For 75 years, baseball's top honors - the Cy Young, Rookie-of-the-Year, and MVP - have been awarded by some of the game's foremost experts: newspaper sportswriters. But some editors are objecting to the practice, saying journalists should be covering the news, not creating it. Randy Harvey, sports editor at the Baltimore Sun, tells Brooke why his paper recently banned its staffers from voting on postseason awards.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The bats are hung up for the season and the mitts are packed away, but baseball fans had something to look forward to this week, the naming of this year's Most Valuable Players. For the first time in five years, the National League Award went not to Barry Bonds but to St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols. As expected, Yankee Alex Rodriguez won the American League honors. The announcements capped November's annual postseason award handouts, voted on for the past 74 years by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. But how much longer that group names MVPs, as well as Rookies-of-the-Year, Cy Young winners, and even Hall of Famers, is very much an open question. This year a handful of major newspapers issued new ethics policies banning their writers from taking part in the voting. Among them was the Baltimore Sun, whose new sports editor, Randy Harvey, sees the issue as a no-brainer. Journalists, he says, should be covering the news, not making it.
RANDY HARVEY: I mean, I'm a little insulted that editors around the country allow their sports writers to do this because I don't think any editor in any self-respecting newspaper would allow the people who cover the courts to vote on who should be on the Supreme Court. You know, an even better example would be the Academy Awards. I don't know any newspapers that have critics or people who cover the movie business voting on the Academy Awards. I don't - [OVERTALK]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Excuse me, but can I say Golden Globes? Isn't the Foreign Press Association - [OVERTALK]
RANDY HARVEY: But who are - who is the Foreign Press Corps? [LAUGHS] Who are those people?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They are reporters weighing in, and those are pretty influential. In fact, they're said to heavily influence the Academy Awards.
RANDY HARVEY: Yeah. But I don't think that that's right. I mean, if I was the newspaper editor, you know, I wouldn't allow my person who's in my features section to vote on the Golden Globes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Randy, why has this become an issue now? Some say Jayson Blair is the reason that the ethics of newspapers are under increasing scrutiny. Is that why?
RANDY HARVEY: I don't know. I mean, the Washington Post and the New York Times have had this policy long before Jayson Blair. You know, I just became a sports editor last year, and it was one of the first things that I did when the ethics panel said, you know, "What are the problems in your area?" You know, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution followed shortly after with a similar policy, and now the L.A. Times has adopted a policy. And, you know, I've heard talk of others who will adopt it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I just wonder if there are some issues that have created a critical mass to make this move. For instance, we know that, say, Rookies of the Year can get big bonuses when they get that award and so can MVPs.
RANDY HARVEY: Well, that's another issue. You know, if my Orioles writer didn't vote for Miguel Tejada because he was being objective and thought that Alex Rodriguez deserved it, and Miguel Tejada - and these are open votes - Miguel Tejada knew that my Orioles writer hadn't voted for him, it could cost Miguel money, and so that probably wouldn't make him very cooperative with our writer in the future. So my writer shouldn't be in that position to be taking money out of Miguel Tejada's pocket or be giving it to him.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And the other big issue that wasn't an issue 75 years ago is steroids and other sports drugs. It's very hard to evaluate players' performance if you take these into account.
RANDY HARVEY: Right. At some point, somebody's going to have to sit down and make a decision. Am I going to let this person in the Hall of Fame even though I suspect that person's statistics were pumped up by steroids? You know, everybody's going to have their own sort of moral and ethical scale of how much steroid use colors their opinion of a player. But I think that's going to be a problem, whoever does the voting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some people say that the personal relationships between players and sports writers can get in the way of their objectivity, but Barry Bonds was not a particularly loved figure - quite the reverse - and yet he was voted Most Valuable Player several times.
RANDY HARVEY: Yeah. I don't think that's been a big issue. Eddie Murray was a Baltimore first baseman and later played for the Dodgers, and often people said well, he's got no chance to be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot because the media hates him and he hates the media. And yet he made it on the first ballot, so I don't think that was a big problem. But when I first got into the business, I did know a writer - and this was 30 years ago - who, if a player didn't return his phone call, he would say, well, that guy's off my list., I won't vote for him for All-Pro. I hope that's not something that happens commonly. But again, it's just not a position we should be in.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, Randy, if not sports journalists, then who do you think should be determining things like the MVP Awards and the Hall of Fame inductees?
RANDY HARVEY: Well, I think it should come from baseball. I mean, the Academy Awards is a good example. The movie industry decides on the movie awards. Well, the baseball industry should decide. The Hall of Fame, I think, should be voted on by living members of the Hall of Fame. You know, people who are in the Hall of Fame should decide who they want to let into their club.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay.
RANDY HARVEY: I think for the Most Valuable Player, then maybe it should be managers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, that'll be an objective group.
RANDY HARVEY: Well, I mean, I don't know why they wouldn't be objective. You know, the players have bonuses written into their contracts for making the All-Star team and, you know, a manager or managers decide who will be the reserves on the All-Star teams, and I think they do a pretty good job of selecting the All-Star team. I mean, the football coaches vote on the CNN/USA Today Football Poll, and you could make the same claim of them, that, well, they're not going to be very objective or they're going to have agendas. But it's amazing how much their poll ends up looking like the Associated Press Poll or now this new poll, the Harris Poll. I mean, I think we are quite good at what we do, at reporting and analyzing baseball games, but I'm not sure we're any better at evaluating talent than the players themselves or the owners and general managers. You know, I wouldn't want baseball players voting on the Pulitzer Prize winners, so I'm not sure why we should be voting on baseball awards.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Randy, thank you very much.
RANDY HARVEY: All right, Brooke. Enjoyed talking to you. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Randy Harvey is Assistant Managing Editor for Sports at the Baltimore Sun. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD:: That's it for this weekend's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jami York and Mike Vuolo and edited - by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Kevin Schlottmann and Katie Holt. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find free transcripts, MP3 downloads and our podcast at onthemedia.org and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media, from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.