Baseball has many awards for in-season performance-the annual Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards, Rookie of the Year as well as the less-coveted Hank Aaron award among them. It also has a far rarer career achievement award, election to the Hall of Fame. What it is missing is the award that is a periodic feature of the Oscars, the "We're Sorry We Screwed Up" award.
When it comes to movies, "We're Sorry We Screwed Up" comes in two forms: honorary awards to old guys and single-performance awards for roles in films that probably would have been bypassed if there wasn't the sense that the performer was on his way out of this life. The latter category includes John Wayne's 1970 Best Actor for "True Grit" and Henry Fonda's 1982 Best Actor for "On Golden Pond." The former category includes Cary Grant's 1970 career award and Groucho Marx's 1974 award.
What Wayne, Fonda, Grant, and Marx had in common were seamless careers made up of one fine performance after another, but somehow hadn't provided an occasion to single them out for any one performance. It's hard to believe that voters of the day paid no attention to Wayne's performances in "Red River," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," or "The Searchers" or Fonda's "Young Mr. Lincoln," Tom Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath" (he was nominated, but lost to Jimmy Stewart in "The Philadelphia Story"), or "Mister Roberts," but these films required the distance of time to become fully appreciated, or in some cases perhaps even over-appreciated. Comedians generally don't win acting awards despite the inherent difficulty of what they do, so it's easy to see why Marx was overlooked despite his unique brilliance. Similarly, Grant was a comic actor, and even though he played many dramatic roles with great skill, even in thrillers such as "North By Northwest" and "Charade," his role is essentially humorous.
Mariano Rivera has never won a Cy Young award and unless he picks one up this winter, he never will. Closers being inherently less valuable than the best starters, he probably never should have, and yet, his career would seem to require that sort of recognition. Derek Jeter has never won an MVP award despite having at least three seasons in which he had a strong argument for winning the award, particularly 1999 and 2006. At this late stage of his career, when he's nearing 40 and struggling just to get healthy, it seems highly unlikely he'll make another bid. It would seem that, like the Academy Awards voters, the Baseball Writers Association has some make-up voting to do in the case of these two likely first-ballot Hall of Famers.
The problem with make-up voting is that in rewarding one player you slight someone else. When Hank Fonda got his make-up award for "On Golden Pond," two other deserving older guys, Burt Lancaster ("Atlantic City") and Paul Newman ("Absence of Malice") went home empty-handed. Fortunately, Lancaster had already won. Newman would later get his own make-up career award, followed by a Best Actor for "The Color of Money," his only win in eight tries. The Baseball Writers actually managed to get the best of both worlds, one presumes inadvertently, in 1979, when 25-year-old Keith Hernandez and 39-year-old Willie Stargell tied for the National League MVP award. Otherwise, the major awards have gone to the most deserving player, or whoever the writers thought was the most deserving.
It seems to me that, for all its awards, baseball could use one more award, a career merit award that can be given annually to a player who seems on the verge of their last national anthem. Unlike a Hall of Fame citation, each of which must be debated until your ears chafe, the career citation can be freely awarded to the kind of players written about in The Hall of Nearly Great, the Don Mattinglys and David Cones, players who are borderline candidates for Cooperstown but clearly deserve to go down in history as more than just another Tom, Dick, or Eduardo Nunez.
Rivera is having an excellent year, and given the Yankees' lack of offense, an important one. He's on a pace for 59 saves, which not only reflects both how well he's pitched but also how desperately the Yankees have needed their bullpen to perform this year. Still, it's hard to see him winning a Cy Young Award in a season in which so many starting pitchers are performing so well. Surely Clay Buchholz won't be undefeated with an ERA under 2.00 by September, but there are enough other pitchers performing well-Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Yu Darvish, Chris Sale, among others-that it doesn't seem as if there will be a shortage of qualified candidates should the Boston ace falter.
Baseball's hardware department is extensive but is lacking in the career department. The Hall of Fame, properly exclusive, only honors a tiny fraction of players. The career award would honor a slightly larger group, some of whom might go on to the Hall, others who would remain merely pleasant memories sans plaque. It would allow the borderline Hall of Famer to receive recognition while living-the posthumous induction to Cooperstown is a nice thing insofar as keeping the museum's collection complete, but sure doesn't do the guy honored any good. In the case of Rivera and Jeter, who are likely to go, it would help make up for the lack of metal issued for previous seasons.
...But since such an award isn't in the offing, and even if it were it wouldn't happen in time for this season, aw, heck, they might as well just give this year's Cy Young to Mariano anyway.