Jaffe: Halls of fame seem too roundabout to be effective

May 21, 2012, 1:45 a.m.

While watching the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich on Saturday, a friend wondered aloud whether Didier Drogba was a Hall of Famer or if there’s even a World Soccer Hall of Fame for him to enter.

As it turns out, the International Football Hall of Fame (remember, most of the world calls the game played with your feet “football”) exists, but judging by the fact that the link to its home page doesn’t work and it hardly shows up on Google, it’s not really at the same level as those for baseball or football.

At first, this seemed odd to me. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, so why wouldn’t it have something so basic as a hall of fame? Sure, there are national halls of fame, but soccer is such an international sport that it would seem to require one hall to rule them all (and I already gave it a tagline). Because let’s face it, there are a lot of halls of fame. Wikipedia has a whole article just listing them.

But thinking about it more, I realized that halls of fame are not nearly as fundamental a concept as I had thought. After all, the first major hall of fame was for baseball, which isn’t quite 80 years old yet. The Baseball Hall of Fame was started because, one, there was a misconception that baseball had been invented in Cooperstown, and, two, it could make money.

The motto for the Baseball Hall of Fame is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” These are great goals, and having a place to learn about the best players of the past is a good thing. But halls of fame are known much more for the select groups of former players (and coaches and others involved in the game) that get the honor of being “inducted.”

I don’t have any problem with this, but choosing who to include in the elite class of players is an unenviable task, no matter what the sport. Think about it: if someone asked you to say who are the five best players in the NBA right now, or in the NFL or NHL or MLB or any other sport, you would almost definitely disagree. And these guys all face each other year after year. Imagine comparing players across generations.

That is what hall of fame voters have to deal with, and all that’s hanging in the balance is the entire validation of a player’s career. No pressure.

There’s no way to decide whom to induct without some arguments and flaws, but that still doesn’t stop me from having a beef with the major halls of fame.

Last year, Bert Blyleven was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When he retired in 1992, he had 285 wins and 3,701 strikeouts. In his first year of eligibility in 1998, he had 285 wins and 3,701 strikeouts, but he did not get into the Hall. For each of the next 13 years, his statistics did not change, but his Hall of Fame vote percentage did change every year, although it wasn’t until last year that the votes eclipsed the 75-percent threshold necessary for enshrinement. As of right now, he still has 285 wins and 3,701 strikeouts, but he’s now in the elite club of baseball players.

What changed? Blyleven’s pitching didn’t. And you can’t tell me that people’s perspective on him changed for 14 straight years. But in the ridiculous system we have now, a player can be on the ballot 15 years in a row. And a lot of times, it takes several years to get the necessary total.

My question is simple: why can’t you make up your minds the first time? Why not just wait 10 years or so after players finish playing so you get some perspective without many players dying before they can be eligible? Give voters one chance. A yes or a no, and that’s it.

And while we’re at it, let voters pick however many players they want. The Pro Football Hall of Fame mandates that between four and seven players be inducted per year. It makes sense for their ceremonies, but it makes no sense if you want to get the best players every year, which is part of the reason why guys like Cris Carter and Tim Brown are still awaiting their call to the Hall.

At some point, there are just so many issues that I have to wonder if a hall of fame is really necessary. But, at least for major American sports, it’s too late. You can’t really stop inducting people now, so let’s at least fix the process so it makes sense. The best players in history deserve at least that.

Jacob Jaffe is still sore that the Stanford Daily Sports Columnist Hall of Fame hasn’t sent him his official induction letter yet. In its place, send your condolences to jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.

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