There was a time when the Hall of Fame was sacred— the holy grail of all things pure and excellent in athletics. If the last six weeks have taught us anything, it’s the gatekeepers of the Basketball, Baseball and Pro Football Halls of Fame are nothing more than a healthy collection of the ignorant and spiteful.
In December, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced its finalists for the class of 2017. The class included suitable names such as Chris Webber, Ben Wallace and Tracy McGrady. Somehow, it also included Muggsy Bogues, the pint-sized point guard who is best remembered for guiding an exciting young Charlotte Hornets team of the mid-1990’s. Bogues’ true claim to fame though is being the shortest player in NBA history at 5’3″.
Bogues was a nice player and had a solid career (7.7 points and 7.6 assists per game over 14 seasons), especially when you consider his physical shortcomings, but he’s nowhere near hall of fame worthy. Just because he had a successful career at that height and is a fun trivia question, doesn’t mean he should be enshrined next to the game’s greatest players. This is the Basketball Hall of Fame, not a circus act.
Muggsy Bogues being a finalist underscores a greater issue the NBA is having with its Hall. Granted, it’s the “Basketball Hall of Fame”, not the “NBA Hall of Fame.” But the bar for making the cut seems to erode each year. A personal rule of thumb I’ve adopted (as previously discussed at HHSR) when gauging a player’s Hall worthiness is “The Chris Mullin Test”. A fine player in the ’80s and ’90s, Mullin’s career résumé (five-time All-Star, one-time All-NBA First Team, two-time Olympic gold medalist, with no significant team successes, records or memorable moments in his NBA career) should roughly be the lowest data point on the Hall of Fame’s list of acceptable applicants. If Mullin got in, Wallace, Webber and T-Mac ought to be all be slam dunks to make it in, regardless if they should be or not. But Mullin’s case stomps all over Muggsy Bouges’, so where does that leave us?
Unless he’s receiving consideration for contributions as an ambassador for the game, Muggsy making it this far effectively opens the flood gates for any slightly above average player, or any journeyman with an obscure anecdote about their career (make way for Eduardo Nájera, the first Mexican player ever drafted into the NBA!)
Classic debates such as, “Is such and such a hall of famer?” are now worthless. This was one of the best parts of being a sports fan. Unfortunately, the Basketball Hall of Fame has removed all mystery and doubt. At just 24, do you realize how much more Kyrie Irving has accomplished than Muggsy Bouges? If Muggsy is a finalist, do you realize Kyrie is already a surefire hall of famer if he retired today?
We deserve better.
We deserve better than a Baseball Hall of Fame whose writers decide after 10 years that Tim Raines is worthy of induction. So we’re clear, 360-some-odd days ago Raines was deemed not good enough of a player to make the Hall by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). He hasn’t appeared in a game since September 29, 2002, yet all of a sudden the BBWAA decides he is worthy of enshrinement.
Circumstances and perceptions of players can evolve over time— it makes sense to have a fail-safe that allows an athlete multiple cracks at getting in. But Raines made it (by the skin of his teeth) on his 10th and final appearance on the ballot. What point are the writers proving by making Raines wait an extra nine years? There is a certain prestige that accompanies making any hall of fame in your first year of eligibility, especially in baseball. Anything far beyond the second year though is obtuse.
It’s bad enough the BBWAA is keeping Curt Schilling out of the hall for political reasons; this group is also unsure on how to handle the steroid athletes of the ’90s and ’00s. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for instance, are still being admonished for their connection to steroids, yet other athletes from that era who were suspected of using PEDs, like Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, made the cut this year.
Consistency? Nah. That’s optional at best.
Perhaps the biggest travesty of all came to light a week ago when the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters failed to give one of the best receivers the game has ever seen his rightful place in Canton, Ohio.
Unfortunately I DID NOT MAKE IT again this year. Thanks to ALL my fans & supporters. #FlawedProcess
— Terrell Owens (@terrellowens) February 4, 2017
Terrell Owens wasn’t perfect— far from it actually. But his performance on the field at his position is unparalleled in football history, with the exceptions of Randy Moss and Jerry Rice. You literally cannot read more than two names of the wide receiver record books without coming across Terrell Owens. A physical specimen, Owens blend of speed and power made him the original mutant receiver that many teams possess in some fashion today (think Julio Jones/Dez Bryant). T.O. was the prototype, and far more entertaining than any flanker before or since. Owens held the record for catches in a game (20) for nine years. He also hauled in one of the most memorable TD passes in playoff history and was the best player on the field in a Super Bowl in which he played with a broken ankle.
Sidebar: Seriously, Owens’ antics was pure gold for media members for the better part of 15 years. How are they not rewarding him now? Ingrates.
There isn’t a galaxy in which Owens shouldn’t have gone in last year on the first ballot. The notion that Owens being an egomaniacal malcontent of a teammate, while likely true in some cases, should have no bearing on his HOF candidacy given his vast accomplishments. Even the talking heads are united in the belief that T.O. received a screw job so appalling, Roger Goodell is likely involved in some capacity. It’s a one-sided argument, and the hypocrisy of the voters involved is unmistakable.
With apologies to hockey (it’s actually a compliment), all of our major sports halls of fame need to seriously reevaluate their operations. Remember, the hall of fame first and foremost is a museum for fans. It isn’t a place for a bunch of Dwight Schrutes to wield what little bit of power they have to fit whatever agenda they feel is appropriate. It’s also not their job to serve as the morality police. Sadly, we’ve seen the shrines to our greatest athletes slide into a perverse social club, polluted by a sizable number of egomaniacal douchebag writers with an axe to grind. The basis by which a hall of fame career is judged must be recalibrated in all three sports; failure to do so will result in all credibility fading away, putting the legacies of our sports heroes solely in the hands of barbershops and Twitter.