Near the end of major events such as All-Star games and Super Bowls, a league staffer often hands out slips of paper to selected media members and asks them to write down their choice for Most Valuable Player. It's a surprisingly informal process, and voters usually have only a few minutes to consider their options. It's hasty and slap-dash, and absolutely perfect.
Unlike with so many other sports honors, there are no weeks of debate, no dividing into camps, no weighing of character issues, no mocking of the electorate. When the voting results for the baseball Hall of Fame are announced on Wednesday, for instance, the only certainty is that they will be accompanied by an avalanche of tiresome analysis of the voters and their choices.
It has reached the point where the awards themselves seem like afterthoughts. It's all about the debate. The American League MVP race wasn't so much about Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout as it was about the clash of old-fashioned statistics (batting average and RBIs) and modern advanced metrics (WAR and OPS+). The Heisman voters didn't have to simply compare the quarterback performances of Florida State's Jameis Winston and Alabama's AJ McCarron; they had to decide whether the rape accusation against Winston (no charges were filed) should be a factor in their decision.
Then there are the snarky attitudes on both sides of almost every vote. Old-school voters think some of the younger, more statistics-driven ones turn elections into nothing but number-crunching. The new-schoolers suspect some of their elders put more thought into their grocery lists than into their ballots.
It's hard to fill out a ballot without slogging through a series of moral judgments and dueling opinions. Should steroid users be in the baseball Hall? Is the best player necessarily the most valuable one? Which stats determine what "best" is? The award description includes words such as character, integrity and sportsmanship. How exactly are those defined?
It's enough to drain the enjoyment from voting. Maybe all of us should put down our ballots for a year and concentrate on repairing our voting processes, many of which are a mess. A baseball Hall of Fame voter anonymously sold his or her ballot to Deadspin, which, in a very meta piece of business, then invited readers to vote on how to cast the vote. It's unclear whether the voter's motivation was to protest the flaws in the system or simply cash in on it. Despite recent efforts to weed out unqualified Heisman voters, some ballots still are cast by people who haven't followed college football seriously in years. Selections for the baseball All‑Star Game and the Pro Bowl are made by a combination of votes by fans, coaches and players in systems more complicated than Dungeons and Dragons.
Media members have made their share of voting blunders. (Willie Mays not unanimously elected to the Hall? Really?) But everyone is guilty of corrupting the voting process. College football coaches sometimes vote in their own interest, as then-USC coach Lane Kiffin did last year when he voted the Trojans No. 1 in the preseason coaches' poll after publicly saying he would not. Some fans vote for clearly undeserving players in All‑Star Game balloting; for this year's NBA game, Kobe Bryant (who has played six games all season) is leading the Western Conference guards, and Jeremy Lin (who's a backup for the Rockets) is fourth.
Voters in sports, as in other areas, tend to vote their biases and self-interest, which is why it's hard to believe so many people care about election-driven awards. Voting is ultimately subjective, and that's the antitheses of what attracts so many of us to sports: the cut-and-dried nature of the games. In most cases the results are not open for debate.
That's why individual honors earned in competition -- batting championships, scoring titles -- should be valued more than ones bestowed by ballot. It's less impressive to win an election in sports than to win on the field. That's a truth that doesn't need to be put to a vote.