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Why do we care about awards?

8/19/2009

Dave Cameron wonders why we care about baseball's silly little awards. After all ...

    In the end, it isn't an argument about baseball. It's an argument about the perspective of how the game is seen through various lenses, and in many ways, a disagreement about the progress of a generation. Most of us see baseball in a way that is very different from how our fathers and grandfathers saw it, which is not unlike the generational gap in almost every other area of your life. Does your dad use twitter? Is your grandpa a frequent visitor to the local tapas bar? Do you yell at them for their "ignorance”?
    This isn't meant in any way to disrespect people like Tyler Kepner (who I met briefly when he worked at the Seattle P-I, and I have heard is a good guy and a smart man), but I'm just not sure why we engage in annual argument about how he and his peers define the word valuable. Really, why does it matter to us?

    --snip--

    If they want to think that Teixeira was the most important player to his team in the league this year, that's fine. Most of us probably disagree, and we're under no obligation to report that as any kind of factual statement. I'll be telling people that Mauer was the most valuable player in the American League for 2009, and I've got a mountain of information to back it up. How other people view the definition of the word value has no real world impact on me.

    Twitter isn't dying because people over 50 aren't using it, and Tapas bars are doing just fine without an early bird special. Mauer's legacy, and the history of the game, will be just fine without Tyler Kepner's vote, too. We've got better ways of capturing what happened on the field than through an award based on an esoteric argument about the definition of a vague word.

    Let them vote for whoever they want. I don't care.

I might not care as much as I used to. I definitely don't get as incensed as I used to.
I do still care, though. I care because, generally speaking, I prefer a world around me that makes sense, and it makes sense to me when the most valuable player in the league wins the Most Valuable Player Award. I also care because you care. It's my job, to some degree at least, to care what you care about. There were dozens and dozens of comments under my two blog posts about Mark Teixeira and Joe Mauer, so I'm not going to start ignoring such things now.

Granted, I'm not going to become incensed if Mauer doesn't win the award -- not even if he doesn't win and Teixeira does -- because Joseph Patrick Mauer will be just fine, either way. But these debates do give us a chance to chew on a bunch of interesting questions. What's the inherent difference between a catcher and a first baseman? What role should park effects play in such a debate? What is value, anyway?

I do get what Cameron is saying. Writ large, we shouldn't really care who wins the awards, because we don't need them anymore. We can figure out for ourselves that Mauer's better (yes, and more valuable) than Teixeira, and we can figure out for ourselves that Nate McLouth isn't one of the three best-fielding outfielders in the National League, etc. What I do care about are the stories behind the awards, and most of the stories haven't yet been told in detail.

You can come up with formulae that will predict the MVPs and the Cy Youngs and the rookies of the year with a fair amount of accuracy. But what about the ones you can't predict with numbers? Would a formula have predicted Kirk Gibson's MVP in 1988? Would a formula have predicted Justin Morneau's MVP in 2006? Willie Stargell's in 1979?

Why do I care? I care because every award tells a story, a story about games and teams and players and ballparks and writers and writers who are also voters who are oh so human. The awards, just like the games and the teams and the standings, wind up being mostly about numbers. But make no mistake: there's still room in there for plenty of interesting stories.

That's why I care.