Elect A New System

I got asked a lot about the contrasts between sports and politics. Here’s one hard-to-believe truth: the elections are far more screwed up in sports.

Just when I thought a baseball vote could no longer surprise me, The Writers’ Association manages to confer the Cy Young Award on the guy who got the second most first-place votes. Now, I’ve seen a lot of screwy elections in politics, but a system which is designed to permit this to happen would never last in a democracy (or anything close to it).
I say this as a supporter of Tim Lincecum for the award: look, this is simple. Why is this archaic “top three vote getters” method still in use? Is there a particular reason each voter is not asked for a selection, and then the winner – you know – wins? Where if there is a tie, either you leave it as such and give out two awards, or perhaps you hold a run-off among the electors?
The “top three” is a variation of the older long-sheet ballots the writers began using in the ’30s when they took over the MVP voting, and a cousin to the ludicrous Hall of Fame ballots. They date to a time of inferior communications where the practicality of a run-off vote was far lower. They are anachronisms, and they produce shoddy results like this one.
The Hall of Fame, obviously, should just be an up-or-down vote on each nominee, not another top ten list and percentage thresholds. The NFL has this system down: its voters convene and argue their votes, and then reach consensus.
Even that kind of system is not fool-proof. There is the story of Rick Ferrell, the long-time executive of the Detroit Tigers and, before that, long-time slightly-above-average Hall of Famer. For years, the voters on the Veterans’ Committee would sit around and talk through – and even choreograph – their voting. They’d pay tribute to this beloved figure by throwing him “courtesy votes,” so when the balloting was completed they could truthfully say “You got three, you needed six, maybe next year, Old Sport.” One year signals were supposedly crossed and twice as many guys thought they were supposed to give Rick his courtesy votes  and instead of three, he got six – and a man who hit .281, caught for eighteen years without ever backstopping a pennant-winner, and was out-homered by his pitcher/brother – got elected. Or so the story goes (those vote numbers are pulled out of thin air, incidentally).
Still, any method that permits the runner-up to win because of how few runner-up votes the leader got (Lincecum 2009), while not precluding a tie (Hernandez and Stargell, 1979), and still permits personal pique to decide (1947: one voter leaves Williams off the ballot and three leave off DiMaggio), has got to be improved upon.
Maybe the writers could leave a phone number at which they could be reached to cast a run-off ballot in the event of a tie. If that’s not too much trouble.


  1. olympictrees@aol.com

    I think any time you get more than three people working on something – anything – what you end up with is far too close to a bureaucracy… and we all know how that ends up.

    Besides, how do you separate politics and sports… for that matter, how do you separate politics from anything?? Seems like almost everything you can do has some kind of politics involved.

    When I was really young, I didn’t like sports… because even though I was strong then, I lacked the coordination to play most of the games. Volleyball and baseball were the worst for me. I would go up to bat in a school baseball game, and be absolutely terrified. I knew I wouldn’t do well, and everyone would laugh, or they would yell at me because I couldn’t play. It wasn’t fun at all… and for a long time I hated both sports.

    My brother-in-law was the one who brought me around. He took the politics out of baseball – no noise, no anger, and no expectations. At a family picnic one year, he organized a game, and everyone played. Everyone. From the age of two up to ninety, we all got in the game, and it was great. We laughed, ignored the rules, and helped each other across the bases. And we all won, because there was really only one team.

    I’ve loved baseball ever since, and used to take my kids to the Mariners games in Seattle every once in a while. I still remember one game… April 15th. I don’t know the year, but it was tax day, and the Mariners had one of their biggest comebacks ever – down 9 to 1, they won the game
    11 to 10 (assuming I remember correctly). The kids and I had to take the bus to Seattle because our ride dropped out at the last minute…. the bus broke down on the freeway, and we had to wait for a replacement. The friend who had agreed to meet us at the last minute had to do his taxes, so after picking up his ticket (late), he went back to the library. We weren’t sure he was coming back, and were worried about getting home… so many things went wrong that night, and yet we had a great time. I have a lot of good memories from those days, spending time together at the ball park.

    Keith, I hope they fix the system some day, but… unless you can get my brother-in-law involved, it isn’t likely. (kidding) 🙂 Good luck, though… have a great weekend, and hugs to you and your dad. Hope he’s doing better.

  2. soydevon

    It is kind of a weird twist to the voting, relying on a borda count. Sounds like the NFL has a good way to deal with this kind of thing.

    Can you name 2 catchers since 1901 with a higher career OBP than Rick Ferrell & also lasted at least 7,000 PA’s?


  3. unpaka27@yahoo.com


    Thanks for explaining the “top three vote getters” method that’s currently in use in baseball by the Writers’ Association. That is, indeed, a “screwy” way of doing things. Given that Bush was once co-owner of the Rangers, perhaps he felt obligated to stick with the kind of elections used in baseball, rather than the time-honored political tradition of “one person, one vote”? LOL (ruefully).

    Joking aside, perhaps this is an example of what you referred to, about the NFL having its act together better than the MLB does? Baseball apparently needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new millennium, to make the voting more fair and sensible for everyone involved.

  4. nato_doyle

    Isn’t this 1st place/2nd place/3rd place style of voting called “run-off voting,” and really isn’t it kinda progressive? That’s how they vote for the mayor in San Francisco, among a few other places. Maybe Lince has an advantage in run-off voting.

    Anyway, if this style of voting was adopted in more elections, third parties would have a better chance of taking on the orthodox two-party system. I, for one, wish American democracy would emulate Major League Baseball’s voting practices……!

  5. historymike

    Whether this has anything to do with the voting system, I doubt, but it provides a possible basis for explaining it. One, Ted Williams had a terrible relationship with most of the Boston sportswriters (and the evidence suggests he had good reason to despise them), and some of them would not vote for him for big awards like MVP. John Drebinger, a legendary baseball writer for The New York Times, once said that when he voted for an MVP and could rank 10 players, he could judge only those he had seen, unless someone really stood out. So, perhaps having three top vote getters in this form protects against voters trying to hurt someone they dislike.

  6. ling.jamesh@gmail.com

    Fun fact about this year’s AL MVP voting: Rivera finished with more points than the AL Cy Young winner.

  7. olympictrees@aol.com

    What is it with the red tie comments? Okay, you want the truth? I’ll tell you what’s with the red ties.

    The red ties are for ME. Keith knows I like red ties. He also wears the blue ones just specifically for me. The purple ties are for a friend of mine, because it’s her favorite color. When he wears a green tie, that’s a secret coded message to the aliens in outer space to get ready for the new society that he and they will be instituting on this earth in the years to come. When he wears a striped or multi-color tie, that’s heavily encoded with the dates, times, and areas to attack when we (I mean they) take over. Pink ties are for the days when he’s wishing for cotton candy (either that or it’s a signal that we should donate to the Susan G. Komen foundation), and all other colors are worn only when he spills something on one of my favorite ties and has nothing else to wear.

    Then again…. maybe he just has a wide range of tie colors, and wears all of them from time to time…. and it’s not some grand conspiracy! Ya think, maybe??

    Nah… it’s what I wrote. Now how about you go find something else to waste your time with??

  8. naturalbeautyxox@gmail.com

    Keith- I forgot to mention what a great blog you have here. Keep up the wonderful work.

    We all know who the red ties are for anyway. Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. secondbasecoach

    I would think it would be much more interesting if they went to a ten person ballot like they use for MVP. It would add some greater historical perspective when counting “award shares”.

    And I think it is funny how we only pay attention to these votes when they are thisclose.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s