February 2, 2009
By Charles Cuttone
Voting for Hall of Famers a tough process
Last year, when no one among ďmodern eraĒ players was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame , many of my colleagues railed about the process. There were a number of deserving candidates, but none got the required 75% of the vote from the members of the media who make up the voting panel.
The Hall, a bit embarrassed that no one was elected, changed the voting requirement to 66.7% of the vote for admission. This year former U.S. Womenís National Teamer Joy Fawcett and menís National Team and former MLS defender Jeff Agoos made the Hall, barely, with vote totals narrowly exceeding the 66.7% threshold. Missing out were Preki Radosavljevic, who had just over 60% of the vote, and Thomas Dooley, with a little over 50%.
But even with the lowered threshold, no one was elected this year in the Builders category or the Veteran Player category, which is mostly players from the NASL days. In that voting, no one even came close. Former national team coaches Bruce Arena and Bob Gansler were the top two vote getters in the Builders category, while Kyle Rote, Jr. and Glenn Myernick were the top vote getters among the Veteran Players. Passed over were international stars George Best and Teofilo ďNeneĒ Cubillas, who both played in the NASL.
Had the Hall not changed its process, it would have been faced with no inductions at all this year, not a savory prospect for an institution that is trying to attract crowds to its $6 million facility.
But, by lowering its standards, the hall cheapened the honor associated with membership. Iím not saying Agoos and Fawcett did not deserve entry. Itís just that, if induction is going to have any true meaning, the Hall of Fame needs to be an elite club. Thatís the way it is in baseball.
My esteemed colleague Michael Lewis thinks the problem lies in who casts the votes. That could be. I am not sure exactly who else is on the writerís voting panel. Michael is, I am. The Veteranís and Builderís panel is made up of members of the Hall of Fame, as well as a select group of executives who vote in the Builderís category.
In baseball, a writer has to have been a member of the Baseball Writers Association for at least ten years, which limits the voting pool to writers who have been carefully vetted by their peers and work for an approved media outlet as a baseball beat writer, columnist, baseball feature writer or editor. The membership standards are specific, and strictly enforced. The Baseball Writers Association even has a say in who is and is not admitted to Major League press boxes to cover games.
That has never been the case in soccer. In soccer there have been two associations, neither one of which carried much weight within the sport or were particularly selective in their membership. I paid my first dues in 1979. I am not a member of the current association, because I just donít see the point. Iíve been around long enough that I can have an opinion on the modern players as well as those from the NASL era, but I donít have a vote in that part of the election.
I think the bigger part of the problem with voting for a hall of famer in soccer is the sport itself, specifically its lack of a coherent historical timeline in the United States.
While itís difficult to compare eras in any sport, at least there is some continuity and an order to other sports.
Babe Ruth was followed by Hank Aaron. Lou Gehrig by Cal Ripken. Gordie Howe by Wayne Gretzky and Sammie Baugh by Joe Namath and Joe Montana.
You can look in any baseball record book and compare players, identifying the greatest players in each eras and at least making an educated comparison of one playerís career to another or to those playing at the same time in the sportís history.
Itís not that easy in soccer. The NASL era players are now part of the veteranís committee. But how do we compare Preki to Giorgio Chinaglia? Jeff Agoos to Bobby Smith or Werner Roth?
Pro careers are taken into account. So is national team duty. Many players have played in foreign leagues, others in the various incarnations of indoor soccer leagues.
How do you compare a player like Fawcett, who competed for so long on the national team, to others? Is it other U.S. National Team players? Against other players in the world? Thatís what makes the vote tough. Many writers who cover MLS do not cover the womenís national team, except maybe for big events. Some of us cover everything, but certain parts of the game more closely than others.
In soccer like in other sports, players are on the ballot for multiple years. Just last month, baseball slugger Jim Rice was elected to the hall in his 15th and last time on the ballot. Rickey Henderson on his first. Is one more a Hall of Famer that the other? It just seems like Riceís credentials had to grow on the writers, maybe pass the test of time or the comparison to players from more modern eras, of which there have easily been two since Rice retired 20 years ago.
The Soccer Hall of Fame is a relatively young institution when compared to other sports. Itís needs to have patience with the process, accept the fact that some years there may be no inductees, and continue to hope that the voters get it right.