The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Media uproar: ESPN news editor enters Baseball Hall of Shame

January 5, 2011 |  5:46 pm

Bj Surhoff I know this is the time of year when all the wacky Oscar pundits start getting a little overcaffeinated, arguing over whether "True Grit" really deserves to be a best picture front-runner or how the academy has once again schlooped the pooch with its byzantine best foreign language film choices. But nothing in the Oscar world can hold a candle to the noisy fulminations being heard in the baseball world Wednesday in the wake of the selection of two new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven.

No one's upset about each choice: Alomar was a lifetime .300 hitter and the best defensive second baseman of his generation, and Blyleven had 287 career wins and 3,701 strikeouts. But what has everyone up in arms is the loopy ballot submitted by ESPN news editor Barry Stanton. In addition to snubbing both of the eventual winners, Stanton voted for B.J. Surhoff, which is sort of like putting "Burlesque" on your Oscar best picture ballot. Stanton was also only one of six writers to vote for Tino Martinez, a solid but unspectacular first baseman who wasn't half as good as first baseman Jeff Bagwell, whom Stanton left off his ballot.

Of course, what makes this really remarkable is that we actually got to see Stanton's ballot. There are probably just as many Oscar voters who come up with nutty best picture picks, but the motion picture academy wouldn't dream of revealing anyone's individual ballots, fearing just this sort of media ridicule. In this case, to their credit, it was ESPN that released the names of its 18 staffers participating in the Hall of Fame election, along with their votes. To make matters worse, once Stanton's name surfaced, it was revealed that he left his job with the Journal-News of Westchester, NY, eight years ago after he plagiarized a column by Kansas City sportwriter Joe Posnanski.

To his credit, Stanton didn't go into hiding. In fact, when I was driving back from lunch today, there he was, on SiriusXM's Inside Pitch show, being grilled by co-hosts Casey Stern and Jim Bowden. It got pretty ugly, especially when Stanton revealed that he'd picked Surhoff because he'd seen him as a 12-year-old, playing in a local Babe Ruth tournament in upstate New York. Stanton was so impressed by Surhoff's play that when Surhoff was in high school Stanton told the kid he'd be voting for him someday in the Hall of Fame. When this rationale fell flat, Stanton actually tried to justify his pick by asking Stern to name his favorite movie of all time, arguing that whatever choice he made, be it "The Godfather" or "Citizen Kane," it was all subjective. (Stanton didn't name his favorite film, but I'm guessing it was "Ishtar.") By the end of the segment, Stern was so worked up that he sounded like he needed to gobble a few tranquilizers.

Needless to say, this didn't go over well with the sports talk fans, who heaped abuse on Stanton, calling him "pathetic," "ridiculous" and "the idiot from ESPN." I don't know if there's a moral here, but I guess it's a good thing that we'll never, ever, ever find out if any addled academy members decided to put "Gulliver's Travels" or "The Tourist" on their Oscar ballots. When it comes to choosing awards, whether it's baseball or film, full disclosure can be a dangerous thing indeed.  

— Patrick Goldstein

Photo: B.J. Surhoff after hitting a double against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in 2001.

Credit: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press.