One of the more popular and most intensely argued sports debates that happen every couple of weeks, it seems, is the debate over who’s a Hall of Famer and who isn’t. No matter the sport, this is a conversation that can go on for hours, whether it’s happening on TV, radio, or in the barbershop.
But what is a Hall of Famer? Is consistency combined with longevity enough? It feels like each sport/league is viewed differently by voters. NFL and MLB voters have always felt a little more rigid in handing out votes for the hall. Basketball can be all over the map with its generalized Hall of Fame, considering what players did in their career starting at the collegiate level. The NBA needs its own damn Hall of Fame already. Add the WNBA to that as well. They’ve been around long enough now to warrant this.
Concerning who makes it and who doesn’t, this can sometimes be baffling. For some players, it takes so many tries it makes you wonder. Take a player like Harold Baines. Baines played 22 MLB seasons on five teams, retiring after the 2001 campaign. Baines was a six-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger award winner, and he hit .289 for his career. Even with those accolades (and more), Baines sat sidelined for nearly 20 years awaiting his HOF invite. It finally happened for him in 2019, when he was finally voted in by the Veterans Committee.
Baines is only one of many examples we’ve seen over the years. The NFL has its similarities to MLB, with players who were very good for a long time but never stars. I saw a post on Twitter recently that gave a comparison of two former NFL players. Both played the linebacker position, and one is already in the HOF, while the other posted similar career statistics.
Looking at this graphic, you’d think London Fletcher had nearly as successful a career on the field as Ray Lewis. This is not meant to disparage Fletcher’s career, since he was a good player for a long time. But the stats listed in the graphic don’t tell the entire story. Ray Lewis was a seven-time first-team All-Pro and a 12-time Pro Bowl selection. Lewis also won Defensive Player of the Year twice. Fletcher was named to four Pro Bowl teams, which is excellent, but probably not enough for the HOF. And if it is enough, he’ll be waiting a long time before it happens.
I’ll go back to my question about consistency and longevity equaling HOF worthiness. Just being consistent and playing a long time isn’t good enough to make the hall. Well, in basketball, it is, but in the NFL and MLB, it seems rare. After all, it is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. Some outstanding players haven’t quite measured up to the best of the best. That is what a HOF is supposed to be, right? Some players who had great careers end up waiting years to get into the Hall for their respective sport. Most people who watched Terrell Owens’ career feel he should’ve been a first-ballot selection, but it took him three tries. He then declined and held his own ceremony. But there’s no way Owens was supposed to wait three years to be voted in.
When Philip Rivers is eligible in a few years, there will be a huge debate over his HOF credentials and whether he accomplished enough in his career. Rivers had a very nice 17-year career, passing for over 63,000 yards, throwing 421 touchdown passes, and earning eight Pro Bowl selections. But Rivers never appeared in any Super Bowls and was never a first-team All-Pro. Obviously, Rivers compiled some great numbers (as did many QBs in his era). But winning big games counts for a lot when it comes to quarterbacks. Rivers didn’t do enough of that.
Meanwhile, Eli Manning, a contemporary of Rivers who will always be linked with him after their 2004 draft-day trade, doesn’t have the same flashy numbers. Manning even had two seasons where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and led the NFL in interceptions three times during his career. But what Eli does have going for him is his two Super Bowl rings, which he earned with two legendary Super Bowl performances, and two Super Bowl MVP awards to show for it. Plus, Manning and the Giants denied the Patriots in both of his Super Bowl victories. Manning is an interesting case. Based on the Super Bowls plus beating New England both times, I think Eli will be voted into the HOF. I doubt Manning will make it on the first ballot, but the second or third is within reach.
Overall, I feel like HOFs should be reserved for the very best each sport has to offer. But I also get that human error is a factor and different voters have differing opinions on what they consider great. For the most part, I can say that the NFL and MLB get it right most of the time. And for the love of all that’s sacred, the NBA needs to stop with the shenanigans. Create your own HOF based on what your players did during their careers in your league. Let’s get into the game NBA. Everyone’s ready for it.