BBWAA takes stand on bonuses
Issues resolution to disqualify players who profit from awards
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A resolution passed Wednesday morning by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America to disqualify from its awards players who would profit from them is drawing mixed reactions at the Winter Meetings.The motion, which passed by a 41-21 vote at the BBWAA's semi-annual meeting, is slated to take effect in 2013 and would exclude from ballots players whose contracts call for bonuses based on their placement in the voting for league MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards. Such bonuses have become a rather routine way of accounting for breakout seasons, included even in the contracts of players unlikely to ever realize them. Alex Rodriguez received a bonus of $1.5 million for being chosen the 2007 American League MVP, but far more common is the $50,000 bonus that was available to Toronto pitcher Josh Towers for winning the Cy Young Award. While the BBWAA has contemplated such a recommendation for many years, it was prodded into action by Curt Schilling's latest deal with the Boston Red Sox, which calls for a bonus of $1 million for a single vote in balloting for the 2008 AL Cy Young Award. Most alarming to the writers group was a remark posted by Schilling on his Web site, a crack about offering a "bribe" for the vote.
"When we saw that, people went 'Whoa.' It was the red flag," said BBWAA president Bob Dutton, who conceded that the initial reaction indicates that the players association is "not very happy."Many interpreted the BBWAA move as a daring attempt to reverse a practice that has become prevalent. A high-ranking baseball official said the action "may have been a mistake. There has been consideration to removing these awards from the writers' jurisdiction, and this may give us the excuse to do so." Schilling offered his own immediate reaction on his 38pitches.com blog, writing, "The only step that hasn't happened yet is to stop [the writers] from voting on awards altogether. They shouldn't do it. Anytime someone is allowed to vote on this ... and that person injects personal bias into their vote, they should lose the privilege." The dual intent of the lag in implementation is to grandfather existing contracts that contain such clauses and to allow time for Major League Baseball and the Major League Players Association to explore alternative ways of resolving the issue. "There is enough lead time for minds far brighter than ours to work out a solution," said Dutton. "When there are monetary rewards attached to these awards, frankly it bothers us. A lot of writers are made uncomfortable to know their vote has a price attached to it."
"I understand the logic," said Randy Hendricks, who represents Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, among many others. "At the same time, I have never believed that any particular writer had his vote influenced by what a player would receive."A bigger issue is writers voting for players from the team they cover -- sort of a hometown-team influence. The [long-term] problem is what will this mean in terms of awards, eligibility, so on?" "The only thing I'll say about this now is that it's interesting," said Bill Bavasi, Seattle's general manager. "It is certainly worth considering. But, I actually don't think it will make much difference. We can be very creative, and I think people will just find something else [as a supplement to contract guarantees]." "It's not a very bright shining moment to read something like this," said C.J. Wilson, the Rangers' player representative. "Players should be able to negotiate a contract that the owners are willing to sign without being blackballed for anything we negotiate. "I do realize writers have influence over who gets elected but a player's performance should dictate who gets elected. The guy who is the MVP should be the MVP and the guy who is the Cy Young should be the Cy Young." Dennis Gilbert, a former elite players agent and currently special assistant to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, can assess the resolution from both sides of the fence. "Such clauses can be an important part of today's contracts," Gilbert said. "In many cases, it's the only way you can bridge the gap and get a deal done. It would be a mistake not to have them. Certain players simply have to be 'incentified.'" "It seems like ownership put the writers up to this," agent David Schwartz told The Associated Press. "It seems like the real beneficiaries here are owners, who don't have to pay bonuses to players who've had good years. Players who have award-winning seasons ought to be rewarded for it." Some clubs, among them the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, exclude granting award incentives of any kind as an organizational philosophy. Rodriguez's 2007 bonus had carried over from the contract he originally signed with Texas in 2000. Continuing on his blog, Schilling minimized the impact of such bonuses to veterans such as he, even pointing out how they can turn into instruments to help others. "After a year or two, award bonuses became totally meaningless to me because I felt that the size of the contract was always the 'reward' for winning those awards," Schilling wrote. "They were paying me to win them anyway. I never turned them down because they became and are now a standard part of a contract. "The cool thing is," he added, "that [GM] Theo [Epstein] and I managed to turn the bonuses in the last two contracts into things benefiting Shade and ALS, so it was a win-win if it happened."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.