‘Class is in Session’: Doug Glanville on the Hall of Fame selection process
On this month’s episode of ‘Class is in Session,’ premiering Monday, February 28 at 7 p.m. CT, Doug Glanville welcomes in a distinguished panel to discuss the Hall of Fame selection process across professional sports, focusing on the debate regarding how leagues should weigh a player’s character when considering enshrinement.
Panelists on this episode include Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins, long-time journalist and MLB Hall of Fame voter, Joe Posnanski, and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, Dan Pompei. Doug Glanville penned the following essay previewing the show.
It was fascinating to interview the guests for this month’s Hall of Fame edition of Class is in Session, especially since every year there is so much debate around who gets inducted.
My sport, baseball, has a unique debate raging due to the complication of how to weigh PEDs. Many of the best players from my era were “enhanced” and this contributed to the final numbers they would present when it came time to be considered for entry.
In preparing for my conversation with panelist Fergie Jenkins, I reflected on the many moments of talking with him as a player (he was our pitching coach in Chicago one year), but I also enjoyed re-watching his Hall of Fame induction speech. During his speech, he took all of his time on thank you recognitions, walking us through his childhood coaches, neighbors, managers and family members, and what resonated the most was a story he told about his parents.
His mother was blind and had passed away before Fergie reached the pinnacle of the sport, and his father was a ballplayer who not only played in Canada at the highest level, but was in the Negro Leagues. Jenkins declared that his father was not able to reap the benefits of his excellence to be able to play in the big leagues because of America’s racial barriers, but that his father was thankful that he could see his son forge that career. As Fergie said, “his sacrifice was my reward” and hopefully his reward as well.
I related to that story well since my father passed away in 2002 on the final game of the season, the day I notched the 1000th hit of my career.
In talking with my panelists, baseball journalist Joe Posnanski and football’s Dan Pompei, it was fun to see these two learn from each other and interesting to appreciate how differently each sport approaches the Hall of Fame induction process. Baseball has not changed its process very much over the years as its “front door” to entry, as Joe coined it, is guarded completely by writers (over 400 of them) voting on their own. Meanwhile, football has many other professions in the room, including former players, broadcasters and so on, and these individuals have the opportunity to debate the vote together before casting their individual votes, allowing for opportunity to reconsider, reflect, or even to double down.
It made me wonder what would have happened if, as a former player, I would have been able to share the real, damaging ways that PEDs touched my career, or the careers of the many other players close to me. When there is a face with the numbers, it changes the equation. Just a little pause to know this was not just about having better numbers and it had a much larger impact on many people whose names you may never know, but who were nonetheless very real people with very real outcomes.
Football takes a pretty hardline approach about only considering what happened on the field in the vote, but one thing that was unclear about their policy is how different it is when what you did off the field enhances what you did on the field, and thus cannot be separated. It is an eternal question. Some choices off the field were for what you did on the field. The NFL has had to face many off-the-field issues to create transparency and to have any credibility around holding everyone to a higher standard, an issue that has become clearer over the past five years as many domestic violence incidents and patterns of behavior have come to light.
How do you weigh all of these elements and decide who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? It certainly helps to think about what the Hall should represent. I often think about the Hall as a place of permanent excellence where we seek to recognize people whose effort transcended, the people whose principles and attributes of their work would echo in any generation at any time. That they were a timeless performer.
You hope that these traits are also positive both on and off the field, performed and acted with integrity. I’m reminded of something my field colleague, Jayson Stark, once said, “We could have a Hall of Purity.” We both recognized that would be an endless slippery slope.
We may conclude that the Hall is not a place of moral judgment as if gates to heaven. The Hall has to embrace our humanity in all of its strength and weakness. I believe that this is important. Yet, there is something different about achievement that comes from the human weakness to cut corners and find an edge by any means necessary. In baseball, that edge became the numbers that held the key to enshrinement, not just as part of the unapologetic history of the game, but as someone lifted up and honored. A different bar.
One thing is for sure, however. The debate over who to enshrine will continue to draw attention with or without PEDs. The 2017 Astros had some stars on their team, and they may have some future Hall of Famers knocking on the door to Cooperstown. That will generate a new conversation.
At its best, we try to select those that were so impactful that they erase all human constructs, race, religion, time, math, era, identity. Therein lays the humanity we share, an ability to connect at a higher level through universal principles that apply today, applied yesterday and will continue to apply in the future. It is a high bar, as it should be, and even when we fall short, we must try to be guardians of a fair game at all times. When we face a crisis as we did with PEDs and become unsure, we must be truthful about it so we can all learn. We must acknowledge the uncertainty, examine its impact, and consider what we are trying to preserve. This was the very crux of the discussion during the newest edition of Class is in Session with Doug Glanville. You won’t want to miss it!
Tune in to the next episode of “Class is in Session with Doug Glanville” premiering Monday, February 28 at 7 p.m. For a preview clip from the show, see below.