Monday, September 03, 2007

OrangeHoops and The Hall of Fame

A Hall of Fame should honor the greatest of the greatest. Simply meeting a set of statistical criteria should not ‘earn’ an individual into their sport’s Hall of Fame, nor failure to reach those statistics deny them entry. Statistics should not be ignored; they are valuable and they do tell a great story when interpreted properly. But they are only one important part of the picture. Greatness is about how a player dominated a game, what he/she accomplished, and what impact they had on their game.

I would like to comment on the baseball Hall of Fame, as an example, if only because it is the Hall I am most familiar with. Bill James, the guru of all baseball sabermaticians, has written extensively about his opinions on that Hall of Fame. He believes, correctly, that Hall of Fames are ‘self-defining’. They are defined by the people enshrined in them. If Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame, then he IS a Hall of Famer. Others with similar characteristics, accomplishments, become candidates for the Hall of Fame.

What I believe happens over time is the Hall of Fame starts to water down its candidacy, as the borderline players are added, they then become the new standard for what is acceptable. People then err when comparing that player to another player, and the process keeps going down. And that is a shame.

I think the simple litmus test for deciding if a player should even be considered in the Hall of Fame is are they universally considered a great player. These are guys like Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Henry Aaron, Roger Clemens. When these people played, fans, teammates and opponents were aware these were great players.

Don Sutton was a very good pitcher for many years. He was consistently good for a long time, and ended up with a couple statistical landmark accomplishments: 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts. But I do not think Sutton should be in the Hall of Fame. And that is not meant to be a slight to be excluded. If the Hall of Fame was truly about the greatest of the greatest, you should be slighted. It is an honor to be elected; it is not a disgrace to not be there.

I was a huge Steve Garvey fan in the 1970s and 80s. He was consistently one of the best players in the National League, always getting his 200 hits and 100 rbis while hitting .300. He made the All-Star team every year, led his team to the playoffs almost every year where he always played well. He won several Gold Gloves, and he was a very popular fan. And as much as I am a Garvey fan, I do not think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was a very good player.

Nolan Ryan, who has been my favorite player since he came to prominence in the early 1970s is an interesting case. His career won-loss record belies him. But here is a man that I think if you ask any player who faced him, any fan who watched him play, they would say he is a Hall of Famer. He was dominating, unhittable (7 no-hitters), and revered. He does have 324 wins, he does have his 5714 strikeouts, the numerous complete games (222) and shutouts (61). I think he is one of those players that is clearly considered great and I would put him in the Hall of Fame. But, I can buy an argument that he may not belong. And that’s where I think the line should be drawn for the Hall of Fame; that high of a standard.

So how do you keep a Hall of Fame from getting away from the truly great? Again, I’ll steal a page from Bill James. James suggests that you limit the number of inductees into the Hall of Fame to a small fixed number of recipients, say two each year. Voters can consider any player that qualifies to vote for, and they can vote for as many as they want, and the top two get in. And if you are not one of the two best eligible for a given year, then you don’t get in that year. Each year, more players will become eligible as they have retired five years before. If you can never fall into that top 2, you don’t get in. Seems rather simple. If baseball’s Hall of Fame had used that standard since 1934, there would still be roughly 150 players in the Hall of Fame… which seems large, but actually is significantly smaller than the current Hall of Fame (280 inductees as of 2007).

Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician wrote about greatness a while back in his blog; in his context he was talking about Hall of Fames and about retiring basketball uniforms. Following his lead, I have considered creating an OrangeHoops.Org Hall of Fame. And here will be my guidelines, and I’ll explain the criteria.

Player must have last played for the Syracuse Orangemen 15+ years ago. Why this lengthy time frame? I think time provides perspective for which we can truly evaluate a player and his contributions. Carmelo Anthony had an outstanding season with Syracuse in 2002-2003, possibly the best single season a player ever had at Syracuse (I would dispute that it definitively was the best single season ever). One strong contributing factor for Anthony’s greatness is that Syracuse won the national championship that lone year. And he gets a lot of credit for it; and he should. As should his teammates. But what if Syracuse wins a national championship in 2008? Is Anthony as special now? How about if they win back to back in 2008-2009 behind Jonny Flynn? What do you think of Anthony then? So I think he need some time to go by to really evaluate a player. Does he stand the test of time?

One Induction a Year. Only one individual can be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall Of Fame each year. This helps restrict us to only great players, and we are taking only one great player a year. If there are two great players, one will have to wait until next year. If third great player comes along next year and prevents the second player from getting in again, then perhaps that second player was not as great as originally thought.

No Induction Required. There is no requirement that any individual be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame any given year. If there are no worthy candidates, then none will be named.

Anyone associated with the program is eligible. The OrangeHoops Hall of Fame will not be restricted to players. Coaches would be eligible as would assistants, trainers, athletic directors, etc.

Coaches can be inducted year after they retire. A coach can be inducted into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame the year after he retires. I think a coach that would be considered worthy for induction (aka Jim Boeheim) would have a long resume that could clearly be evaluated with the proper context immediately. Players have 1-4 seasons to prove themselves, and so time is needed to understand them. A great coach, on the other hand, would have 10 to 30 seasons, and I think a clear picture of the individual is already understood.

Inductions will occur in September. It’s the off season for basketball, and school has just restarted, so I know fans are eager for the upcoming basketball season. It just seems like the right time each year to make the announcement.

So I’ve set my rules for the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame. Who will be my inductees? I’ve decided I want to set up a charter class, and 5 seemed like a reasonable number, and it is symbolic of the number of players on a basketball court. I would have liked to have incorporated the magic #44 into it, but 44 players was too many, and I was at a loss of how else to incorporate it. Given the 15 year rule, players who finished their Syracuse career 1992 or earlier are eligible.

The 5 Initial Inductees into the OrangeHoops Hall of Fame are (in alphabetical order):

Dave Bing, Guard, 1964-1966
Derrick Coleman, Forward, 1987-1990
Sherman Douglas, Guard, 1986-1989
Vic Hanson, Forward, 1925-1927
Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington, Guard, 1984-1986

I feel these five represent the best of Syracuse University basketball. Their accomplishments are fairly well known. I’ve put the link for each to their information on OrangeHoops.org. I also think that given the time period in discussion these are the definitive top five.

2 comments:

moqui said...

I nominate Joe Schwarzer to replace Pearl in your inital 5.

If it was my blog, I'd start with an intial class of 20 or 25 - we know who the top 21 within your time range based on the SU All Century Team: http://carrierdome.syr.edu/sidebar.asp?id=133

You will have to run the blog for 20 years just to catch up with these guys. But, its your blog (and I like it very much), so you get to set your own rules.

OrangeRay said...

Moqui, I debated where to start the charter members. I wanted to keep it an elite membership. Twenty seemed too numerous for me. Basketball starts with 5 guys on the court for a team, so it seemed a good place for me to start.

I figured it would take a while for my HOF to grow, as you pointed out. If I get impatient... well, I can always change the rules I guess.

Schwarzer is an excellent candidate. I also considered Lew Andreas (coach). Roosevelt Bouie and Billy Owens also qualify.

But I figured the HOF had more importance by making sure there was a high standard, and a high standard means some great players need to still be knocking on the door.