There are four things you can count on at the start of a new calendar year: a never-ending stream of ridiculously-named bowl games -- like the "San Diego County Credit Union Poinsetta Bowl," a regular season hockey game that's actually worth watching, the absolute worst movies Hollywood can produce, and the announcement of the Baseball Hall of Fame's newest inductees. Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven are expected to get in this year, since both fell by less than a dozen votes in 2010, and Rafael Palmeiro will make his first appearance on the ballot and may or may not finish with fewer votes than Mark McGwire.
The MLB Hall of Fame is by no means perfect. Lee Smith, who retired with the most saves in history, will never even sniff Cooperstown, nor will players like Harold Baines, Tim Raines or Fred McGriff, whose stats are at least comparable to other Hall of Famers. And that's not even including the Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosas of the world, whose implication in steroid use could put them on a perennial waiting list with Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.
The announcement of baseball's immortals has often been met with controversy, especially now, when the people getting in are debatable, borderline inductees such as Gary Carter, Jim Rice and Andre Dawson. But in a way, it's the controversy associated with baseball's Hall that makes their selection process all the more compelling. People will wonder if this is the year that so-and-so will get in, and argue that he should have been in years ago, and that that other player isn't nearly as good because his WHIP was too low or his batting average stunk. Add to all that the 15-year limit players are allowed to be on the ballot, and you have a system where attention is paid to the balloting both before and after the voting, so that no one slips through the cracks. This is why even though the NFL is twice as popular as Major League Baseball, getting into Cooperstown is still a bigger deal than getting into Canton.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, where the NBA sends its greatest players, has much to learn from Major League Baseball's.
In the basketball Hall of Fame, the voting is done completely anonymously, meaning -- unlike with football and baseball -- you never get to find out who voted for who, even after the process is complete. And where over 100 people vote for baseball's, and 44 vote for football's, only 32 people vote for Naismith's. And since there is no time limit with basketball's, so long as the screening committee continues to nominate someone, a situation exists where the selection committee has almost no incentive to vote differently at any time.
There are two reasons why this is terrible. The first is that because of the way the process is set up, great players will often wait for years and years, and sometimes decades, before getting into the Hall of Fame. Earl Lloyd, who in 1950 became the first black player in NBA history, didn't get in until 2003 -- 53 years later. Gus Johnson, the ABA star who last played in the NBA in 1973, didn't get in until last year. Dennis Johnson, Artis Gilmore, Chet Walker and Bernard King are still waiting, as are several coaches such as Don Nelson and Jerry Sloan.
The other is that the Hall is missing on a golden opportunity to gain publicity from its voting announcement. It'd be nice to see how many ballots Dikembe Mutombo and Dennis Rodman and Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning and Chris Webber will appear on, rather than just learning that they've been denied. Without any sort of discussion or controversy, there's no buzz when Naismith releases its newest members. The Baseball Hall of Fame gets more legs from it's almost-sorta members like Jack Morris and Barry Larkin than it does from it's automatic no-brainers. With basketball, it's nothing but.
And then there's another problem with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which aims to be the all-encompassing Hall of Fame of basketball. It's a novel ideal in theory, but a failure in reality since the Hall of Famers from the other fields of basketball, like women's hoops, college, and international hoops are placed on the same ballot at the same time. This creates a scenario like in 2005, when Dominique Wilkins -- then the ninth-leading scorer in NBA history -- somehow failed to get in, but Hortencia de Fatima Marcari, an international female player, did. And because equal, and maybe even more attention is paid to college coaches than NBA coaches, there's still a chance that someone like Rick Pitino, who was a failure in the pros, could one day wind up in the same Hall of Fame -- and receive the same honor -- as Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach.
Maybe back in the day, when there weren't legions of Hall of Fames like there are now, having one giant one was a good idea. But nowadays, an international basketball Hall of Fame exists, as does one for women's basketball and college basketball. By trying to combine everything, the Naismith Hall of Fame takes the perspective out of every inductee by trying to give them the same respect. Being an NBA Hall of Famer is by far the greatest, most difficult honor a basketball player could receive, and it deserves to be separate from the other categories. It should really just be the NBA Hall of Fame, and cut out all the politically-correct piggybacking -- especially when it comes to electing players from foreign basketball leagues. Electing Hortencia Marcari to the Naismith Hall of Fame is like electing Hank Aaron to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, or as it's known over there, the "Yakyū Taiiku Hakubutsukan." At the end of the day it just doesn't make sense.