Lincicome: Halls of Fame: The thrill of admittance and the agony of exclusion

  • The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

    The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Associated Press

 
Updated 12/4/2021 2:02 AM

By my rough count there are 272 sports halls of fame. This does not count walks of fame and walls of fame or show business halls of fame. In fact, the spookiest hall of fame I ever visited was the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Or maybe it was just Cleveland, which has no happy season.

When the Bowling Hall of Fame was in St. Louis I was an exhibit. Not a member, mind you, though I did once break 200 with witnesses. A column of mine about the peril of being a pin boy was framed without comment there on the wall. Whether the column traveled to Texas when they moved the hall, I have no idea.

 

I have been to Cooperstown and Canton, where baseball and football are on exhibit, and while neither needs to be a bucket list destination, if you are in the neighborhood stopping by is worth the disappointment.

There is an aura, a mystique, about Halls of Fame that is never confirmed by the actual places, which tend to be meager museums, or worse, creepy crypts housing the collected remains of wonder.

They are galleries of mementos and myth, reminders of glories gone. Yet, nothing is as disappointing as seeing yesterday's heroes gathered along Main Street in Cooperstown selling autographs and souvenirs.

Today, of course, not even the buildings are needed to honor greatness, nor to peddle merch. That's what YouTube is for.

The agony of exclusion, the ache to belong, the duty of choosing, all coincide around this time of year. Who belongs and why.

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Football seems to throw its used relics into its hall by the handful, usually at least eight, while baseball is choosier, sometimes selecting no one at all, which was the case last year.

In both cases media types do the selecting, baseball writers having the duty while football uses one writer per team and others of interest. Baseball has roughly 10 times the voters as football.

Football has reduced its list from 122 eligibles to 26 "semifinalists" and will get to 15 before the final choices to be announced at the next Super Bowl. Of local interest is Devin Hester, a shiny gem for the Bears, but unlikely to get the final nod.

I never voted for the football hall, but I did lobby friends who had votes to consider Dan Hampton when it seemed to me Hampton was being overlooked. Don't know if it helped, but there he is.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I had a baseball vote for 27 years and took the obligation seriously, arguing whenever I could for Pete Rose, flawed as he was and is, but no more so than many members. I would make the same case for Joe Jackson, banned with Rose from all consideration.

Lawrence Taylor, the old Giant and reckless human, berated journalists in anticipation of being held to a higher standard than his judges. "If they don't vote me in, they need to close the place down," Taylor said. He was voted in on the first ballot.

Baseball offers 30 choices on this year's ballot, 17 holdovers and 13 first timers, the question remaining, as it has for the last decade, what to do with those players linked to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs)?

That would include most notably Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, each in his last year of eligibility, as well as Curt Schilling, a different case altogether but in no case Hall of Fame worthy.

Sosa will never make the Hall, his votes diminishing since he first became eligible, while Bonds and Clemens have crept slowly toward the 75% of votes required. I voted for Bonds and Clemens every time I could, and even once for Sosa.

I think of them as the crew of Apollo 13, close enough to touch the moon but destined to never get there. All three will fade without approval, left to veteran committees to consider.

Replacing them will be Alex Rodriquez and David Ortiz, each with similar PED issues, with impressive careers, and now with 10 years to be considered. But if consistency matters they will and should float somewhere below approval.

Halls of Fame, all of them, from football to fly casting, perpetuate the myths that encourage self-importance and entitlement. Anyone designated as special expects special consideration, further exaggerating a sense of immunity from the laws and petty nuisances the rest of us put up with.

The best way to look at any hall of fame is as Groucho Marx might. He could not, he said, belong to any club that would have him as a member.

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