The key to this, of course, would be to make the awards themselves legitimate. Take the Hank Aaron award: in theory it's a great idea to honor hitting in isolation. It dispenses with the whole should-a-pitcher-win-the-MVP dance, and keeps people from having to think about hard stuff like defense. And of course, it's a great name for an award. The problem, as I and some commenters noted below, is fan voting. I love democracy. You love democracy. Democracy is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Except when it isn't, and this is one of those times.
But baseball can get past that, right? It can create an awards commission of some kind, populated by some noted experts, some engaged former players and managers, and some selected writers,* keep the award criteria relatively straightforward, allow these people to vote (and take away their vote if it is deemed that they are full of malarkey) and -- bam! You have yourself a slate of awards that, while obviously lacking the history and tradition of the MVP and the CY Young, have a greater argument for legitimacy and, perhaps more importantly, a greater platform in the form of said glitzy awards show on MLBTV, than anything the BBWAA could match.
*It's possible that the BBWAA may try to take away credentials from any writer who crossed lines, as it were, and partook in an effort to delegitimize the established awards. No big deal, because thanks to their shortsighted policies, there are plenty of great writers the BBWAA chose not to invite into the fold in the first place.
So what should these awards be? As with all things I'm open for suggestions, but here's my first pass:
Hank Aaron Award: Outstanding offensive performer;
Walter Johnson Award: Outstanding starting pitcher;
Ozzie Smith Award: Outstanding defensive performer;
Hoyt Wilhelm Award: Outstanding relief pitcher;
Casey Stengel Award: Manager of the Year;
Jackie Robinson Award: Rookie of the Year;
John Hiller Award: Comeback Player of the Year.
- I think the BBWAA owns the name "Jackie Robinson Award." If MLB can, they should buy it, because it's clearly the best name. If they can't, I'll settle for Fred Lynn or someone;
- For hitting I stuck with Aaron because that award already exists, but if you truly want to honor the best offensive performer, be my guest and go with the Ruth Award;
- I think Big Train was the best ever, but I can see arguments for the Seaver, Koufax, or Maddux Award if you want to make the pitching honor more modern and less derivative of the BBWAA award's honoring of a guy from the olden days;
- Awarding defense in an award like this may be a bit of a problem in that it will essentially be an award for shortstops and centerfielders with an occasional breakthrough by a catcher, but the Gold Gloves are so messed up now that I think they need to be scrapped or diminished. Maybe keep the Gold Glove name and format -- I think that, unlike the other awards, MLB owns that -- but change the voting system to conform with what I'm proposing here;
- I realize that Hoyt Wilhelm doesn't exactly speak to the broadest audience, but I want to be clear that this isn't an award for saves only. Setup men and other non-closers would be considered, so I'd like to avoid putting a closer's name on it. If you must have a bigger name, wait until he retires and put Mariano Rivera's name on it;
- Comeback player of the year award is also an MLB award, I believe, but it really does need to be rejiggered. Do you realize that it is currently sponsored by Viagra? Not exactly dignity central. The key to all of these, whether they are BBWAA awards or not, is to eliminate any current cheesiness to them and to transfer any corporate sponsorship off of the awards themselves (sorry Rolaids!) and onto the television broadcast. Nothing is sacred anymore, but at least we can provide a superficial appearance that the awards are above commercialism;
- And speaking of that broadcast, awards shows suffer from bloat already, but if you want to expand this list a bit to fill a couple of hours instead of just one, you can add on awards for single game hitting performance and single game pitching performance;
So that's it. And before you tell me it won't work, let me respond that "it" is not putting an end to the traditional awards. They'll go on. For many years they'll almost certainly get more press and credence from the public at large. Let them. Dick Clark hasn't killed the Grammys yet and the Oscars continue to abide the Golden Globes. I'm merely advocating (a) baseball taking control of its awards for its own sake; (b) getting some awards that do a better job of honoring that which should be honored; and (c) providing MLBTV with some easy programming.
But . . . that doesn't mean that the BBWAA awards will always reign supreme. Do the show right, and you take away a lot of the "thunder" of those annual press releases that so anticlimactically announce each year's winners now. Actively seek out smart people to vote on them and they'll be viewed with greater legitimacy than other made-for-TV fare. Encourage teams to write player contracts with awards incentives that reference these instead of the BBWAA awards and you give people a greater reason to care about them. Keep promoting online and video consumption of baseball via MLBAM and the support of bloggers and other online outlets, and the BBWAA itself may die as an institution (who needs a seat in a press box when you can enjoy the game in a virtual reality version of the dugout!).
The upshot: just as it took awhile for the public to settle on recognizing the BBWAA awards, they may eventually look to the MLB Awards as the official arbiter of excellence.