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TELANDER: Conflict-of-interest issue in contract was award-winning

Theo Epstein reopened a can of Curt Schilling worms the other day, and the inside looked messy.

Epstein, president of the Cubs, put a clause in newly signed right-hander Tyler Chatwood’s three-year, $38 million deal that would give him extra money if he receives a single Cy Young Award vote.

Just one little vote.

Worth $2 million to Chatwood.

Theo Epstein President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs walks on the field during practice at Wrigley Field, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Chicago. Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and Cubs is Monday. (AP Photo/David Banks) ORG XMIT: CXC113

And guess who votes for the Cy Young Award?

Baseball writers.

If you don’t see the inherent conflict of interest of such a contract, then you must be blind to the temptations and weaknesses of all humans, whether filthy rich pitchers or poverty-vowed scribes.

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Listen, I would trust baseball writers far more than I would trust most folks, but I know even we golden moralists and critics have holes in our armor. Like, say, your buddy Chatwood whispers to you one day in the clubhouse, ‘‘Hey, Gomer, how would you like a new Porsche instead of that Edsel you drive?’’

Your ears prick up.

“Just a vote,’’ Chatwood says, arm around your shoulder, Abe Lincoln-sincere smile radiating from his whiskered face.

I’m not saying Chatwood would ever do such a Chicago-style, kickback kind of thing. Never met the guy. Or that an ink-stained wretch would take that deal and pull his or her shiny new Porsche into the media lot a day after the Cy Young vote.

But you get the picture. Or even that a Cubs hater in St. Louis might vote for Chatwood just to screw the Cardinals’ rivals.

The thing is, Epstein tried this back in 2007, when he was the GM for the Red Sox and put such an escalator clause in Schilling’s one-year deal.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America got plenty peeved about this dip into their voting process, which should be influenced by nothing but player skill and on-field achievement, and threatened the award eligibility of any player with such a clause in the future.

Matters were eventually settled; the contract never came into play, and
everybody informally agreed not to put such clauses in contracts ever again.

But, oops, he did it again.

It appears the Chatwood clause already has been yanked by Epstein.

The larger issue here is the continued voting for prestigious awards — and the possible incentivized monetary payouts for the winning players — by the people who get paid to cover the sport, sportswriters.

I personally vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Wooden Award, the Heisman Trophy and occasionally a couple of others. I like voting for these things, and I think I generally know quite a bit about what I’m voting for.

I’ve never been hounded (or bribed) to vote for anyone (Hmm, do I have a price?), though the promotion for Hall candidates can sometimes get ridiculous. That includes emails from “experts’’ that have stat categories and player comparisons you would never dream up in a hundred years in solitary confinement with only baseball cards and Bill James tomes in your cell.

The Heisman promos can get nutty, too. I still have my Jordan Lynch insulated lunch box (thanks, Northern Illinois!) and my Robert Griffin III plastic-coated Baylor trading card.

And didn’t Notre Dame’s PR staff get star quarterback Joe Theismann, last name originally pronounced “Thees-man,’’ to change the pronunciation to “Thighs-man’’ to rhyme with Heisman? As in “Theismann for the Heisman? Yes, it did. Half a century ago.

So we writers know what’s up.

But I wanted the Sun-Times’ own sportswriter experts to tell me how they feel about the mantle of voting.

“I don’t have a problem with writers voting for the NFL awards because I think we’re qualified to do it, and we’re conditioned to do it with the least bias,’’ said longtime Pro Football Writers of America member Mark Potash. “If there’s a better process out there, I have yet to hear of it.”

Mark Lazerus, our Professional Hockey Writers Association member, said, “I think we’re the most qualified to vote. Nobody sees more hockey than the writers. Not even the players.’’

Lazerus, like all of us, takes his voting seriously: “I just wish we had more transparency, so fans knew whom we voted for.’’

Joe Cowley, our Professional Basketball Writers Association member, who covers the Bulls, said, “I’m fine with it.’’ Also a baseball voter, Cowley added, “I don’t like that we’ve made the Baseball Hall of Fame a holier-than-thou shrine. I vote for Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens every year.’’

And Gordon Wittenmyer, our longtime Cubs beat writer, likes the voting but hates it when “the industry itself attaches itself to it.’’ Remember that, Theo. “Our integrity and our credibility are our brand. The appearance of conflict of interest is conflict of interest.’’

Case closed.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com