Future Hall of Fame denials
(I wrote this on commission for a different media outlet, but they sat on it until it wasn’t fresh. So, like day-old bakery goods, I present it slightly stale – but free – for your enjoyment)
At long last, Hall of Fame decisions look like theyâ€™re now based as much on suspicion and petty motives as merit. Finally! Every year, we have tiresome debates over who sports decide to honor. Was Bert Blyleven great, or just really good for a long time? Can one wide receiver be elected over another based on their performance in three playoff games? Can a great point guard make his team better in ways that donâ€™t show up in the statistics and, if so, how should their contributions be considered in thinking about their worthiness for the Basketball Hall of Fame?
Boooooooooooooring. Letâ€™s get to the juicy gossip, the personal axe-grinding, the knife in the back. And the sooner the better.
A survey conducted by the Associated Press found that of voters â€œone in four who gave an opinion plan to vote for McGwire this year.â€ McGwireâ€™s being punished for not denying steroid use, like angry finger-pointer Rafael Palmeiro. For some, heâ€™s being punished for admitting steroid use. And yet McGwire never failed a drug test, and the closest thing to evidence against him is Jose Caseco stories — and Canseco initially denied that a home run bounced off his head.
If suspicion and resentment can keep a 12-time All-Star from serious consideration in the Hall of Fame voting, whatâ€™s next? Hereâ€™s how future elections will play out for ten deserving Hall of Fame players.
The first election swayed by personal reasons not related to baseballâ€™s drug problems comes in 2008, when all-time great Rickey Henderson is left off most ballots.
â€œCanâ€™t Rickey write Rickey in his own Rickey self?â€ said one voter. â€œOh man, that cracks me up.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know, didnâ€™t he say something dumb once?â€ another voter said. â€œHe stole some base and said â€˜Now Rickey be the greatestâ€™ and pointed at Lou Brock in the stands, didnâ€™t he?â€
â€œWhat?â€ a startled Henderson said when asked for comment. â€œI didnâ€™t say that! Or do that! And Lou was there, I went over the speech with him! Where does this stuff come from?â€
Henderson is forced to hire a public relations firm, send out videos of the actual speech, and finally, accompanied by Lou Brock, visit each voter at their home or work to clear up common misperceptions using a 30m audiovisual presentation followed by a question-and-answer session.
â€œI could have sworn someone told me talked to himself or something,â€ a chastised voter said after his visit. â€œBut he never referred to himself in the third person at all when he came over.â€
But steroids returned to the forefront in 2012, when despite having over 350 wins and nearly 5,000 career strikeouts, Roger Clemens is denied election. Anonymous voters say they never got over the suspicion raised when Clemens was named in the 2006 Jason Grimsley deposition, and combined with his surprising effectiveness into his forties, they felt his career was â€œfishyâ€, even though Grimsleyâ€™s charges were never substantiated and Clemens never failed a drug test.
A furious Clemens declared that at 49, he would make a comeback and prove, once and for all, that he isnâ€™t human and doesnâ€™t age. Though initially the subject of jokes, twelve teams tender him a contract. Clemens goes 15-3 with a 2.90 ERA, wins the National League Cy Young Award and is named the Comeback Player of the Year. Clemens, still simmering, retires again and in 2018 a still-terrified electorate votes unanimously to induct Clemens, and asks if he would please stop glaring at them.
Ron Artest, meanwhile, surprised analysts when he cruised into the NBA Hall of Fame. Voters expressed sympathy with his anti-fan actions. â€œI couldnâ€™t tell you how many times Iâ€™ve wanted to charge through the phone and strangle some reader who calls me up to tell me Iâ€™m a moron,â€ a West Coast beat writer said. â€œI donâ€™t even care that he went after an innocent fan. Theyâ€™re not that innocent. Good for him. Put a little fear into the rabble. Oh, Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™re going to yell at me, tell me Artest wasnâ€™t good enough to vote for, and Iâ€™ll stand there and imagine him charging after them in the stands… yeah, thatâ€™s nice.â€
The next year, things got even stranger. Greg Maddux doesnâ€™t just miss induction despite his stellar career, but almost drops out of consideration entirely when unsourced reports circulate before 2014 balloting alleging that he doctored balls using brother Mikeâ€™s moustache wax during the early 1990s.
Retired center Shaquille Oâ€™Neal is lambasted by the press and voters alike when, only a month before balloting, he scores an even 400 points, collects 92 rebounds and blocks 87 shots in an interdepartmental charity police basketball game between Shaqâ€™s own Miami Beach and neighboring Fort Lauderdale. â€œThere was no need to run up the score so badly,â€ one voter said. â€œThatâ€™s just showboating, and disgraces our sport.â€
Shaq was placed on administrative leave by his department for use of excessive force in both his rejections and dunks, but returned to active duty within a few weeks and was elected a year later when the incident was covered up.
Brett Favre fails to be elected to the Hall of Fame the same year when voters, confused by his Prilosec ads, ask their doctors if voting for Brett Favre is right for them.
Then in 2014, Ray Lewis is elected to Canton in his second year of eligibility. â€œLewis was a dominant linebacker and won a Super Bowl,â€ a voter said. â€œSure, he was charged with murder in 2000, but he only pled guilty to obstruction of justice. Itâ€™d be different if we thought heâ€™d killed someone but we didnâ€™t have any evidence. Then thereâ€™s no way Iâ€™d vote for him.â€
Skip ahead to the strangeness of 2020. Tom Brady is denied election after a votersâ€™ cousinâ€™s uncle complains that he didnâ€™t get the outstanding service Brady was claimed heâ€™d receive at a Boston-area car dealership. Brady offers to reimburse anyone who had a bad experience at a car dealership he did any kind of commercial for, and ends up having to hock his Super Bowl rings when angry Chevy owners sue him because their trucks played a loop of â€œMy Countryâ€ continually and could not turned off or even muted, making them unsellable. In his induction speech at Canton, Brady makes a point to curse out both Chevy and John Mellancamp over his newfound poverty.
Peyton Manning, meanwhile, is also rejected the same year despite his long record of regular season success. Rumors circulate that the constant exposure to initially amusing commercials that through repetition quickly turned into grating, unbearable torture so annoyed voters that they were willing to overlook his impressive career achievements in order to get him back. .
Tim Duncan is turned away from the basketball Hall of Fame. A survey of voters indicates that they found the center â€œtoo cleanâ€ to the point of suspicion. â€œGuys like that, quiet, kind, never attracts a lot of attention, they all turn out to be serial killers or something,â€ one voter said. â€œDuncanâ€™s hiding something, I can feel it.â€
â€œIf thatâ€™s how people feel, thatâ€™s how they feel,â€ Duncan said at an impromptu press conference at his home, before stabbing 14 reporters to death with a pen. â€œI just played the best I could and hoped that Iâ€™d be recognized for my accomplishments.â€
Duncan is elected next year by surviving voters, reassured that now they know the whole story.
But the most dramatic incident of all will come in 2025, when Albert Pujols misses election to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot when itâ€™s revealed that he consistently voted for gray-and-white kittens on Kittenwar.com over other kinds of adorable kittens. His ugly prejudice revealed, Pujols issues a public apology in which he admits that while he holds a special place in his heart for grey and white kittens, he loves kittens and puppies of all colors and breeds. The voters say â€œAwww,â€ in unison and elect him with an extra-fuzzy 150% of the vote the next year.
Oh, you may think Iâ€™m joking. But is this any more laughable than the Judge Dredd imitation the baseball voters are already doing with real ballots, real players, and the wisps of suspicion and doubt?