In the closest vote since the mail-ballot process began in 2002, John Lowe narrowly edged out the late Gerry Fraley to be elected the 2023 winner of the BBWAA Career Excellence Award. Lowe will be honored with the award that is presented annually to a sportswriter “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing” during the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s induction weekend next July 21-24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Of the 382 ballots, including four blanks, cast by BBWAA members with 10 or more consecutive years’ service, Lowe was named on 137 in becoming the 74th winner of the award since its inception in 1962. Just two votes behind Lowe at 135 was Fraley, who died in 2019 at age 64 after a nearly 40-year career as a beat writer in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas. Bruce Jenkins, a baseball writer and columnist for almost half a century for the San Francisco Chronicle, was third with 106 votes.
The two-vote margin between first and second place as well as the 31-vote gap among the three candidates were the closest in voting history. The previous closest result was in 2015 when another Detroit writer, Tom Gage, won out over Atlanta’s Furman Bisher by six votes, 167-161. Third-place Dan Shaughnessy of Boston was third that year with 134 votes. He was elected the next year. The 33-vote separation among those three writers in 2015 had also been the narrowest before this election
Candidates were chosen by a three-member, BBWAA-appointed committee and announced during the All-Star Game meeting July 19 in Los Angeles. Voting was conducted in November.
Nattily attired in his blazer, collared shirt with tie, creased trousers, leather shoes and straw hat, Lowe roamed press boxes, fields and clubhouses from 1979 through 2014, the last 28 of those years as the Tigers beat writer for the Detroit Free Press. Lowe sought insight from trusted sources in both clubhouses, resulting in clearly written stories that explained the sport in rich detail. John wrote with nuanced perspective, the direct result of countless conversations that equipped him with the knowledge to explain late-game drama on tight Eastern time zone deadlines.
He covered Angels home games for the Los Angeles Daily News before taking over the Dodgers beat at that paper from 1981 to 1984. After two years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lowe came to Detroit where during his tenure was credited with creating the Quality Start statistic for pitchers that remains a measuring stick. John covered more than 300 postseason games, including 147 in the World Series. He also chronicled Cal Ripken Jr.’s breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games record in 1995 and the culmination of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase in 1998.
Lowe, who served as national BBWAA president in 2010, had a ready answer when asked at airports if he was traveling for business or pleasure: “Business, but it’s a pleasure.”