Monday, December 10, 2007


Today Maury Brown interviews KC Star writer and BBWAA President Bob Dutton about L'Affaire NeyerLaw and the process for credentialing members. Dutton addresses what has turned out to be the central issue in the controversy, which is the alleged need to be at the ballpark a lot to be a member, and Neyer and Law's alleged lack of a need to be at the ballpark to do their jobs:

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.

I understand that this is a thorny issue, and that Dutton himself notes that it's not a hard and fast standard of the BBWAA, even if it is one that seems to hold sway with many of its members. Still, the notion Dutton seems to be getting at is that, in the BBWAA's mind, the essence of being a baseball writer is the process of reporting -- talking to players, management and staff -- as opposed to the written product that results from that process.

Which seems silly. It's the Baseball Writers' Association of America, not the Baseball Reporters' Association of America. Why give precedence to process over substance? As so many have demonstrated, it's quite possible for a BBWAA member to go to 162 games a year and write nary a damn enlightening word. Neyer and Law could provide a staggering amount of high-quality analysis sitting in their dens all summer (they don't, but you get what I'm saying).

Ultimately this is about gatekeeping. About ascribing the defacto title of "professional baseball writer" to only those who pass a test that is largely irrelevant to what should be the whole damn point: good, informed, and informative baseball writing. The problem with gatekeepers, though, is that even if well intentioned, they tend to keep consumers (in this case readers) from getting what they want. I believe that there are thousands who want the voices of guys like Rob Neyer and Keith Law voting on postseason awards and, ultimately, the Hall of Fame. I also believe that those same thousands (not to mention Rob and Keith themselves) would like to feel that the sources they know and trust are an accepted part of baseball journalism as a whole.

Maybe the latter point is debatable -- there are those who get off on iconoclasm and outsiderism -- but I'm a traditional guy. I like to imagine Neyer and Law sipping brandy, smoking cigars, and exchanging tales of the day with rumpled sportswriters. That's not going to happen, though, because the BBWAA, like all gatekeepers, believes it knows better.

Ultimately Rob and Keith will be just fine. One or both of them will eventually get in, and even if they don't, the world won't end. But the BBWAA has reached a key moment in its history. Going forward, it has a choice: it can continue to honor process above craft and risk its demise as a relevant organization, or it can define its mission in a way that makes sense given the obvious direction in which baseball writing is heading.


Pete Toms said...

I've only scan read the BBWAA list but a few names leapt out at me.

Wayne Scanlan, Ottawa Citizen.
Don Campbell, Ottawa Citizen.

I have read this paper every day for many years and while these guys seem decent enough....uh, they rarely cover baseball. The nearest MLB team is 250 miles from here in Toronto and neither of theses guys seems to make the trip with any frequency, if at all.

Last week they both wrote pieces about our new CanAm franchise - yippee! - but there is very, very little baseball coverage in this sports section as a general rule.

How it can be construed that these 2 need BBWAA credentials to do their jobs is beyond me. They're decent enough general interest sports writers - and I know they like baseball - but the vast majority of what they write pertains to other sports.

I am truly surprised that they are members.

jnr98 said...


It comes as no surprise that there is an immense amount of hypocrisy in any organization like this (or in any other sport, to be fair). Cronyism lives, baby. BBWAA is notoriously slow to adapt and recognize the world has adapted. Hell, I bet half of they still have rotary dialed phones.

Law and Neyer have a great platform to preach from. I enjoy Rob's straightforward, no nonsense approach as much as I get a kick out of Law's 'renaissance man' approach.

Whether or not they get selected to the BBWAA voting pool remains to be seen. I am sure they will at some point. No matter their affiliations, I will continue to feel smarter for having read them, no matter where I read them.

I can only hope their voices get to be heard in future HOF voting results.

aka Jason R.

dubbschism said...

I believe it's time for Neyer, KLaw, et al. to form their own club and hand out their own awards. Bill James has his Fielding Bible awards, which for many carry much more sway than Gold Gloves (although to be fair, BBWAA doesn't decide GG's...although to be unfair, it'd probably be just as flawed a process if they did).

Matt said...

It seems to me that process is the more relevant than skill for initiation into a club, particularly a club whose primary function is to create something, such as articles. If the BBWAA at this moment has in its bylaws that a member must have access to, and regularly speak with, people employed in baseball, that seems a fair criteria.

The fact that the job description has changed enough that writers can do an equal (or better) job without this access is relevant to the discussion of revising the initiation process. Neyer and Law would both be excellent examples of why the BBWAA might entertain such an idea.

What the BBWAA is most guilty of is moving too slowly, and probably being too pompous about it. There are those that would argue Neyer and Law belong on the basis of their writing, but being that they do not speak with employees of baseball, they lack a well-rounded perspective. There are others that hate their work so much, they would just argue they don't belong at all.

It is obvious to me they both would be excellent additions to any association dedicated to the publicity of baseball, but I am not surprised the BBWAA is slow to realize this. They are an entirely new breed, and their value, at least to the BBWAA, is a large unknown.