Let's get this out of the way first. This needed to happen five years ago.
On Tuesday, the Base Ball Writer's Association of America (BBWAA) voted unanimously to allow MLB.com writers to apply for membership.
The BBWAA today voted to allow active membership for https://t.co/7EjVyTPMtV writers and editors.— BBWAA (@officialBBWAA) December 8, 2015
Because of this, eminent baseball writers like Richard Justice, Alyson Footer and Brian McTaggart will be allowed to vote on things baseball writers should be voting upon: postseason awards and the Hall of Fame. (Justice, I believe, already had a vote for the Hall).
For years, writers for baseball's official website were held out of the official baseball writers' club (of which I am a past member). This is because MLB.com was viewed as Pravda for a long while; for those of you young enough not to get Cold War references, it was like a manager running Taylor Swift's Twitter feed.
But, as more respected journalists joined MLB.com, it became harder and harder to keep them out. By doing so, BBWAA was denying access to some of the sharpest minds writing about baseball.
In many BBWAA chapters, this won't be as important as it is in Houston. Here, the chapter has a nice representation of members, but few who attend every game. The Chronicle dominates membership and it should as the paper of record for the city. But the rest of the membership consists of small papers with a tenuous connection to the city.
More importantly, most of the members not from the Chron, the AP or another big outlet did not regularly attend games. The MLB.com people are there all the time. If what you want out of a voter is first-hand coverage, so they're not just reading a WAR chart, then MLB.com coverage needed to be added.
From my perspective, there may not have been a more connected reporter covering the Astros than McTaggart. I saw him work the deadline in 2012, when Chris Johnson was traded. Everyone was standing around, but then Tags disappeared to talk to a clubhouse attendant or someone else he knew. Seconds later, he's breaking the story of CJ's trade to Arizona.
Whether Tags gets special access because he's MLB.com, I don't know. It seemed like players treated him differently in the clubhouse, but I wasn't there enough to say for sure. He may or may not get to ride on the team charter.
In some ways, he's in that same gray territory that team TV and radio broadcasters are in. These are gals and guys who have no rooting interest in the Astros, but who are employed by the Astros. They also may have covered the team for long enough to be emotionally invested.
Tags isn't paid by the Astros, but he does exist in a murky line somewhere in between.
And I'm fine with him still being a voting member of the BBWAA.
Still, everything is not sunshine and daisies.
Look at this vote another way. Why did the BBWAA act in this manner? Did they do it out of the goodness of their collective hearts? Did they do it because it's the right thing to do?
Maybe. More likely, they did it because membership is dwindling. Fewer and fewer newspapers are staffing games. Sure, the big ones are still out there, but the mid-sized paper is almost a thing of the past. Those that do exist certainly don't cover major league sports, especially one as time-consuming as baseball. That's why they have the AP wire.
With fewer potential members, the BBWAA had two options. Open up the flood gates of internet baseball writers. Admit more than just a handful of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus writers. Admit more than a few ESPNers lucky enough to write online. Open things up to the people who are paid to cover baseball for a multitude of websites in between, SB Nation included.
These other writers cover the game just as strongly as those on a beat. They watch just as many games as those press box mainstays. They have opinions and occasionally even break news. They are vocal critics and gushing sycophants, sometimes in the same year.
Yet, there is no moral ambiguity about their connection to the team they cover. They are getting paid by a third-party. They get no special access. If anything, it's harder for an internet writer to cover the game they're passionate about covering.
The BBWAA chose to invite in MLB.com, with its murkiness still intact, rather than reach out to the next wave of those small town newspapers.
No one knows what the media landscape will look like in 10 years. But, there will be third-party journalism conducted outside the auspices of a team's website and outside a traditional print newspaper. The BBWAA chose the path of least resistance in this instance.
That's not a bad thing in itself. The MLB.com writers, especially those in Houston, deserved to be in and to vote on things like Manager of the Year.
But, opening membership to them and not to other internet writers speaks to the troubled future of baseball writing and the BBWAA. For those of us who still care about the organization and the awards it curates, this doesn't fix the problem.
It's simply a delaying action to the sea change on the horizon.