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Is it time for a Hall of Fame for Irish sport?

Should we copy the system used in the US to honour our sporting legends, asks Andrew McGeady.

Tears roll down the cheeks of former Montreal Expos star Andre Dawson as the Washington Nationals honor his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame last August.
Tears roll down the cheeks of former Montreal Expos star Andre Dawson as the Washington Nationals honor his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame last August.
Image: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/Press Association Images

ONE OF THE interesting whimsies of stateside sports is their love of Halls of Fame (yes, with capital letters).

There is a Hall of Fame for the NFL (Canton, Ohio), the NBA (Springfield, Mass.), the NHL (Toronto, Canada) and almost every other sport of which you could think, whether at professional, college or amateur level.

The major omission from the above paragraph is the granddaddy of them all: the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Located in Cooperstown in upstate New York, the MLB Hall of Fame is an institution which inspires almost religious fervour.  At no time does this fervour come bubbling to the surface more than when the annual voting is underway for the next new Hall members, the 2011 results of which were announced today.

There are Halls of Fame on this side of the water also, but they are pale imitations.  How many people know, let alone care, that there is an IRFU Hall of Fame, or one for the GAA?  With regard to the latter, it’s not easy to even find reference to it on the GAA website.

English soccer’s Hall of Fame is part of the National Football Museum, but it’s hardly one of the ‘must see’ items on the average footie fan’s trip to the UK.

After Thanksgiving each year the more than 500 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) are sent ballots by post which they complete with up to 10 choices and return.

Any player whose name appears on at least 75% is deemed elected, with the ceremony to be held later in the year.

It is worth noting that, unlike the Premier League’s Hall effort, a Major League ballplayer must wait five years after his retirement from the game until he might be deemed eligible to be on the Hall ballot.

This period, entirely sensibly, affords time for perspective and context to be applied to a player’s career.

The voting for the 2011 Hall class has provoked, just like every year, fevered debate on media both new and old, from blogs to Twitter to Facebook to ESPN and the New York Times.  Columns are posted by curmudgeonly old hacks, smooth media talking heads as well as spotty little oiks, all arguing fervently for why their guys should be voted in.

Generations of fans argue at home and in bars, quoting statistics and stories to back up their argument as to why Player A was a sure-fire-Hall-of-Famer and why Player B was a bum.

The details of their arguments and the players involved are, for now, not important.  The point is that all are equally passionate about the Hall and its importance to the history of the game.

New names

Today, the lucky names announced for 2011 were those of second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven.

Robbie Alomar is considered one of the finest all-round keystone men to have played the game, winning multiple World Series rings in Toronto and forming one of the great double-play combos, along with Omar Vizquel, for the Cleveland Indians.

Blyleven, who struck out the fifth-most number of batters in baseball history, pitched most of his career with the Minnesota Twins; his Hall case has been the centre of often furious, sometimes spiteful debate between those who viewed him as being good for a long time but not of Hall standard, and those who perceived his career as having been woefully underappreciated both while he was still playing and for some time afterwards.

While nobody gives a hoot about who are in the Halls of Fame over here, after today’s announcement hundreds of columns are, as we speak, being written about how players who haven’t got in.

Writers will rage at how fine fellows such as Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell have been screwed; that it’s a travesty how they aren’t
being welcomed into the Hall along with Robbie (2nd time of asking) and Bert (14th time).

In a while, the fury will desist and it will be back to the Hot Stove League, pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training and, before you know it, Opening Day will be here again and all will look forward expectantly to a long summer of baseball.

The MLB Hall of Fame and its annual vote enables players from the past to be brought to life.  A museum, such as the GAA’s fine example in Croke Park, does not achieve the same goal.  The MLB Hall of Fame vote inspires passion each and every year, with the amount of interest in the game and its history getting its due bump accordingly.

More than that, items used during particularly historic moments, such as a uniform from a pitcher’s perfect game, might be sent for by Cooperstown to include in an exhibit.

This makes it a constantly evolving history of the game, not a collection of objects becoming ever-dustier. And that’s the beauty of it.

Maybe this can’t be recreated here – we don’t have the same inherent love for statistics for a start – but we can surely get the basics right.  An annual vote with players not eligible for a good amount of time after they’ve retired; that seems like a good start to me.  It won’t be a huge success initially, but if it’s kept up along with a suitable exhibition-style museum which can attract visitors, who knows where it might lead.

Kudos to Alomar, to Blyleven and to Cooperstown.

About the author:

Andrew McGeady

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