clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A great player should make the Hall of Fame based on performance, not personality or morals

What makes a Hall of Fame player? Stats are one measure. The eye test and his impact on the game and his era are another. But what about personality and off-the-field problems? Should they really keep a player out of the Hall of Fame?

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Tom Barrasso, a long-time NHL goaltender who won two Stanley Cups as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early-’90s, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame last week.

It was a long time coming for Barrasso, whose personal accomplishments include winning the Vezina Trophy in 1984 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. In case you don’t know what the Vezina Trophy is, it’s annually awarded to the NHL’s top goalie. In addition to that, Barrasso is the NHL’s all-time leader in points for a goaltender with 48 and is considered by some to be the greatest stick-handling net-minder in the history of the league.

While he was never considered to be the elite of elites as far as all-time goaltenders go, the feeling is that Barrasso, who retired in 2003, should have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame a long time ago.

If he wasn’t such a tool.

The crude nickname many hockey journalists, former teammates and even fans have for Barrasso is Barrassh...well, you can figure it out.

What I’m hinting at is that Tom Barrasso was said to be nothing but a jerk during his entire career, especially with the hockey media.

When Pittsburgh and Penguins journalists talk about their dealings with Barrasso, it’s like they’re talking about dealing with the devil. If there was an Invasion of Normandy for local sportswriters of the 1990s, Tom Barrasso would be it.

By contrast, Mark-Andre Fleury, like Barrasso, a goalie and multi-time Stanley Cup champion as a member of the Penguins from 2003-2017, is said to be the nicest athlete in the history of Pittsburgh sports. Whether that’s true or not does not matter. What matters is that Fleury is a good dude and has always treated reporters, teammates and fans with nothing but respect and kindness.

Fleury is my favorite Penguin of all time, and I don’t really give a darn about hockey all that much. I went to a Penguins game on April 6 mostly because Fleury, who is now a member of the Minnesota Wild, was going to be in goal that night.

Fleury has had an accomplished career that also includes a Vezina Trophy and even a higher career save percentage than Barrasso. Furthermore, Fleury is third all-time in career wins with 544.

Still, you can make the argument that Barrasso, who played in a more offensive-minded era, was the better goalie. It’s just an argument, though, because both are deserving of being in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

My guess is that Fleury won’t have to wait 20 years when he finally does retire. Why? His overall disposition and vibe.

You know what they say, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

But should it be that way?

Take Antonio Brown, for example. Can you name a better receiver in the history of the Steelers organization? I can’t.

Can you name a bigger trainwreck?

I’m sure there are some good examples—and this might be recency bias—but I can’t.

To quote Chuck Noll: Brown has many issues, and they are great! What’s the point of naming all of Brown’s transgressions because it’s impossible to keep track; from on-the-field tantrums to locker room spats to domestic violence to using McKnight Road as his very own racecourse, Antonio Brown is just a never-ending piece of work.

Yet, no matter how you slice it, no matter what happens to Brown’s life moving forward—whether it ends in redemption or tragedy (the latter seems to be the better bet)—that man should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he is eligible.

It doesn’t have to be on his very first try, but if Brown is forced to wait until he’s a very old man (or much worse) before he’s enshrined, or if he doesn’t get enshrined at all, it would diminish the importance of the building all of those busts and football relics are located in.

It’s probably safe to say that Brown, who was last seen on an NFL field stripping down to his underwear near the end of the 2021 campaign, is likely done playing at the highest level.

If Brown is finished with the NFL, he leaves behind a stat line that includes 928 catches, 12,291 receiving yards and 83 receiving touchdowns.

Obviously, Brown’s stats will pale in comparison to the all-time greats and even some receivers who aren’t currently in the Hall of Fame.

But that man was the greatest receiver I ever saw play the game on a regular basis from 2013-2018, the best six-year run for a wideout in the history of the NFL.

Was Brown Jerry Rice? No, but he was headed in that direction before he completely went off the tracks, both personally and professionally.

Unfortunately, Brown is also a Tom Barrasso, only worse, when you throw in his much-more-serious off-the-field issues.

Brown still belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, however.

I can say the same thing about Barry Bonds and his enshrinement in Cooperstown. Yes, baseball has a morality clause, and that’s been the convenient excuse for leaving Bonds, a long-time suspected user of PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs), out of the Baseball Hall of Fame since he became eligible. But Bonds was arguably the best baseball player of the 1990s, long before he was suspected of using PEDs.

Did Bonds, who retired as baseball’s all-time home run king with 762, use PEDs later in his career? Do heads just grow on their own? Sure, Bonds likely used steroids, and this surely helped him become baseball’s home run leader, but he was never suspended for doing so during his career.

Whether Bonds did or didn’t use steroids will likely remain a mystery, but I’ve always had a bit of a complicated attitude about PEDs. People call this cheating, but is it cheating on the same level as Spygate, what the Houston Astros did or actual points shaving?

If using steroids was all one needed to do in order to become an all-time great baseball player, it would have worked long before Barry Bonds.

Let’s face it, Barry Bonds isn’t in the Hall of Fame because he was a Barrasso to sportswriters during his career that started with the Pirates in the 1980s.

If Barrasso was the Invasion of Normandy to Pittsburgh sports journalists, Bonds was their Pearl Harbor.

If a Hall of Fame doesn’t include the best players of its sport, what’s the point of even having it?

Why should I care about a place that honors pretty good players while excluding the great ones?

The point is, I don’t care about any of the Halls of Fame, not as much as I used to, anyway.

When an honor like the Hall of Fame is decided by voters with personal grievances and not on merit, the importance and weight of it are diminished in the eyes of the fans.

I realize I don’t have to deal with these jerks, while the sportswriters do, but that shouldn’t prevent the sportswriters from doing the right thing when these jerks appear on their Hall of Fame ballots.