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The Hall of Fame, From Scratch

Because of all the angst about this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, there have been a lot of words spilled trying to fix the process. I’m one of many who have suggested that, at the bare minimum, they need to expand the ballot to cover more than 10 slots. Others have offered their own suggestions, from changing the electorate to more clearly defining a player’s eligibility.

There are a lot of interesting opinions out there for ways to improve the Hall of Fame, but they generally start with the premise of tweaking the established methodology. Sometimes, though, I think it’s useful to think about changes without considering what is already in place, to ask yourself what you would do if you could just start from scratch. So, let’s do that with the Hall of Fame.

What would the Hall of Fame look like if we were building it anew in 2013? I’m sure it would be different for each of us. Maybe you’d move it to another location, where it could be more easily accessible to the public at large? Or maybe you’d pick a set proportion of each generation to be represented, so that each age of baseball was equally represented? There are a lot of practical changes you could make that would make the Hall of Fame very different than what it is now.

For, me, though, there’s one thing that stands above the rest as a way to make the Hall more interesting, and to settle most of the problems we have with the enshrinement process as it currently stands; a tiered Hall of Fame.

This isn’t an original idea, as many others have suggested it before me. Bill Simmons wrote about building an actual pyramid back in 2002. Here’s a Book Blog post from 2008 with a similar idea. I even mentioned the idea in passing at the end of an article from last year. It’s an idea that was originated by others, but one in which I am happy to continue promoting, because it gets at the very heart of what I see as the major issue with today’s Hall of Fame discussions; the binary nature of a yes/no decision.

No one sees baseball players in a two bin format when they play. These “great” or “not great enough” distinctions only come into account when their careers are over, and we’re trying to draw a straight line to dissect things that are best accounted for with curves. By forcing a decision down to just in or out, we lose all the subtlety with which humans actually think, and more importantly, the Hall of Fame loses the ability to tell the next generation of fans the reality of each player’s standing in the game’s great history.

Babe Ruth and Jim Rice are not equals, but in Cooperstown, they both have a plaque of equal size. That’s nice for Jim Rice’s friends and family, but it isn’t a representation of their place in baseball history. And, first and foremost, the Hall of Fame is baseball’s museum. It’s where you should go to see baseball’s history come alive. And then, when it comes to the plaque room, history gives way to equality, but that equality doesn’t represent reality.

So, instead of a yes/no decision, I’d center my Hall of Fame around the concept of tiers. Instead of Simmons multi-level Egyptian architecture, I’d settle for a series of rooms, each slightly smaller than the previous one. A suggested order:

The Great Accomplishment Room

Roger Maris would have ended up here for hitting 61 home runs and standing as the Home Run Champ for so long. Jack Morris could have a plaque here, for his epic Game 7 performance in the 1991 World Series. Bobby Thompon, for “The Shot Heard Round The World”. Any pitcher who threw a Perfect Game would get remembered here. Let’s honor the great moments of the sport, but honor those who performed them specifically for those great moments.

The Longevity Room

Some guys stick around long enough to earn recognition for their achievements, even if they never reached a level of greatness that we usually associate with the Hall of Fame. Omar Vizquel, for instance, is worth remembering, even if he was never anything close to the best player on his own team. Guys who reach milestone numbers, such as achieving 3,000 hits, could be enshrined in the game’s history for achieving a level of consistency and longevity that deserves recognition.

The Fleeting Stars Room

Dale Murphy, come on down. For a period of time, he really was one of the best players in the game. That he didn’t last as an elite player doesn’t eliminate the value he accrued during his prime. Guys who shine bright, but burn out too soon, deserve some recognition for their great years. Giving them their own space, and recognizing those who made a name for themselves in a short period of time, only makes baseball’s history richer.

The All Around Room

Those who combine multiple qualities of the first three rooms, providing both longevity and greatness, and are easily recognized as players whose entire careers stand as examples of what a Hall of Fame player should be. Both great and lasting, with memorable moments and the kind of reputation that earns you a spot in Cooperstown today. On this year’s ballot, that’s guys like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Curt Schilling.

The Inner Room

The best of the best. All-time greats only. The icons of the sport. The room that every great player dreams of ending up in. Ruth. Mays. Mantle. Aaron. Williams. A room to really celebrate those who were the heros of their time.

The ballot would allow the voters to select the appropriate room for each player. It would reflect the differences in career types, while also allowing the museum itself to honor the variety of player types that populate the sport. And, instead of arguing yes or no, in or out, we could focus on the merits of the actual players and performances themselves.

That’s my ideal Hall of Fame revamp. What’s yours?