Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Just How Much Fame Are We Talking Here?

I had my suspicions about something like this, but it seemed rather instructional.

I'm going to put you in front of four Sporcle quizzes asking you to name the players inducted into the halls of fame for baseball, football, basketball and hockey. What I will also do is give you the average score for each achieved by previous takers.

MLB: 240 names (including this year's), 20 minutes. Average score: 53%. The most commonly-answered name was identified 95.3% of the time.
NFL: 250 names (including this year's), 18 minutes. Average score: 39%. The most commonly-answered name was identified 91.1% of the time.
NHL: 259 names (as of 2013), 20 minutes. Average score: 31%. The most commonly-answered name was identified 93.7% of the time.
NBA: 163 names (as of 2013), 14 minutes. Average score: 22%. The most commonly-answered name was identified 96.5% of the time.

When you hear a debate about Hall of Fame induction procedures, usually, almost inevitably, it will be baseball's that will draw fire, and for any number of things. Who's in. Who ought to be in. Who ought to be kicked out (even though that's only happened twice total in any of the halls, and both were because they directly threatened the hall itself: Gil Stein "turned down" induction to hockey's hall once it came out that he engineered his own induction, and Alan Eagleson was removed nine years after his induction for raiding the NHLPA pension, causing 19 other Hall of Famers to threaten to resign unless Eagleson was ousted.) How the vote should be held. How many people should be going in per year. How long it should be before someone goes in- immediately? After a short delay? When they're old and grey? Posthumously?

In fact, many view the Baseball Hall of Fame's procedures as so wrongheaded and mistaken that they regard the building as broken. That it doesn't matter anymore. Bill Simmons started down this road in 1998, when Don Sutton was voted in ahead of Jim Rice (who has since been elected himself), and said as far back as 2002, "none of us really care about the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the only people who do care -- ancient baseball writers -- will be dead soon, anyway. It's almost a lost cause. Almost." In 2007, when Mark McGwire entered the fray, he graduated all the way to 'lost cause', and on the back of anger that PED candidates won't be getting in anytime soon if ever, he no longer wishes to discuss it.

But look up there. Look at those scores. That's how much of each hall that the average person can name off the top of their head. What does that tell you? It tells you that for all its pains, people still care about baseball's hall more than the others. That the people that get through that mess and get themselves a plaque have- at least for the most part- well and truly earned immortality, which is the point of a hall of fame in the first place. In fact, they care angrily, will get into heated, impassioned arguments over players that need- need- to be inducted Right Now.

Meanwhile, football's Hall of Fame arguments, when they even happen, generally revolve around positional representation (who needs more of it), or more representation for the pre-Super Bowl era. Never less. It CAN'T be less, as the bylaws require 4-7 people to go in every year, and typically the classes trend towards seven. In fact, a secondary criticism is that seven is too small. But how well do all these people really register? Are they really all the best of the best after a certain point, or do the doors get thrown open a little too far? Football is by far the most popular sport in the country. Wouldn't you think the best would be more easily recognizable? (Or alternatively, has the NFL adopted so much of a 'now' mentality that everything that isn't 'now' is quickly devoured by time, leaving fans to forget, to be encouraged to forget, anything that isn't in front of them right at that moment?)

If you don't want to do the whole suite of quizzes, let me simply it for you: name the most recent class of each. Football just got done giving everybody their busts. I'm speaking generally, so your results may vary, but: there were seven people. How many can you name? And can you name any of basketball or hockey's? But naming baseball's class is probably no big deal.

Heck, do you know anything about how basketball or hockey induct their Hall of Famers, or hear anything about it save when a particularly no-brainer inductee gets in? Again, some of you might, but we're talking generally here. Football gets 'oh, hey, how nice for those guys.' Basketball and hockey get '...meh.'  The other three are not nothing, far from it. But baseball is the only one that gets all the press, all the debate, all the anguish.

But, as the numbers show, they also get the fame.

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