Last Sunday evening, I was at work, editing down the AP obituary of Duke Snider to a word count that would fit our available space. There was one sentence that caught my attention, and I debated for a moment whether I should cut it, because I thought it was unclear:
Snider hit at least 40 homers in five straight seasons and led the NL in total bases three times. He never won an MVP award, although a voting error may have cost him the prize in 1955. He lost to Campanella by a very narrow margin – it later turned out an ill voter left Snider off the ballot, supposedly by mistake.
There are a few things that are odd there – why mention that the voter was ill? Do we not have his name, and why not? Why “supposedly” by mistake? Didn’t anyone ask?
Anyway, I decided to leave it in, after confirming the loose outline of events on Wikipedia – which said, at the time (it has since been amended), that a BBWAA writer in the hospital had mistakenly put Campanella down twice, in first and fifth place, when he’d meant to put Snider in one of those spots. If he had, Snider would have won the MVP. That still seemed odd (again, why mention the hospital? Did he die later and they couldn’t ask him? Then why not say that?), but fine. I finished editing it down, ate a sandwich and went on to other work.
Joe Posnanski, on the other hand, wondered about some of those same things and then started digging. That response is one of the reasons why he is – for my money, and a lot of other people’s – the best sports writer going at the moment. He doesn’t simply accept things at face value. I also take his ensuing post on the subject as a good lesson about following up when something seems off. If a story doesn’t make sense, there’s probably a different story behind it – I should listen to those instincts and, more than that, follow up on them. (And also, for the love of god, never rely on Wikipedia. I know this – and I never do when I’m writing or reporting – but I often use it as something of a fact checker. Nine times out of 10 it’s accurate, but for anything work-related or important, that’s not good enough).
You should go read Posnanski’s whole post, but the general thrust is:
Here’s is what the box says happened: There was indeed a writer who put Roy Campanella first and also sixth on his ballot, just like Feller said. Whether this was done by a writer who was sick and/or from Philadelphia is not made clear, and is probably not important. The BBWAA could have invalidated the ballot, and that must have been considered. But they did not. And they also did not just give Campanella the top spot and erase the fifth spot.
What they did was this: They moved everybody below No. 5 up a spot — six to five, seven to six, and so on. And for the bottom spot they inserted, yep, our favorite Philadelphia relief pitcher Jack Meyer.
There’s more to it than that and plenty of context, but I don’t want to quote too much of Posnanski’s post – I want you to go read it.
I also want to see if we can’t get “a hospitalized BBWAA writer” to catch on as a description of something a little fishy. E.g., “Joba says the weight he added is all muscle? Yeah, I dunno, that sounds a little like a hospitalized BBWAA writer to me.”