Give Me Weirdo Votes Over Unanimity Every Time
10:33 AM EDT on June 28, 2023
Somewhere out there, the one person who didn't vote for Derek Jeter to go to the Hall of Fame is still walking around, cheerfully and happily anonymous. It's been three years now, and nobody even bothers to wonder who the holdout is any more. Yes, as amazing as it seems, we all got over it, and in about a day.
The same, however, cannot be said for the one voter who chose not to deem Edmonton's Connor McDavid as the best player in hockey this past season. Out of 196 voters, 195 saw him as clearly the best player, given that he scored the most goals, assisted on the most goals, created the most goals, and was on the ice for the most goals. He was so clearly the best player in the regular season that a unanimous vote was assumed sometime around Orthodox Christmas.
But because we shouldn't want to live in a society in which unanimity is demanded, the occasional weirdo should be allowed and even encouraged to vote as weirdos do. Thus, the 196th Hart vote, the one that went to David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, should have been saluted as a weird but defensible pick based on the fact that Pastrnak was the best player on the best team, and "valuable" is generally linked to team success. That so few people saw it that way is fine, even normal, but it isn't necessarily right. Let a thousand beer kegs bloom, and all that. (In fact, McDavid wasn't even unanimous as the center on the first all-star team but nobody made much of a fuss about Russ Cohen of Sportsology voting him second behind Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers because, well, it was second, but not fifth.)
Nobody owned the rogue fifth-place vote right away, which caused the internet to do what the internet does best, which is form parties of people trying to see who could make the fastest and sturdiest noose. But eventually, and sadly, the independent thinker was revealed as Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. And Pastrnak wasn't actually much of a weirdo vote. It was contrarian, but it wasn't indefensible and certainly not the opinion of a weirdo.
What does make Rorabaugh a weirdo, though, was the fact that he also voted for Dallas's Jason Robertson, the Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin, and Florida's Matthew Tkachuk ahead of McDavid, and none of them played on the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh best teams.
But this isn't about Rorabaugh's ballot so much as the fact that it went public killing the mystery before it really had a chance to fester. When Jeter got 396 of 397 votes three years ago, the rage lasted nearly an entire week before people realized this is a stupid reason for one to entangle one's delicates. Unanimity is a thing for the North Korean Politburo to worry about, not sports fans—though then again sports fans aren't always as rational as the North Korean Politburo. The fact that we have gone 41 months without knowing who didn't vote for Jeter is somehow charming, even life-affirming. It means the things we want to expend the most anger on are usually not worth the aneurysm, and that we didn't actually need to know who denied Jeter this utterly meaningless oak leaf on the oak tree that was his career. That voter is our generation's D.B. Cooper, and must be cherished if only in absentia.
And this matters because we will go through this again in October when the American League MVP and Cy Young awards are announced. Our Lord And Savior Shohei Ohtani is destroying the voters' collective wills even though it is still June, and even though his Los Angeles Angels are scrabbling to stay in the wild card race instead of dominating the league. The fetish of making up one's mind about end-of-season honors before half of the season has been reached is a relatively new phenomenon and speaks to our cultural hatred of things like patience and evidence-gathering and even waiting until the polls open to vote. You vote today, damn you, because the hive mind cannot wait for you to watch an entire season before you spew the only acceptable opinion.
That said, it's going to be Ohtani. Maybe not for the Cy, where Shane McClanahan of Tampa and Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees are having demonstrably better seasons, but MVP for sure. The only real weirdo's option here as of June 28 is Tampa's Wander Franco, and that is because he is at least disputably the best defensive player in the league as well as a top-10 offensive star. And while we're on the subject, because so many people want Ohtani to win the Cy as well and combine into a vote for MAP—Most Amazing Phenomenon—McClanahan and Cole might be SOL there too. The spleen wants what the spleen wants.
The problem, though, comes in the release of the voters' ballots, so we'll know if there is a potential Rorabaugh in the field. That person, if one chooses to exist, will be subjected to the usual rounds of kill-the-voter-twice-in-case-the-first-time-doesn't-take abuse because winning an award isn't enough. It must be done with the same groupthink that produced the McDavid phenomenon, and for that matter the Jeter phenomenon as well. All must vote alike, and those who don't must be corrected with an anvil to the foot.
Well, here's hoping there's one out there, just to remind us all that awards and honors are always coming up but only a few make us crazy, and we should want crazy. Anyone can vote for Shohei Ohtani—it takes no imagination whatsoever, and the safety of knowing that everyone else is doing it too is almost depressing. But give us a bold voter who wants Franco, or Randy Arozarena, or what the hell, even Isaac Paredes, and is willing to face the tsunami of scorn and threats that truly make an award worth remembering now.
And maybe that voter will even be courageous enough to put Mike Trout ahead of Ohtani. Now that's an irresistible winter of fun we can all get behind. Why should hockey fans have all the fun?