Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Something I won't miss about Hall of Fame voting season

One of the standard arguments pulled out by old-school voter types when they're justifying their Hall of Fame votes is "I saw this guy play and you didn't, and I know what a Hall of Famer looks like." This is often phrased as "I saw this guy play while you were being pantsed in gym class by the cool kids, so suck it, nerds", but hey, polite discourse and professionalism is what these guys are all about, right?
Anyway, as long as we're talking Hall of Fame, as opposed to Hall of Strictly Analytical Selection - to which, incidentally, I am strenuously opposed - there's a place for "You had to be there" in the discussion. Maybe not an exclusive place. Maybe not a decisive place, but a place. Because, hey, there's that whole magical narrative thing going on, and there's something to be said for indelible moments and rising to the occasion, and so on and so forth - if it's stated in a way that isn't sneeringly condescending.
But there are two problems, above and beyond the obvious, with this approach. One is that while you may have seen a guy, a lot of the rest of us saw him too, and we may not agree on what we saw. You see Jack Morris and see a bulldog, an ace, a winner. I saw Jack Morris as a leaner Rick Reuschel, a guy who was always good but rarely great, and who got lit up far more often than an ace should.
The other, of course, is that different players look like Hall of Famers to different observers. To the young me, who watched every Phillies game he could, Greg Luzinski was way more "feared" than Jim Rice ever could be. Garry Maddox was the greatest centerfielder who ever lived - two thirds of the Earth was covered by water, and the rest by Gary Maddox. Ask me who I think is a Hall of Famer based on long-ago observations, and you'll get responses that would make Jay Jaffe's hair curl.
Which is why, ultimately, the "I saw him and you didn't" defense is hooey. You saw him, sure. Maybe I did, too. Maybe I saw different things than you did. But don't you dare tell me that only your hazy memories of youthful heroes are a noble and unbiased standard, to which all the giants of a younger day can be held.
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