What the Baseball Hall of Fame can learn from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Jim McIsaac

The Baseball Hall of Fame could be in danger of becoming irrelevant. Here's why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gets it right.

I have never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have also never been mellow, nor am I experienced, even though Olivia Newton-John and Jimi Hendrix insist on continuing to inquire. I have been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however, so I understand the concept. It's a museum, you've got pictures of the all-time greats on the wall, video clips of historic moments, exhibits that keep the history fresh, and a formal list of members who are recognized as worthy of being immortalized.

As another year of Baseball Hall of Fame voting wraps up, I'm seeing more and more people express a stance that says, to put it gently, "[censored] the Hall of Fame." I understand this feeling as well, and almost all of it centers around the issue of who is actually in control of the voting. (It also centers around a lot of alcohol, judging by some of the comments I've read.)

As most readers probably know, it's writers who do the voting. Writers. Let that sink in for a moment. The Baseball Hall of Fame has been and is being constructed by people whose primary educational focus taught them to identify a split infinitive. (And they point this out regularly, even when they have been asked to not keep doing that.) Perhaps this is why I am among those who really couldn't care less about who does or doesn't get elected to the Hall of Fame each year. I recognize that what I am looking at is not necessarily an accurate or complete list of the greatest ball players in history, what I am seeing is the enshrined opinions of people who, for the most part, have never even played the game. Let's just start calling it the Baseball Hall of What These Journalists Were Thinking At the Time.

There are other issues as well. The limited ballot size is one. The fact that the people who get to vote can - and do - use that vote as an opportunity to make a name for themselves, or to forever enshrine their moral opinions (or even worse, their grudges). Come with me to Cooperstown, we'll go visit the Baseball Hall of Moralism and Petty Vengeance! I know, I know, it's still the Hall of Fame, and I really should go there. It's one of those things you just have to be able to say you've seen in your lifetime, like the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and Miley Cyrus' latest "nipple slip" pics.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on the other hand, has a lot more credibility in my book. Sure, it's every bit as subjective as the Baseball Hall of Fame ("Seriously? Buffalo Springfield made it in?! They only had one Top Forty song!"), but the voting is done not just by writers (historians and journalists, in this case), but also by actual artists, managers, and producers. As of 2012, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also allows fans to have a say in the nomination process.

Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame focuses less on career duration or span-of-lifetime achievements, and more on the level of impact a given artist had on the rock music world. Les Paul may not have had a string of Number One Hits (he didn't have any, actually), but he invented a guitar that changed rock history. The emphasis, in other words, is more on the word "fame," and perhaps this is a concept that needs to be given more weight in the Baseball Hall of Fame. By the numbers, maybe a pitcher like Jack Morris doesn't quite make the cut, but he certainly left an impression on the baseball world for what he accomplished during his lengthy career. I'm not singling out Jack Morris as a specific example of someone who should be in the Hall of Fame, I'm just saying there's no reason you and I shouldn't fight about it.

As for moralism? It doesn't really factor into the voting process for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Obviously, baseball and rock music are two very different career paths, and the use of "performance-enhancing drugs" is practically a prerequisite to gaining entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but my point, again, is that the emphasis is on fame and notoriety. Think what you will about PED's in baseball, it's an undeniable fact that names like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are forever part of the highlights on the long timeline of baseball history. For that matter, so is Pete Rose, but perhaps that's another bar fight for another day.

The Baseball Hall of Fame could stand to learn a lesson or two from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Stop putting a cap on the ballot. Expand the voting privileges to current and/or former managers, current and/or former players, broadcasters (it's unthinkable to me that someone like Ken Gurnick gets a vote, but someone like Vin Scully does not), and yes, even the fans. Start focusing more on a player's impact on the game and level of notoriety, and less on career-spanning statistics or whether or not they played in the PED era (whatever that means).

Maybe, just maybe, in five to ten years people like me will be more excited about visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame, because it will more accurately reflect all of baseball history, as opposed to being a reflection of the personalities who held the power to vote at any given time.

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