Editor’s note: This article appears in the September 25 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
FYI: We just released the paperback version of my Red Sox book (“Now I Can Die In Peace”), which includes a 20-page afterword (with footnotes) that I made just long enough that you can’t read it in a bookstore without starting to feel uncomfortable because you’ve been standing for so long. Also, I handed in the afterword in June, about six weeks before Boston’s season fell apart, making it the first afterword that was already dated before the book was released. So that’s always fun. (You’ll especially love my glowing words about Josh Beckett. Shoot me.)
Just for kicks, we even included a photo of me and my buddy J-Bug holding the 2004 World Series trophy (with matching deer-in-the-headlights looks, no less). And there’s a shocking story about the time I punched out Johnny Pesky at the Cask and Flagon. All right, I made that last one up. But you can find the paperback in any bookstore, or you can order it on Amazon.com for a measly 10 bucks. So get the thing already. Come on. I don’t ask for much.
There are six elements in sports that simply don’t work: sideline reporters, All-Star voting, MVP voting, Halls of Fame, WNBA players participating in NBA All-Star Weekend and TV essays that columnists awkwardly read off of teleprompters. People have devoted an inordinate amount of money and energy to trying to get these six elements to work. And still they don’t. Five of them never will.
Which one can be saved? Halls of Fame. The three major sports have botched the voting process so badly that nobody can take the results seriously anymore. Players can be rejected for eight straight years, then elected the ninth. Candidates have been discarded for not being friendly to the media (Jim Rice) and ushered in for being great guys (Harry Carson). Stalwarts for big-market teams (James Worthy) get sizable advantages over studs who peaked in relative obscurity (Adrian Dantley). In baseball and football, a Veterans Committee can override decades of sound logic. It’s a mess. We’ve reached the point at which we rarely argue about the candidates anymore. Like with the Emmys, Grammys and Oscars, we just expect mistakes.
Take the case of Joe Dumars, a nice enough player who was inducted last weekend alongside two superior ones, Dominique Wilkins and Charles Barkley. Sure, Dumars was the one decent soul on those Bad Boys squads, a splendid team player who lifted his game when it mattered, a gifted defender who guarded MJ tougher than anyone. When the league struggled with character issues in the mid-90s, Joe D stood out for his class and professionalism. Watching him co-exist with the crotch-grabbing jerks on Dream Team II was like seeing Nic Cage stuck on the Con Air plane. Like everyone else, I like Joe Dumars. A lot.
Does any of that make him a Hall of Famer? Of course not.
Here’s his résumé: six All-Star Games, one Finals MVP, one second-team All-NBA selection, four first-team All-Defense selections. He was never a franchise player, much less a defining one. In fact, in certain pivotal playoff games (Game 5 of the 1990 Finals, for instance), Dumars sat in crunch time. Most damning of all is databasebasketball.com’s Hall of Fame monitor. The statistical engine assigns each player a score, with anything over 135 denoting Hall of Fame worthiness. Kareem scores the highest, with 833. Jordan scores 731; Barkley, 315; Wilkins, 142. Dumars? He gets a 105, trailing 33 retired players who haven’t made the cut.
Again, I like Joe D. But Paul Westphal made three All-NBA first teams and five All-Star teams. He scores 143 on the HOF monitor. Dantley averaged 30-plus for four straight seasons. Artis Gilmore was the best center in ABA history. JoJo White won two rings, made seven straight All-Star teams and won a Finals MVP. Bernard King was the most explosive scoring forward of his era and still found time to star in Fast Break. None of those guys is in the Hall. Joe D wasn’t better than any of them.
Here’s where it gets nutty. Sidney Moncrief won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, made an All-NBA first team and four second teams, played in five straight All-Star games, owns statistics nearly identical to Dumars’ and could have been a legend if his knees hadn’t betrayed him. Dennis Johnson won a Finals MVP and three rings, played in eight conference finals, made All-NBA first and second teams and six All-Defensive first teams in addition to being one of the memorable clutch players of his era. There’s no possible way, under any criteria, that anyone can prove Dumars was a better guard than either DJ or Moncrief. More likely, he was the worst of the three. But Moncrief and DJ have been rejected by the Hall. Repeatedly.
So why was Dumars elected? For the same reasons most borderline candidates are: 1) He’s a good guy, and 2) the voters don’t know any better. But Joe D symbolizes an even larger problem. Fact is, neither Moncrief, DJ nor Dumars is a legitimate Hall of Fame choice. Neither, for that matter, is Big Artis, Westphal, JoJo or Bernard (as much as it kills me to say that). Only Dantley has a legitimate case. Including Alex English and Nique in the Hall while omitting Dantley is like inducting Suzanne Somers and Farrah Fawcett into the Bimbo Hall of Fame but leaving out Pam Anderson. One day Dantley will be elected, even though he couldn’t have guarded me. And there’s the problem: Once you make a mistake with one guy, it opens the door for everyone with a similar case. Pretty soon all the sports Halls will be like the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, where Robert De Niro gets a star, but so does Ryan Seacrest.
Unless we overhaul the process. Here are two scenarios for a rebirth. Feel free to choose either one.
1. An alternative Hall of Fame for each sport. You know how the Golden Globes offer a counterargument to the Emmys and Oscars? The new Halls would be like that, except they would be the ones that really matter. The goal is simple: Only the best guys get in. Membership is limited to 12 to 15 players per decade. That would separate the no-brainers (Kareem, LT, Mike Schmidt) from iffier candidates (Dominique, Troy Aikman, Bruce Sutter). If you have to consider a player’s credentials for more than a second, he’s out. If you have to make excuses for him, like “maybe he wasn’t the best, but he had 15 straight seasons in which he won 12 games or more,” he’s out. If you can reasonably compare him to multiple peers and none of them particularly stands out, they’re all out. If the guy wasn’t one of the undisputed best at his position for an extended stretch, he’s out.
2. Halls of Fame restructured like pyramids. We’ll assign each elected player to a level, with the shakiest picks (the Phil Rizzuto types) on the first floor; solid guys (the Terry Bradshaw types) on the second; no-brainers (the Wade Boggs types) on the third; defining superstars (the Tom Seaver types) on the fourth; and the pantheon guys (The Babe, MJ and the like) in the penthouse.
I once pitched this idea in a column about the Baseball Hall of Fame, but why couldn’t every sport adopt it? Imagine how fun the voting would be. And how cool the buildings would look. And the goosebumps you’d get as you climbed to the next level.
Scenario 1 probably isn’t realistic. Halls of Fame have monopolies on their sports, amassing decades and decades of mementos and collectibles. No fledgling rival could compete with the inventory. We’re stuck with the Halls we have.
But Scenario 2? It could work. Imagine the most recent inductions: Dumars is welcomed into Level 1, Nique to Level 2, Sir Charles to Level 3. It would have been fun. Instead, the three enter as equals — which is ridiculous, when you think about it — and Moncrief and DJ wonder if their day will ever come. It’s a frustrating process that makes no sense and never did. It should be fixed, and sooner rather than later. My vote is for pyramids all around. And, as a sign of good faith, I promise never to read my argument off a teleprompter.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.