivable that there is a considerable BBWAA presence at all MLB ballparks, and therefore, allowing a small percentage of members that add value to the voting process, yet may not attend a large number of games at the ballpark be considered for inclusion?

Lastly, if the BBWAA sees the current system as more than adequate, at the very least, a reconsideration of presenting a clear and exacting number of games to attend should be placed back into the bylaws. It would allow those that will be considered for inclusion in the future a clear number by which they know they have to meet. It will remove all ambiguity and subjectiveness from the current system, and therefore, at least quell some of the criticism surrounding issues such as that which Neyer and Law have butted up against. After all, as each member views the criteria differently, so will the criteria by which members are added. With an ever shifting view of the membership base, it will be impossible for the BBWAA to not be criticized. One year, the figure of “50 games” may be acceptable. The next, it may be “60 games.” As mentioned, this level of subjectivity has to be removed to allow for the selections to be seen as wholly credible.

I am not Mr. Dutton, but believe he would agree, that the BBWAA’s system is far from perfect. It seems that as an organization, they are attempting to shift with the change in how media is being viewed, which is clearly a step in a positive direction.

That may, or may not, be too late for some now. Given the high level of interest in the non-inclusion of Neyer and Law, it seems that moving forward with the status quo will not serve the BBWAA, or those interested in seeing the best analysis given to the many awards that are issued by the BBWAA, its just desserts.

As mentioned, at the very least, there is a sense that times are changing. Could members of Baseball Prospectus, the Hardball Times, or other credible online-only media outlets see some of there members become part of the BBWAA in the future? While only time will tell, there seems to be a window opening for that to happen. Whether the window will be large enough for those in the ever-growing alternative media group to slide through will be but one of the many questions confronting the BBWAA as it moves forward.


Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also an author for Baseball Prospectus, Basketball Prospectus and is an available writer for other media outlets.

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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