Ryan Howard was the most valuable player in the National League in 2008. That he was not voted MVP by the Baseball Writers' Association of America says more about the association than about Howard, Albert Pujols or America.
Pujols was not an embarrassing selection, not with his excellent numbers, but was still the wrong selection. And that should embarrass the association enough to do what it should have done long ago: get out of the business of voting on baseball's postseason awards - as well as the Hall of Fame.
That won't happen because the association is as incapable of being embarrassed as is Major League Baseball itself.
The arguments against the writers' participation in the voting are well-established and have been covered here before. It is ethically indefensible for the journalists who cover baseball to vote for official awards that have an impact on players' financial rewards.
Imagine Howard's 2009 arbitration hearing. It will be different because he finished second in this voting as opposed to first. That alone is reason enough for the association to recuse itself from this annual charade.
It is similarly impossible to justify the association's giving thumbs up or down to players from the steroid era who become eligible for Hall of Fame voting. (Disclosure: I belong to the association because membership streamlines the credential process and because the organization works to improve conditions and access for reporters; I don't vote on anything.)
When I've written about this in the past, earnest members of the association have taken time out of their busy days to explain my ignorance to me. Their best argument goes something like this: If not us, then who? Who is better qualified to get it right than the (mostly) men who cover the game every day?
That argument is completely beside the point, of course. It is not a journalist's concern whether MLB gets its awards right or the Hall of Fame right. It should be much more of a concern that the same group that rewarded Barry Bonds with four consecutive MVP Awards in this decade will sit in judgment of whether his alleged cheating should keep him from the Hall.
If the MVP is the player with the best all-round statistical season, a computer could figure that out. And a computer might well have spit out Pujols' name this season. He was terrific.
But Howard got hot in September, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 32 runs to carry the Phillies into the playoffs. That's the very definition of valuable.
The group-think association argument for Pujols, if I'm smart enough to get it right, is that he single-handedly kept the Cardinals in the wild-card race. That is brilliant, except it ignores the presence of Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus (so much for "single-handedly"), and the fact that the National League wild-card race was a watered-down farce.
The Cards finished fourth in their division, 151/2 games behind the Cubs. Replace Pujols with an average NL first baseman and what happens? Do they drop all the way to fifth?
The association seamheads love to throw around stats - OPS, VORP, ASPCA - to make a case for Pujols. That's all great. Yes, he struck out less and hit for a higher average. But Howard won actual baseball games in an honest-Abe pennant race. He had 11 more home runs than Pujols, scored five more runs than Pujols, and drove in 30 more runs than Pujols.
Notice there are no decimal points involved there, only whole numbers that made a difference in real baseball games.
That takes care of the logic. Now let's look at the process.
Of the 32 MVP voters (two from each chapter, which means two from each NL market), only one failed to put Howard on his ballot at all. Rich Campbell of the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star was contacted by my astute colleague Todd Zolecki. He had no comment.
Howard's next-lowest spot - 10th out of 10 - was on the ballot of Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times. Zuckerman and Campbell both cover the Nationals. They both cast ballots utterly out of step with the norm, at least regarding Howard. If that's a coincidence, I'm Red Smith.
It's easy to pick on the Nats' beat writers. They were no doubt numb after watching that team for a full season. But the point is that the association's voting is rife with personal agendas, flawed logic, favor trading, and plain old sloppiness.
Three members of the association cast rookie of the year votes for Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez, who was not a rookie this year. If the howling ethical malfeasance weren't enough to shut this farce down, that should do the trick.
Ryan Howard - who has added a World Series ring to his 2005 rookie of the year and 2006 MVP trophies - will survive this voting nicely. The process that produced it should not.