Why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Needs a Veteran’s Committee

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The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been around for almost 40 years now. It was established in 1983 by 2020 Rock Hall inductee Ahmet Ertegun and the first class was inducted in 1986. There was not an actual physical Rock Hall until it was built and opened in Cleveland back in 1995. It has served to be the pantheon of rock history, honoring the artists that have contributed to rock (and other) forms of music – truly the crème de la crème of music history.

There are something along the lines of 235 artists, groups and assorted industry insiders that have been inducted by the Rock Hall over the years, so you would justly be correct in that the truly immortal have been inducted into the hallowed shrine already. Still, there are those that have complained that “(insert your personal favorite artist here) hasn’t been inducted into the Rock Hall!” While there is some credence to some of these arguments, overall the Rock Hall, its Nominating Committee and the Voting Committee (a roughly 1000-strong contingent that is made up of the living members of the Rock Hall and select industry executives, music historians, DJs, music journalists and others) have gotten it right.

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One thing that could be done better – and would put an end to some of the complaints – is a way to handle those from the past that some think should be in. The Baseball Hall of Fame has (or used to have) a Veteran’s Committee – a group whose sole raison d’etre is to look at the distant past and see if there are any credible entries for the Hall that have been overlooked. The Rock Hall would be well served in looking at creating such an entity like this, but there would have to be some significant parameters set on what this Veteran’s Committee would look like and how they would come to their decisions.

With that said, here are the initial parameters that should be set.

1) The Veteran’s Committee will consist of a 100-member panel, of which 10 members will nominate 15 artists, groups, early influences, industry executives or “insiders” (DJs, normally, or producers/managers) for induction. This Veteran’s Committee would be much like the Voting Committee that chooses the inductees for the Rock Hall – a group of artists from more than 50 years ago (more on this in a minute), DJs, industry executives, music historians and the like.

The nominations will have had to have made their first actions in the industry – a record release, entry into the business, something like that – no more recently than 50 years prior to the current calendar year. For example, if the Veteran’s Committee were to come to life this year, eligible artists for the first ballot cannot have had their first impact after 1970 – anyone who had their first interactions in the business prior to 1970 would be eligible for consideration.

Under the current rules for consideration, a candidate must have made their first release more than 25 years ago. That gives current candidates a 25-year period for consideration by the Nomination Committee of the Rock Hall and, if they are nominated, by the Voting Committee. It doesn’t infringe on their work and can truly be said to be reexamining what the two Committees might have missed. Thus, the 50-year guideline is an important one.

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2) The Veteran’s Committee is allowed ONE (1) inductee per year. That inductee will have had to have earned 80% of the 100-member Committee’s votes (80). If no candidate gets 80% of the vote, then the Veteran’s Committee does not get an induction slot that year. If there are more than one candidate that gets the 80% voting margin, then the one who gets the most votes will be inducted – the runner up is going to have to wait until next year.

This is done to ensure that there is an overwhelming consensus of quality of the inductee. It would not be right for someone to simply get a majority of the vote from the 100-member Veteran’s Committee – that isn’t a hugely significant number (51). There has to be a slam dunk majority to signify that there is nearly a unanimous agreement to bypass both the Nomination Committee and the Voting Committee to induct someone they passed over.

3) If an artist, group, early influence or industry executive or “insider” is on the nominee list and receives under 10% of the vote from the Committee (10), that person is removed from consideration for the Rock Hall forever.

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This is arguably the biggest criteria and the one that would put an end to some discussions of “they should be in the Hall.” Once again using the Baseball Hall of Fame as an example, if you can’t get a certain percentage of the vote once you become eligible (in baseball it is five years after your retirement), then you are stricken from future ballots. The same criteria should be used by the Rock Hall…if you cannot get 10 people to vouch for you in a 100-member group, you are not a viable candidate and should be removed from overall consideration.

This part of the criteria will upset some who back fringe artists (not saying that Gordon Lightfoot, pictured above, is a fringe artist, in fact, he should already be in the Rock Hall…wait, that’s why this essay exists!) that they believe should be inducted. Those who are this vehement on a particular artist, group or other person are the true definition of “fan,” which is a shortened version of “fanatic,” or someone who has an unnatural support for a cause or person. “Fanatics” should not be allowed to overwhelm the vote of any organization that looks to honor those that were truly immortals.

There are probably some other rules that could be put into place, but these would be the baseline that a Rock Hall Veteran’s Committee should be founded under. The above rules will maintain the integrity of the Rock Hall vote because the threshold of induction is high, would allow for consideration of artists from the past that some might believe have been overlooked and will eliminate those who aren’t able to garner support to warrant induction. If the Veteran’s Committee were something along these lines, I could support it. Anything less would be an insult to the Rock Hall and its inductees who actually earned the honor the first time around.

Leicester City – The Greatest Sports Achievement Ever?

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It may not have gotten much attention here in the United States, but I certainly was keeping an eye on it over the weekend. For those that don’t know anything about football – soccer to the U. S. fan – the English Premier League’s championship was decided over the weekend. In a shocking occurrence, Leicester City – who was on the verge of relegation (re:  being sent down to a lower division of professional football in England because they finished in the bottom three of the Premier League) with seven games to go last season – completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history in winning the Premiership this season.

How big of a turnaround was this? Here’s some stats to give you an idea. The British bookmaker William Hill had Leicester City as a 5000 to 1 shot to win the Premiership at the beginning of the season last fall (and was still around 100-1 in January when Leicester City was leading the league) and many felt that relegation was more likely for the team in 2016 than anything else. They had to make a late run last year to finish in 14th place and started this year with a new manager, Claudio Ranieri, who wasn’t exactly loved by the Foxes fandom. Additionally, in the 30-plus years of the Premier League (and in going back to 1888 with English football), Leicester City had NEVER won the top-tier football league championship; in fact, in the Premier League, no team not named Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United had won the title since 1995 (Blackburn Rovers).

The stunning turnaround by the Foxes has brought up the question by many if it is the greatest sporting achievement of all-time. While the achievements of Leicester City are up there on the ladder, there’s a whole world of instances like this to choose from.

There are plenty of individual acts that you can put up as the greatest sports achievement ever. If you look at the sport of baseball, we can go back to the legendary Cy Young’s record for most wins by a pitcher of 511. The next closest pitcher to that mark is another member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Walter Johnson, who is nearly 100 wins behind Young with his 417 victories. To get to someone from the “modern era” (let’s be kind and call that 1950), you have to go down to Warren Spahn in sixth place with his 363 wins; even Greg Maddux (355) and Roger Clemens (354), legends from my lifetime, aren’t even close (the active pitcher with the most wins? I didn’t believe it myself…Bartolo Colon with 220!).

Then there are the hitting achievements. Nobody thought that Ty Cobb’s 4191 all-time hit record would ever be touched, but then Pete Rose came along and stroked 4256 hits (best active player? Alex Rodriguez, 3082). The home run record is a bit tainted with the Steroid Era of baseball (I personally still consider Hank Aaron’s 755 the record), but thoughts of anyone touching Barry Bonds’ 762 is a fantasy (even A-Rod – or A-Roid – can’t reach it at 692). The ONE record that might stand the test of time is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak; nobody’s come close to that since 1978, when Rose went for 44 games (most recently, Jimmy Rollins went for 38 between two seasons in 2005-06).

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors

Basketball has its share of great sports achievements and, this time, there are some team acts that come into the mix. This season in the National Basketball Association, the defending champion Golden State Warriors broke the record for most wins in a season (73) that had been held by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Boston Celtics’ string of eight consecutive NBA championships will never be equaled (neither will their nine titles in twelve years) and the dominance of John Wooden’s UCLA teams in the NCAA Men’s Collegiate Basketball Tournament (champions for seven consecutive seasons, ten in twelve years) is unmistakable.

Still, arguably the biggest achievements in basketball were done by individuals. Back in 1962, the legendary Wilt Chamberlain went off in an NBA game against the New York Knicks, scoring 100 points in a game that was played not in the (then) Philadelphia Warriors’ home in the “City of Brotherly Love” but in Hershey, PA. If that wasn’t good enough, that 1962 season Chamberlain AVERAGED 50.4 points per game and a stunning 25.7 rebounds per contest. It makes the recently retired Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 dim a little in recollection.

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There are potentially only two things that could approach what Leicester City did this season. Once comes from the National Football League and the other comes from the Olympics.

Back in 1969, the New York Jets were a huge underdog to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. An 18-point underdog (the second largest point spread in the history of the Super Bowl, second only to Super Bowl XXIX, where San Francisco was favored by 18.5 points over San Diego), quarterback Joe Namath not only guaranteed that his Jets were going to win the game but then went out and dominated the event, with a late touchdown by the Colts saving them from a shutout. But were the Jets even close to a 5000-1 shot to win Super Bowl III at the start of the season? Even with a similar number of teams in the NFL/AFL at that time as the Premier League has (18 for the NFL/AFL, 20 for the EPL), probably not.

The ONLY thing that might be comparable to the achievement of Leicester City is the Team USA “Miracle on Ice,” the defeat of the Soviet Union’s Red Army team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. It isn’t that the 4-3 match in the semifinals of the Olympic hockey tournament that stands out so much – albeit it was a stunning occurrence – but in looking back at the history between the teams and the overwhelming dominance of the Soviet hockey machine, there are parallels that can be drawn with Leicester City.

The Red Machine stormed through an exhibition tour against National Hockey League teams in 1980, going 5-3-1 before crushing an NHL All-Star team 6-0 to win the Challenge Cup. Team USA, on the other hand, had a 61-game exhibition schedule against European and U. S. teams not nearly as talented as NHL squads before meeting the Red Machine on February 9, 1980. To call that match competitive would be a joke; the Soviets crushed Team USA, 10-3, and went to the Olympics as the overwhelming favorite, while Team USA was thought to have no chance of even reaching the medal round (the semifinals).

Of course, we know now how history played out. Team USA and the Soviet Union would reach the semifinals and be paired together, with the college boys from the lakes and ice rinks of northern U. S. cities and towns giving the vaunted Red Machine – technically soldiers in the Soviet Red Army but professional hockey players all – the toughest game they would receive during the Olympics. After Mike Eruzione gave Team USA the lead with 10 minutes remaining, no one in the crowd of 8500 could believe what they were seeing (believe it or not, the game was not being shown live in the U. S.). As the partisan crowd counted down the seconds – and as announcer Al Michaels would say over the tape-delayed commentary later, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!!” – Team USA would defeat the Soviet Union and, two days later, defeated Finland to win the gold medal.

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When you have to go back more than 30 years – and back to something that was geopolitically charged as well as nationalistically inspired – to find something that is even CLOSE to what you’ve done, then it is pretty special. Let’s not start worrying about how Leicester City will do in defending their championship in the Premiership next season, nor worrying about how the Foxes will do in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League that they have qualified for. Bask in the warming glow of what is arguably the greatest sporting achievement in the history of team sports, whether it is English, European or internationally.

Are You a True Hall of Fame If Your Greatest Aren’t There?

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On Wednesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America (for some reason abbreviated as the BBWAA instead of BWAA, but I digress) announced the players who had earned the requisite number of votes for entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Named on all but three of the ballots returned to the BBWAA – for a 99.3% tally, the best all-time – was outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., in his first year of eligibility. He will be joined by catcher Mike Piazza, who has been waiting for a few years when he too should have been a first ballot entry (we’ll get to that in a moment). Other deserving players such as Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith and Curt Schilling came up short and will have to wait until next year for another shot.

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The problem with the BBWAA – and with the electorate for other Halls of Fame in other sporting arenas – is that those involved with electing those who would be enshrined into such rarefied air seem to want to serve as some sort of “arbiter of the game” or “Lord Protector” of what is holy about a sport. You get past the four names at the end of the paragraph above and you see other names that, in their own right, arguably should have been elected the first time their names appeared on the ballot. Roger Clemens (received 199 votes, 45.2%), Barry Bonds (195 votes, 44.3%), Mark McGwire (54 votes, 12.3%) and Sammy Sosa (31 votes, 7%) are all quite a distance from reaching that magic 75% threshold and, in McGwire’s case, are running out of years left on their eligibility for being voted in by the BBWAA (a player has to be retired for five years before being considered; said player then has ten years to garner the 75% votes for election to the Hall before being removed from the ballot, as McGwire will be next year).

All of these men have put up some of the greatest individual achievements in the history of the game. Clemens has won the Cy Young Award seven times while striking out 4672 batters (third all time). Bonds not only took the single season home run record away from McGwire, he also eclipsed the career home run record of the legendary Hank Aaron while winning the MVP Award seven times. McGwire was a former Rookie of the Year who won two World Series titles and was a 12-time All-Star while earning the best home run-to-at bat ratio in the history of the game. Perhaps the only weak link is Sosa, who could only claim one MVP award and seven All-Star appearances over his career.

So why are these guys not in the Baseball Hall of Fame? And is your sport’s “pantheon” of greatness a true Hall of Fame if your greatest players/contributors aren’t there?

In baseball’s case the BBWAA, when they were tasked with the duties of electing people to the Hall of Fame, were given criteria for consideration, if you will, as they pondered their decisions on who to elect. Under the BBWAA Method of Election subsection entitled “Voting,” the criteria states, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” (Highlights by the writer.)

Therein lies the problem with Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and a host of others from the Steroids Era of baseball. Although they were never caught – hell, in most cases it is believed that baseball turned a blind eye towards the usage of steroids so the players could bulk up, smash home runs and bring fans back to the game – they live under the scarlet “S” of suspicion of using steroids over their careers. Bonds (never admitted but somewhat proven in a court of law) and McGwire (confessed eventually) have danced around the issue while Clemens has vehemently denied ever using anything, despite having his close friend and former teammate Andy Pettitte admit his usage and allege Clemens’ (Clemens said his wife used steroids, which doesn’t look good when your supposed “personal trainer” is allegedly stabbing your wife’s backside with ‘roids, but not you). Sosa conveniently forgets the English language when the subject comes up.

By the literal reading of the criteria for the BBWAA, then those that have been found to have been users (we’re talking to you, Alex Rodriguez) or are from a preponderance of the evidence believed to have used (Bonds, Clemens, et. al.) should not have a seat among the greatest in the game, the pantheon known as the Hall of Fame, for violating the sportsmanship and, perhaps more importantly, the integrity and character of the game. It is the same reasoning that has been unfortunately used for more than two decades on one man and for almost a century on another (wrongly, but we’ll get to that).

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Another story during baseball’s Hot Stove league was baseball’s pariah, its Lost Son, Pete Rose, applying for reinstatement to the game. Having been banished from baseball in 1989 for gambling on the game (something that will lead us to our second case), Rose had survived at its periphery but was unable to fully receive all the accolades he truly deserved for his lifetime achievements. Because of the banishment (more on this in a second), the BBWAA would not consider him for the Hall of Fame – despite the fact that Rose is one of the game’s all-time great players and its all-time leader in hits with 4256, three World Series titles and 17 All-Star appearances. He also couldn’t work in any capacity with any Major League Baseball franchise, meaning his managing career was over.

With a new Commissioner of Baseball in place, Rob Manfred (who succeeded Bud Selig as the 10th Commissioner of the game), Rose felt that the time was right to take a stab at being reinstated, perhaps to reach that elusive goal of the Hall of Fame, maybe to perhaps get into that front office job or work as a scout for a team (strangely enough, Rose had done work with the Fox Sports 1 as a baseball analyst during the 2015 MLB Playoffs). After some investigation – which allegedly found that Rose still gambles on baseball and other activities – Manfred refused to reinstate Rose to the game and, thus, his odyssey continues.

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The situation where it has been used wrongly is in the case of the unfortunate “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. One of the outstanding players of the early 20th century, Jackson was accused (along with seven of his Chicago White Sox teammates) of throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Although Jackson and his teammates were acquitted in a trial in 1921 of any wrongdoing in the case, the first Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned all from the game.

The problem with this is that Jackson, or at least his performance during the 1919 World Series, was doing everything apparently that he could to win the Series. He was the best hitter on both teams, batting .375, and hit the only home run on either team. He threw out five baserunners from left field and handled 30 fielding chances without an error. The seven other players, following Jackson’s death in 1951, stated that he was not a part of the plan to fix the 1919 World Series, but Jackson to this day is banned from the game and, thus, from the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the situation will begin to change over the coming years, however. Manfred, when announcing that Rose would not be reinstated to the game, indicated that the BBWAA reticence to induct players who have run afoul of baseball’s rules is simply a way for them to dodge having to deal with how to induct them into the Hall. In his official statement announcing that Rose would not be reinstated to baseball, Manfred said, “It is not part of MLB’s authority or responsibility here to make any determination concerning Mr. Rose’s eligibility as a candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” and “any debate over Mr. Rose’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame is one that must take place in a different forum.”

Depending on the transgressions, a person is usually entitled to either a second chance or, lacking that, a firm examination of their work and recognition for it with the explanation about their actions. For example, in the steroids case, Bonds, McGwire and Clemens could have a simple statement placed on their plaques that recognize they played in an era where usage of “chemical enhancement” was rampant. For Rose and perhaps Jackson, a similar statement could be made regarding violating one of the base tenets of the game of baseball, to not bet on its outcome (even though it doesn’t appear Jackson did). Other players in the Baseball Hall of Fame utilized spitballs, were racists, even allegedly killed during their careers…but they’re in the Hall of Fame. To keep these men out just doesn’t seem to fit the crime.

Perhaps the answer to the question we asked earlier – in the case of the Baseball Hall of Fame, at least – is that some of your greatest players cannot be a part of your Hall of Fame, yet it is still the pantheon that it is supposed to be. But perhaps, at some point, the change will come and the powers that be – whether it is the sportswriters, broadcasters, the “Veteran’s Committee” or perhaps a young boy or girl watching the game today – who will look back at the cases, names and achievements of men like Jackson, Rose, Bonds, Clemens…and say, “Why not? Why AREN’T they in the Hall of Fame?”