Yesterday, much was made about the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter winning the Cy Young Award over the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis. That's all well and good. It even seems like a baseball related discussion on the surface. But it isn't. There are clearly some discriminatory undertones to the whole discussion and I think it's time we get it all out in the open.
Before we get into that though, let's set up the scene a little: we here at FishStripes (and other outlets across the Internet) preferred Willis over Carpenter. Our friends over at SBNations sister-site Viva El Birdos advocated Chris Carpenter. Neither preference was surprising, as we each backed a guy from our own team (while recognizing that the Astros' Roger Clemens was as, if not more so, deserving).
In reality, you could argue the stats and the non-stats in favor of any one of about five guys (add Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte to the list).
What wasn't discussed yesterday, but which needs to be discussed, is the underlying, sad truth behind why some people just can't bring themselves to support Dontrelle Willis. Let's get into that.
NL 2003 Rookie of the Year
Dontrelle Willis won the Rookie of the Year award in 2003. Many people thought that he shouldn't have. Most of those folks advocated the Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb. Statistically, Webb arguably had a better season. Willis though, in many people's minds, won the award based on his "flash" and "style".
What those people are really overlooking though is what Willis did for the Marlins in 2003. He came up just prior to his manager (Jeff Torborg) being fired at a time when the Marlins were struggling and well below .500. Dontrelle led a resurgence and re-energized a clubhouse that not only allowed the team to win the Wild Card, but may have also saved major league baseball in South Florida. That's why Dontrelle Willis won the Rookie of the Year.
Some people are too biased to see that. They look at Dontrelle Willis and see one thing. They look at Brandon Webb and see another. And they prefer what they see when they look at Webb.
That's all well and good -- and equally easy to dismiss unless you know what really happened. It wasn't just that Dontrelle happened to be called up when the Marlins turned things around. Teammates (old and young) credited Willis for providing a spark and changing the team's outlook.
Fans noticed too. The Marlins had to introduce a season ticket mini-plan that revolved around Dontrelle's starts. Attendance at Marlins games started by Willis were 6,500+ people higher than games featuring anyone else (often upwards of 10,000 or more people above the average). Willis was also everywhere -- signing autographs from the dugout prior to games that he was starting, and doing other similar things to encourage fans to cheer for the team that they had abandoned or never realized existed previously. Those types of things, in addition to his performance on the field, are why Willis won the award over Webb.
Still the biases of many people persisted. I suppose that's to be expected. Discrimination is ingrained in many facets of our society, and this is one of them. It is handed down from generation to generation and it is not easy to overcome.
Single Season Home Run Records
Before we get back to Willis, Carpenter, and the 2005 Cy Young Award, there's another recent example of this same bias.
In 1998, America was transfixed by Mark McGwire's pursuit of Roger Maris' single season home run record. National television broadcasts were arranged when McGwire was close to the record so that everyone could watch.
What happened when Barry Bonds had his assault on McGwire's record in 2001? The media coverage wasn't the same. People didn't care as much. People minimized what Bonds was accomplishing. Many cited the fact that Bonds hasn't exactly been the most friendly ballplayer in the history of the game. But we all know that was just a cover for the bias that people feel when they look at Bonds.
2005 NL Cy Young Award
Here we go again. It's the same as it's been before. Willis, and those of his kind, get the short end of the stick when there's a close race (in this case in the outcome of the Cy Young voting, unlike the backlash of public opinion after Willis won the Rookie of the Year in 2003).
Don't get me wrong -- both Carpenter and Willis had great years. But Willis is getting the short end of things, both in terms of the BBWAA votes and in public opinion. And why is that happening?
It's pretty simple actually. People might talk a good game to your face and talk about how Willis struggled for a few outings in July, how the Marlins didn't perform well enough on the field for Willis to merit this award, and/or how Willis "lost" too many games to deserve this award.
All of that is really a mask for discrimination. It's the same as it's always been. What is that bias that people feel when they look at Bonds and McGwire? What is it when they look at Willis and Webb? What is it when they look at Willis and Carpenter?
I believe that (after some slight modifications) the recent words of Kanye West sum up the situation pretty well: "[Some people] do not care about [left-handed baseball players]." It's a sad truth.
It's one simple thing and it's right out in front of you--just look at the pictures. McGwire, Webb, and Carpenter all have one thing in common -- they're right-handed. Willis and Bonds have something in common too -- they are both lefties and thus, they continue to pay the price for something they were simply born as being. Apparently America hates lefties.
It's ok though. I'm sure that Dontrelle still sleeps well at night.