Tear Down This Wall
A little over twenty years ago, President Ronald Reagan, while standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, challenged Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." It was a speech that changed the world. Less than 2 1/2 years later, East Germany opened the Wall and the Soviet Union collapsed soon afterward, marking the end of the Cold War.
Depending on which side of the wall one stands, change can be difficult. With this in mind, the Baseball Writers Association of America opened up its membership to web-based writers for the first time in its history when it admitted 16 new members last week. The news was met with reactions ranging from praise to disdain to questions over who is — and should be — included in this soon-to-be 100-year-old organization.
Rather than waiting for me to break the news, the BBWAA would have been well served to put out a press release — after all, it is a news organization, right? — to announce who, what, when, and why the change was taking place. Instead, the BBWAA and its officers chose to remain secretive (perhaps because it didn't deem the change in policy to be newsworthy), failing to come forward until after I went public with it last Thursday night. The Baseball Think Factory linked to my story and the news spread faster than one could ask, "Why was Rob Neyer excluded?"
Keith Law, who along with Neyer was denied admission to the BBWAA, tried to set the record straight on his blog and a second thread was created at the BTF over the weekend. Neyer, Law, Tracy Ringolsby, and others took turns at pointing fingers, asking questions, and providing answers while trying to get to the bottom of the real story.
The real story took a turn for the better when the President of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Bob Dutton, agreed to be interviewed by fellow Kansas City Star writer and member of the BBWAA Joe Posnanski (Talking with the Prez), as well as Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball (Bob Dutton Addresses the BBWAA Inclusion Process).
To Dutton's credit, he has knocked a few bricks off the wall. Like the Berlin Wall, it may take a few years for it to be knocked down completely. But it will come down. There's just no denying that fact. You see, the democratization of information is a wonderful thing. Speaking of which, Dutton agreed to provide Maury with a list of all badge members as of May 2007. As they say, a little sunshine is always the best disinfectant.
We learn in the Posnanski interview the four reasons for the existence of the BBWAA:
Subsection A: To insure proper facilities for reporting baseball games and to provide competent regulation of press boxes of the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs and National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, hereinafter designated as the Major Leagues;
Subsection B: To assist in clarifying baseball scoring rules, thereby promoting uniformity in official scoring;
Subsection C: To sustain cooperation and fellowship with the baseball writers of the minor leagues;
Subsection D: To foster the most credible qualities of baseball writing and reporting.
Dutton then explains, "I think it’s easy to see the association exists, primarily, to assist the coverage of baseball print [my emphasis] reporters at big-league parks." I didn't see that word in those subsections myself. The newspaper industry may have been the only form of media that existed when the BBWAA was founded in 1908, but it no longer has such a monopoly today. Nonetheless, Dutton is not a stick in the mud by any means.
We realize the business is changing. We began discussing the possibility of admitting online reporters back in 1999. My personal view is we moved too slow on this. But we finally passed an amendment earlier this year that creates a portal for internet reporters to gain membership.
Dutton details how memberships are determined:
Each year at our World Series meeting, our annual meeting, the association formally considers a list of online sites. . .As a starting point, and only as a starting point, the list of sites to receive consideration are those credentialed by MLB for the World Series. Approved sites are then asked to submit qualified candidates by Dec. 1 for consideration. This year, the membership approved MLB’s World Series credential list which included: CBSSportsline.com, ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, SI.com and Yahoo.com.
Qualified candidates are specifically defined as those who are full-time employees whose primary job is to write about baseball. I think it’s important to point out that we follow a similar procedure in admitting newspaper reporters. The sports editor of any qualified newspaper is asked to submit candidates for membership. Qualified newspapers are defined, basically, as those that cover at least 75 percent of a team’s games (home and away) with a staff reporter or a special correspondent. There are some exceptions, but that’s the general requirement.
Posnanski asks Dutton why Neyer and Law weren't approved and the conclusion was, "The board determined, with the best information available, that neither Rob nor Keith needed a credential." Poz then points out that "the BBWAA has finally become more inclusive, which is great, a nice first step. And that step is generally overlooked because Rob and Keith did not get in. What do you think?" And Dutton replies as follows:
Are we generally moving in the right direction? Yes. Are we moving fast enough? Not for me personally, but we have other members who believe we’re moving plenty fast. I’m encouraged by a compromise that I believe moves us in right direction.
Speaking as the BBWAA president, I’ll say that we need to constantly reconsider all aspects of our association. Also, the amendment, as written, is sufficiently broad to cover any group with the specific exception of MLB.com.
Speaking for myself, and only for myself, my general view is anyone whose full-time job is to write about baseball should be eligible for membership. I say that knowing it currently places me in a distinct minority among our members. That’s fine. Just a few years ago, the membership’s overwhelming view was in opposition to admitting any internet sites. So I choose to remain optimistic.
Again, I say kudos to Dutton. Be sure to read the full interview here as well as the one conducted by Brown here. If you have the time and interest, you might also skim through the BTF thread to the latter.
Who knows, before you finish reading both interviews, a few more bricks may have been loosened, if not knocked, from the wall.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog.]