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The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Phillies’ Bryce Harper were baseball’s best in 2021. So says a selection of baseball writers from North America. But writers at The Times didn’t have a vote. They haven’t had one for more than 30 years.
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote for four annual awards in both the National and American Leagues: the Most Valuable Player (Mr. Ohtani and Mr. Harper), Cy Young (for the best pitchers), Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year. But a handful of organizations don’t allow their writers to take part in the process. The Times is one of them. The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post are two others.
The rationale for The Times’s rule: Journalists should report the news, not help make it.
The prohibition applies to other sporting honors such as Hall of Fame nominations and college football’s Heisman Trophy, and cultural honors like the Tony Awards or film festivals. A Cy Young or a Tony might change the trajectory of a performer’s career. Sometimes winners receive contract bonuses from their teams. (Mr. Harper earned an additional $500,000 for his M.V.P. award.)
“Cooperation of this sort puts the paper’s independence into question,” states The Times’s Ethical Journalism Handbook, under a banner titled “Protecting the Paper’s Neutrality.”
The B.B.W.A.A. was founded in 1908 and works with Major League Baseball and its clubs to formalize working conditions for journalists at ballparks. It also established the annual awards; two writers from every league city submit ballots. Writers with 10 years of membership may also elect players to the Hall of Fame.
Voters, who spend all season observing play and tracking the athletes, are expected to provide unbiased decisions.
“We need well-informed writers to conduct those elections,” said Tyler Kepner, national baseball reporter at The Times and a member of the B.B.W.A.A.
The Times’s prohibition on voting dates to 1989. Max Frankel, the executive editor, revisited the roles reporters and editors played in awards and honors while the newspaper was expanding its sports and local New York coverage. He did not doubt the integrity of Times reporters, but felt that voting could make for a conflict of interest, or at least the appearance of one.
“Our growing sophistication in spotting fraud in government, business, sports, and even science made us progressively aware of our own vulnerability to conflicts of interest, real and apparent,” wrote Mr. Frankel, 91, in his memoir, published in 1999, “The Times of My Life and My Life With The Times.”
One sticking point appeared to the Baseball Hall of Fame vote. Some argued for it to be an exception to the new rule.
In a memo written by Mr. Frankel in December 1990, he concluded that “The Times assigns staffers to write about baseball for only one reason: to inform and to entertain our readers.”
Before he joined The Times in 2000, Mr. Kepner voted for the Cy Young Award in his previous positions as a reporter at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Riverside Press-Enterprise in California. He said The Times’s policy was well-known at the time.
“I can see the difficulty of voting for or against players on your beat, but I believe most if not all writers accept the responsibility without regard to upsetting or placating those they cover,” Mr. Kepner said. “I can certainly understand The Times’s rationale of sticking to covering the news and not becoming part of the news.”
The B.B.W.A.A. began listing full voting results for league awards on its website in 2012, and the internet has allowed for instant criticism. Writers often share how and why they voted online. After Corbin Burnes, who pitches for the Milwaukee Brewers, was awarded the N.L. Cy Young Award in a close vote last week, fans and writers debated the case of the second-place finisher, Zack Wheeler of Philadelphia, who led the league in innings pitched but had a slightly higher earned run average.
These tough decisions, now more visible to the public, are typical for the writers, who submit their ballots before the postseason.
“The Times’s rule does save me a lot of aggravation and criticism, especially in the social media age, from people who would disagree with my selections,” Mr. Kepner said. “For peace of mind, it’s not so bad.”