The best part about Hall of Fame debates is that they never end — even after someone gets voted in. No offense to Harold Baines, but really?
I understand why the Veterans Committee decided to put Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates in; and as a Mets fan I totally respect his World Series-ending home run that devastated the Yankees in 1960. But over time, the standards to reach a hall of fame have been lowered in multiple sports. For example, ever since we’ve been watching sports, there have been transcendent athletes who are no-doubt-it, first-ballot hall of famers. And in most cases, all you need to identify them are their first names or nicknames: Magic, Kobe, The Babe, to name a few.
But the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 threw me for a loop. Jack Sikma and Paul Westphal were really good players in their day, but what stunned me was the fact that both of them had the identical career scoring average: 15.6 points. Granted, they played different positions — and Sikma played nearly 300 more regular-season games than Westphal did — but that’s irrelevant. The point is that all halls of fame should not be for really good players; they should house only the greats.
I get that the entire process — and the ongoing debates about candidates — are totally subjective. But when did our definition of all-time great change along the way? Look at Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, for instance. He more than likely will get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of the precedent that has been set with Mike Mussina’s election earlier this year.
Sabathia is in his 19th big-league season — Mussina, who will be inducted Sunday, pitched 18 — and both have had exactly one 20-win season. Yet Sabathia will more than likely get a hall call because he is the 17th pitcher to strike out more than 3,000 batters. Fourteen of the pitchers who reached this milestone are in Cooperstown, including fellow lefties Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson. The other two are Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.
So when evaluating potential HOF candidates, I ask myself the following question: At any point in their careers, were these players ever the best in their sports at their positions? I raise that because in some cases, some recent inductees weren’t even the best pitchers on their particular teams. When Mussina and Clemens were teammates from 2001-03, who was the Yankee ace? Yes, Clemens may have been using PEDs at the time, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Has Sabathia even been the best pitcher of his era? Pedro Martinez and other outstanding hurlers over that span might have something to say about that.
Halls of fame should remain places where no-doubt-about-it, all-time greats end up. I understand why sports halls feel compelled to have an induction class every year; it certainly doesn’t hurt the bottom line to keep this annual tradition going. But it seems as if we’ve reached a point where we have yearly induction classes just for the sake of having them.
Meanwhile, the softening of standards has apparently reached other HOFs. Look at this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction class. Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, Radiohead and the Zombies are all worthy inductees. But using my earlier argument, were Roxy Music and the Cure ever the best bands of their respective eras? Jann Wenner and that hall’s voters might disagree with me, but that’s totally debatable. And I happen to love both Bryan Ferry and Robert Smith.
So do we really want a Hall of Very Good?
Let’s keep halls of fame — and those in them — great. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them?
By Stan Chrapowicki | Last updated 7/15/19