I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about the Hall of Fame, mostly in baseball however. The newest additions to Cooperstown were introduced this past Sunday, so obviously the issue is relevant. But, even if the festivities had not just occurred, it would still be hard not to think about the subject because it seems as if most media outlets covering baseball are always weighing in on the subject. The Steroids Era has ushered in a new wave of commentary on the subject, but even before McGwire, Sosa and Bonds' assault on the record books, pundits, journalists, and fans alike seemingly loved to discuss the merits of eligible candidates for the HOF.
Which brings us to the question at hand: why is it that Cooperstown is such a guarded and revered place, while Canton is not? Sure, plenty of people inside the game care about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I don't hear or read nearly as much banter about the merits of potential inductees. Why?
For one thing, the game and history of baseball is predicated on stats far more than is football. It's hard to compare football players' numbers from previous generations to today's players because the game truly is different. It's not just the size of the players either. The game, the rules, the strategies all differ greatly to the product that was produced in previous decades.
Has baseball changed too? It absolutely has, and in many of the same ways. However, the benchmark numbers that keep track of performance have not changed much. We revere the historic numbers of the game of baseball far more than we do for football. 10,000 career rushing yards does not carry the same historical significance as 500 career home runs (at least 500, non-juiced HRs).
Similarly, Manning's historic season in 2004 did not conjure up nearly the interest as McGwire and Bonds's historic single season accomplishments. I doubt anybody outside of New England could cough up Brady's statistics during his three Super Bowl years, yet we all recognize him as a legendary performer who one day will be in the Hall. In other words, it seems we care about team performance far more than we do individual. For example, Art Monk, who caught the second most balls in NFL history, is not in the Hall of Fame. In addition to his remarkable individual accomplishments, he won a Super Bowl, so it's hard to argue he toiled away exclusive in anonymity. Why then is he not in? I'm not sure, but I am sure that it's not the subject of vigorous debate.
Good at catching passes. Less good at fueling heated debates.
I'm well aware that the NFL has surpassed MLB in terms of popularity, especially on television, so it's not as if we as fans don't care about the game like we do baseball. However, many NFL fans, I'd argue, are recent converts to the game, whereas many baseball fans are lifers. Sure most kept an eye on the NFL in the `80s and early `90s, but the love affair America currently has with the NFL is far greater than it was years ago. For this reason, I just don't think NFL fans have as strong a grasp on the history of the game as do most baseball fans. There's a smaller sample in our memory banks with which to compare players; this puts a damper on our ability to discuss HOF credentials as intelligently and as rigorously as we do for baseball.
This is all leading up to a discussion this afternoon of whether Jerome Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame. I believe he does, but if Art Monk does not, you never know.