The Stanley Cup on display in the Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
There are a lot of critics out there lampooning the Baseball Hall of Fame’s induction process, yet it’s still a far better system than the one used in hockey.
That’s because the baseball process is relatively transparent. We’re told who’s eligible and we see the voting results. We may not always agree with what the baseball writers decide as a group, but at least there’s discussion, debate and interest.
If only it worked that way at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The June announcement for hockey is always so dry and dictatorial. Let’s compare the two.
In baseball, 539 writers can vote for up to 10 Hall-eligible candidates. At least 75 percent approval is needed to get in and five percent to remain on the ballot the next year.
In hockey, there are 18 members on the selection committee and at least 75 percent approval (14 votes) is needed for a player to get inducted.
I have no quibble with the difference in the makeup of the panel. The members of hockey’s selection committee are all highly qualified former players, executives or established members of the media. In fact, I’d rather have that than leave it in the hands of the media, many of which are credible, but some not so much.
I do like the larger sample group in baseball, though. In hockey, all it takes is for a few committee members to have a grudge against a former player and that player isn’t going to get in.
In baseball, we see a complete listing of all the first-time eligible players, plus the holdovers. So you can actually track progress from year to year.
Take this year’s inductee, Andre Dawson, for example. He was first eligible in 2002 and picked up 45.3 percent of the vote. In years following, his percentage went from 50 to 50 to 52.3 to 61 to 56.7 to 65.9 to 67 to 77.9 this year.
Bert Blyleven came oh-so-close this year at 74.2 percent. His numbers have gradually risen in the 14 years he’s been up for consideration. Regardless of whether or not you think Dawson or Blyleven should be in, it’s a sport watching the process and the results.
In hockey, we’re told who got in and nothing else.
Hockey made the switch to this cloak of complete secrecy in 1999 when a former player who didn’t quite make the cut complained and said it was an embarrassment to have his name besmirched as not good enough for the Hall.
I’ve never quite understood how a player can play 1,000 games in front of thousands of spectators, some of whom are booing him, then call it an embarrassment because he wasn’t quite bestowed with hockey’s ultimate honor.
But the Hall caved anyway and now we don’t find out anything other than who got it. Is that important, you ask? Not critical, but fans of players such as Pavel Bure or Doug Gilmour or Dino Ciccarelli or Mike Richter or Adam Oates would love to know if they were close to making it when they became first-time eligible. As it stands now, we don’t even learn if they were nominated.
In a world of mass marketing and a growing number of entertainment alternatives all trying to grab a share of the consumer dollar/interest, the Hockey Hall of Fame is moving backwards because its selection committee has zero sense of promotional acumen.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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