Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is one of the most respected baseball writers in the country, with a baseball-coverage resumé spanning more than 40 years, a 2007 induction into the writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame to prove it and a nickname — “The Commish” — worthy of his stature in the profession.
So what does Hummel know about Ryan Tepera that the rest of us didn’t see in 2020?
“I’m sure the Tepera family is delighted, but there’s no way I would have voted for him. It was an accident,” said Hummel, whose 10th-place vote for Tepera was easily the shock of the National League MVP voting results released Thursday night that revealed a 1-2 finish for Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts.
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“I fully intended to vote for Trea Turner [10th]. In fact, I remember wrestling with putting two guys in from a last place team,” added Hummel, who had Turner’s Nationals teammate Juan Soto eighth on his ballot.
So what happened? How did a Cubs reliever who didn’t open the season on the roster and finished with a 3.92 ERA and troubling walk rate in 21 games wind up on Hummel’s ballot instead?
Only two other Cubs were named on any of the 300 lines represented on the 30 10-line ballots: Cy Young finalist Yu Darvish (named on six ballots) and center fielder Ian Happ (one 10th-place vote from a Miami writer).
Hummel, who retraced his steps Thursday night, discovered that Tepera’s name is just three spots above Turner’s on the drop-down menu of eligible players voters were able to use to fill out their ballots. He said the only explanation he can surmise is that he mistakenly clicked the wrong name in the window and then didn’t look closely enough at the confirmation email showing his votes.
He seemed as surprised as anybody his ballot registered a vote for Tepera.
“Especially for somebody voting 40 years on this, that would be a stunning development,” he said. “People would think I’ve lost my marbles.
“Trea Turner should have one more point. He’s a good player.”
Turner finished seventh in the voting, far enough behind sixth-place Marcell Ozuna that the accidental vote didn’t change the outcome of anybody’s MVP finish.
This certainly doesn’t qualify as a voting controversy. Not like when two writers left Pedro Martinez off their ballots completely in 1999, costing him the award, or when one writer cost Alex Rodriguez the 1996 award by voting him seventh.
In both of those seasons, writers still voted via paper ballots they filled out and mailed. A few years later, email was adopted as the BBWAA’s voting method, replaced in recent years by a more formal electronic process that requires registration by eligible voters and that — perhaps problematically — includes drop-down menus.
For Tepera, it means he’ll forever have a notation in the 2020 margin of his baseball-reference.com page that shows an 18th-place finish in MVP voting — which might be the perfect postscript to the shortest, strangest MLB season ever played.
For Hummel, who did have Freeman and Betts 1-2 on his ballot, the only thing he seemed certain of Thursday night was that he’ll be sure to double-check — even triple-check — the bottom of his ballot next time around.
And that he at least thinks he figured out what happened with that damned drop-down menu.
“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it,” Hummel said. “That’s what happened.”