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Dumb and Dumber
February 25, 2008
In voting for Best Picture or MVP, awards experts often make the same mistakes
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February 25, 2008

Dumb And Dumber

In voting for Best Picture or MVP, awards experts often make the same mistakes

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JIMMY ROLLINS, meet Juno. Like you, Juno is a plucky, lovable underdog. Like you, Juno isn't perfect. You made 527 outs last year; Juno's first 15 minutes are laid thick with 527 obnoxious, made-up teen slang terms. And like you, Juno has been generously rewarded. You won the National League MVP last year with a lower on-base percentage than the Pirates' Jack Wilson; Juno was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Not Adequately Charming Picture or Cute If Indie-riffulously Precious Picture or The Wes Anderson Memorial Two-Thirds As Good As Rushmore Picture. Best Picture.

David Wright, meet Ratatouille. David, you led the NL win shares and runs created and were second in VORP. Ratatouille was the best-reviewed film of the year according to the review-compiling website Metacritic. Neither of you had the slightest chance at winning the big awards because the Mets swooned to finish behind the Phillies and because cartoons are condemned to the best animated feature ghetto.

No, the Baseball Writers' Association of America went with Rollins, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named Juno a candidate for the pinnacle of filmic art in 2007. I'm rooting for it. I like it when archaic bodies of insular backslappers make terrible decisions. They've been doing it forever. In 1934 the BBWAA chose Mickey Cochrane (two home runs, zero Triple Crowns) over Lou Gehrig (49 homers, one Triple Crown). Seven years later the Academy selected How Green Was My Valley (not Citizen Kane) over Citizen Kane (is Citizen Kane).

As the Academy is preparing to make yet another culture-wounding mistake on Oscar night, BBWAA members are gearing up for another season of head-scratching MVP choices. Why get angry over these annual travesties? Embrace them. Love them. Learn to revel in the injustice like some sort of bizarro Justitia. Since the BBWAA and the Academy are large groups of purported experts in their fields and are spectacularly wrong so often, I thought it might be instructive to point out the similarities in their decision-making processes. Think about these as you watch the Oscars.

1. Traditionalism.
Both groups do the same thing over and over because they've done the same thing over and over. In the case of the Academy, it's rewarding epic, soulless formula films (Titanic) and cloying, melodramatic claptrap that purports to discuss some societal ill (Crash). In its defense, traditionalism might be the only thing stopping Juno, since there isn't a long history of Best Picture winners featuring the word homeskillet.

For the BBWAA, it's knee-jerkily checking the box of the guy with the most RBIs ( George Bell in 1987) and ignoring pitchers (Pudge over Pedro in 1999). Every year presents both sets of voters with different challenges, yet both consistently apply the same English Patient--shaped hammer.

2. Personal popularity.
This is the only way I can explain how lovable, gap-toothed scamp Ron Howard won in 2001 with A Beautiful Mind and detestable, Kenny-Lofton's-boom-box-destroying Albert Belle lost in 1995 to Mo Vaughn. The Academy and the BBWAA are as needy, insecure and catty as high school girls. Charm them, and they will cluster around. Spurn them, and you'll forfeit any chance you ever had at the High School Girl Hall of Fame.

3. Hype.
It's become so clich�d to rail against hype that I believe the hype machine has secretly supported a guerrilla antihype movement to spark a prohype backlash. Confused? They want you to be. Hype is still a factor in the MVP and the Oscar races. Consider Ichiro over Jason Giambi in 2001. Ichiro: fresh, new, Japanese, VORP of 50.9. Giambi: sweaty, plodding, less Japanese, VORP of 103.3. Giambi created far more runs for his team as Ichiro did. He just did it fatter-ly and less new-ly. Sure, Ichiro has more value in the field and on the bases and his team won 116 games, but Giambi's A's finished second in the majors and he out-OPS'd Ichiro 1.137 to .838. It couldn't have hurt that Ichiro was one of the biggest stories in baseball that year. It also couldn't have hurt the fluffy Shakespeare in Love that producer Harvey Weinstein blanketed Hollywood with a hype-infused smog in 1998, assuring both its victory and Joseph Fiennes a long and storied acting career.

4. Risk aversion.
Pulp Fiction or Forrest Gump? One of them is all out of order and makes my brain feel funny. The other one makes me feel good about myself, and Tom Hanks is in it. (Plus, he's playing a mentally challenged guy!) A tip for Academy members: If Tom Hanks is in it, it's safe to vote for it. The Tom Hankses of baseball are the gritty, heart-and-soul veteran leaders of good teams—see Terry Pendleton in 1991 and Kirk Gibson in '88. They're safe, uncontroversial and completely above reproach until their hubris has them believing that they can single-handedly make The Terminal watchable.

5. Mass appeal.
When in doubt, the BBWAA and the Academy ask themselves, What would the average person say? Let's ask Susie Fakeperson, a lady who hates movies and baseball because an old boyfriend got fresh with her during Field of Dreams. Susie says, "I don't know, I'll pick Chicago for Best Picture because my Auntie Millicent said it was 'delightful and sexy in a nonthreatening way.'?" Susie goes on to say, "I choose Andre Dawson for MVP in 1987 because I don't care that his OBP was exactly league average; look at those power numbers!"

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