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Recent MVP Awards Marred By Cheating and Short Season

abstract background of blue futuristic technology glowing blue and black motion line and most valuable player(MVP) text

This week will see the conferral of the 2020 edition of the MVP award given annually by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). While BBWAA is not controlled by MLB, MLB will be heavily involved in promoting the award ceremony, broadcast on MLB Network, and the results. This year’s MVP finalists include José Abreu, DJ LeMahieu and José Ramírez in the American League along with Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Manny Machado in the National League.

The award ceremonies will play a major role in MLB’s continued whitewashing of the video cheating scandal which was the talk of the 2019-20 offseason, as well as celebrating the league’s supposed perseverance through the 2020 pandemic season. MLB’S irresponsible handling of COVID-19 safety protocols was capped off with Justin Turner breaking COVID-19 isolation to join the Dodgers’ on-field World Series celebration less than two weeks ago. MLB declined to issue a suspension to Turner, likely because their investigation concluded that the league also played a role in the debacle by not assigning a security guard to monitor Turner and failing to immediately transport him away from the stadium after he was removed from the game.

Most of the reputational damage resulting from the video cheating scandal involving the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox fell on Houston, as Astros players were initially defensive and unrepentant. In January, former Astro Dallas Keuchel offered an “apology” undermined by the assertion that the Astros did not steal signs in every game.

Light punishments were issued to members of the Astros and Red Sox organizations following an MLB investigation. However, baseball as an institution viewed the whistleblowing by former Astro Mike Fiers as the real crime against the game, as he broke the clubhouse code of silence to discuss the cheating with reporters.

After the conclusion of its investigation, the league was eager to get on with business as usual. With the COVID-19 postponement of sports in 2020 and fan attendance prohibited by local health authorities during the regular season, MLB had the perfect conditions for the scandal to blow over, even though the loss of gate revenues was a significant financial blow to owners.

Following the 2020 World Series, Astros manager AJ Hinch was hired by the Detroit Tigers to replace Ron Gardenhire, who retired due to health concerns. The Boston Red Sox re-hired Alex Cora, who was a leader of the Astros cheating scheme as the bench coach during Houston’s 2017 championship season and later marshaled the Wrong Sox to a championship in 2018 tainted by their own cheating during a 108-win regular season (1st in MLB).

While MLB would prefer to pretend the cheating never happened, the Astros and Red Sox’s recent championship seasons are still illegitimate. This illegitimacy extends to the campaigns of their respective MVP winners José Altuve (2017) and Betts (2018).

While Altuve’s teammates forcefully denied that he ever took part in their cheating and said he did not make use of the infamous trash can, his 2020 statistics show clear regression from his peak years, which correlates to MLB’s restriction on replay room access. Altuve’s 112 runs scored in 2017 were also achieved mainly through the assistance of his teammates, as only 24 of his AL-leading 204 hits came on home runs. MLB’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating also concluded “most” position players were involved.

Betts was reportedly not implicated in MLB’s investigation of the Red Sox. MLB’s investigation placed the blame on Boston’s video operator JT Watkins, who was supplementing his pre-game analysis with in-game video to benefit Red Sox hitters. Betts led MLB in batting average (.346) and slugging percentage (.640) in 2018.

2020 will see the MVP winner determined by the results posted over a 60-game season, less than half the normal length of a MLB campaign. While past MVP awards rewarded consistent performance and durability over the course of six months of baseball, the 2020 winner will be the player who was recognized as the best during a two-month sprint. The 2020 awards will ultimately be just as fake as the 2017 and 2018 American League awards.

If Betts carries another MVP trophy home this week, his tainted victories will be used as justification for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is also the domain of the BBWAA. After the cheating scandal broke, BBWAA writers should have reconsidered the 2017 and 2018 awards while they were furiously chronicling developments in the saga.

The association also could have decided to forego handing out awards for 2020 out of fairness to past winners who played full seasons. While MLB did not hold an All-Star Game in 2020, the league will recognize its second annual All-MLB Team, so players would still have the opportunity to win awards boosting their salary arbitration cases and free agent contract negotiations if the BBWAA had chosen not to hand out awards this year.

Many of MLB’s problems in recent years can be traced to the lack of leadership from Commissioner Rob Manfred. However, BBWAA is an independent organization and can make its own decisions. Are its members afraid taking a stand will result in a loss of clubhouse access?