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Archive for Saturday, January 21, 2006

Please save sanctimonious protests

It’s OK for a sports writer to vote for awards and Hall of Fame, despite ever-increasing objections

January 21, 2006

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OK, I understand the arguments against baseball writers' voting for the Hall of Fame and other major baseball awards.

A writer's job is to report the news, not make the news.

It's a conflict of interest to vote for people you write about.

Later this year, when Mark McGwire appears on his first Hall of Fame ballot, writers will be in the difficult position of weighing unconfirmed allegations that McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs.

Legitimate issues, each and every one.

But I plan to continue voting.

My belief is that concerns about conflicts of interest are overblown and that voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are uniquely qualified to elect Hall of Famers.

At least two respected columnists disagree - Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Dave Hyde of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel wrote recently they no longer would vote in the Hall of Fame election. Several newspapers - including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post - forbid their writers from voting for any awards. The Sporting News allows its writers and editors to vote for the Hall of Fame but not for awards to current players.

The most fundamental concern is that awards voting can compromise a writer's objectivity. A Hall of Fame nominee might start cozying up to a voting member of the BBWAA. Or, in a more extreme example, a Cy Young Award contender could bribe a voter, knowing that winning the award would trigger a bonus in his contract. Even the appearance of a conflict can be as damaging as the conflict itself - that's Journalism 101.

Here's the rub: The media and sports worlds are full of conflicts, many far greater than the ones previously described. FOX and ESPN both pay rights fees to broadcast major league baseball and also report on it as part of news coverage. The Tribune Co. owns both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs. The New York Times Co. owns a 17 percent stake in the company that controls the Boston Red Sox. But good golly, Times writers can't vote for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame.

Either there's separation or there isn't. Newspapers and other media entities exchange advertising dollars with sports teams and engage in cross-promotion. Does that compromise their coverage? Probably not. But does the Chicago Tribune favor the Cubs over the White Sox? Some Sox fans might think so. In any case, it's hypocritical for media entities to clamp down on awards voting when they're creating other perception problems.

With the Hall of Fame, there's a different issue looming - the steroids issue. The debate about the legitimacy of McGwire and others is more problematic than the standard debates comparing players from different eras. Chances are we'll never know which players used performance-enhancing drugs and which didn't.

For all the concerns about conflicts of interest, most writers remain more detached than anyone else who might participate in the process. I will continue voting. I see it as my duty.

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