On Strict Constructionism and MVP Voting

Here’s the explanation from the voter in question, Worcester sportswriter Bill Ballou:

I am a strict constructionist re: “valuable”. If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote. I’m of the school that in order to have “value” you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending. The Angels didn’t truly contend. To fully develop that logic, players from non-contenders should not be listed on the  ballot at all, but the BBWAA insists that we fill out all 10 slots, so I did, even though I did not think there were 10 worthy candidates from contending teams.

Emphasis mine. My intent here isn’t so much to question Ballou’s voting, but rather to question his use of the term “strict constructionist.”

First of all, let’s take a look at the actual definition of the term “strict construction.” Per Wikipedia:

Strict construction requires a judge to apply the text only as it is spoken. Once the court has a clear meaning of the text, no further investigation is required. Judges – in this view – should avoid drawing inferences from a statute or constitution and focus only on the text itself.

Of course, voting for a league MVP award isn’t especially similar to court proceedings, but the voters are called upon to judge players’ value in a sense. It seems reasonable, then, to apply principles from the judicial system to awards voting. Strict constructionism, in this context, would require using the definition of “value” as it is written in the text in question, the BBWAA’s guidelines for MVP voting. Let’s take a look:

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

  1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
  2. Number of games played.
  3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
  4. Former winners are eligible.
  5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Emphasis, again, mine. It seems to me that a self-professed strict constructionist ought to feel constrained by rule #1 there, which defines “value” as “strength of offense and defense.”


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