Tuesday afternoon, the Baseball Writers Association of America announced the results of its Manager of the Year voting. This is the least prestigious of the BBWAA's awards -- they go MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year -- but still, it's moderately big news in the baseball world and there was a whole special program on MLB Network devoted to the results, and winners Clint Hurdle and Terry Francona (my picks, by the way).
A few hours earlier, another award was announced and hardly anybody noticed. Which wouldn't matter -- hey, these days there are a LOT of awards -- except the award hardly anybody noticed probably should be the most prestigious award of all.
Tuesday, Ben Cherington was named by The Sporting News as the Executive of the Year. As TSN notes, "Starting late in the 2012 season, Cherington pulled off a series of moves that helped turn a last-place team into the 2013 World Series champs" ...
• In August 2012, Cherington dumped three of the team's biggest contracts — Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford — in a trade with Los Angeles Dodgers, saving the Red Sox about $261.7 million.
• After the season, he fired controversial manager Bobby Valentine and hired Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell — a former Sox pitching coach — to replace him. Players credited Farrell with bringing calm to clubhouse after a year of the tumultuous Valentine. He was named AL Sporting News Manager of the Year by his fellow skippers.
• During last offseason, he opted against making a big splash in the free agent market, instead signing mid-market players like Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara. All played key roles in the team's success this season.
Why do I think this should be the most prestigious award of all? Because executives play a far larger role in what actually happens on the field than anyone who's actually on the field. When you look at the list of past winners, it's essentially a list of the men who have shaped most of the game's history, both on and off the field. Men like Branch Rickey, Branch Rickey, Walter O'Malley, Bill Veeck, and Billy Beane. These are the men who do things we can study, rather than just admire for their athletic skills.
I don't expect people to really care about this award, ever. It's just difficult for most fans to care about anyone in baseball who's not wearing a uniform or George Steinbrenner or Brad Pitt. But the awards serve partly to tell us a story about a baseball season, and it's actually this award that tells us the most about a season. In fact, this award usually tells us more about a season than all the other awards put together.
So is there anything that can be done?
Well, yeah. The first step is to add some credibility to the voting process. This year, the voting body consisted of "31 major league executives," all of them general managers or assistant general managers. That doesn't sound good. Maybe there's just nothing to be done about it, because obviously a significant number of general managers and assistant general managers simply refuse to participate. Ideally, you would have 30 voters, or 60 voters: two from each team. But you can't force people to participate. At the very least, there should be the same number of voters in each league; for all we know, this year there were 18 voters from American League teams, 13 from National League teams. Cherington got 15 votes, and Pittsburgh's Neal Huntington got 9. That's close enough for us to wonder about the process.
The second step is for someone else to sponsor and administrate the award. The Sporting News used to be "The Bible of Baseball" ... but of course those days are long gone. There's still a website, but they don't publish the weekly newspaper and the once-ubiquitous books are long gone. The Sporting News has always given out a number of awards, and they've always been less prestigious than the equivalent awards given out by the BBWAA. Well, at least since the 1940s.
If The Sporting News dies -- I'm not hoping for this, just acknowledging the possibility -- the BBWAA should simply step in and take over. But even if The Sporting News doesn't die, the BBWAA should still take over; I'm imagining a peaceful transition, without knowing exactly what that would or could look like. I'm sure that as long as TSN exists, someone there will dream about a return to past glories. Hey, anything's possible. But the brand has diminished to the point where the future seems fairly bleak.
Anyway, hats off to Ben Cherington. He's a deserving winner of this most relevant award, and should be properly and popularly hailed as the most important man in the baseball world, circa 2013.