What Makes a Hall of Famer?

a low angle view of ceiling of hall

Being that I was a rabid fan of three major American sports as a youth and young adult, it makes sense that I retain some passion for Hall of Fame candidate discussions. But, it’s not for the nostalgic reasons many will cite as their primary reason for interest in the debates whether one player deserves a plaque more than another. Yes, I greatly enjoy statistical analysis and how people frame subjective versus objective arguments, especially when considering what constitutes fame in a given sport, and if that player deserves historical immortality. My reasoning for constantly digging into these arguments for baseball, basketball, and football players is much more basic. For the majority of my life, I have longed to answer the question, what makes a Hall of Famer, regardless of field or talent?

There are many Halls of Fame, believe or not, some decidedly more official than others. But, it’s the major entertainment and sports Hall of Fames that get more media attention and thus more societal and cultural relevance, for better or for worse. (When it comes to music and entertainment, it is typically worse.) Many lower profile Hall of Fames seem a bit more loose with who they invite into their ranks. This would make sense, as new inductees mean news; of course, news is media attention. Plus, anyone with an historical bent which colors their various interests is going to always tear into the reasoning behind someone being recognized for posterity as a Hall of Famer, regardless of the weight that designation holds among the related industries and fields, whether or not society as a whole gives two chunks of fecal matter about the subject in question.

While I’m certainly a huge fan of both basketball and football, baseball has always held a special place for me. Perhaps it’s because it’s the sport with the deepest statistical history, although basketball and football have caught up, with soccer and hockey also making huge strides with their statistical analysis efforts. Far from being a math whiz, I still grasp the underlying concepts of more advanced statistical measures at least superficially enough to appreciate the quantitative and qualitative impacts they have on arguments for Hall of Fame candidacy and potential induction.

Of course, as doctorate level mathematicians are so fond of shoving down our throats, math can be applied to literally any human endeavor or natural phenomenon. Then again, this is absolutely correct, given you have worked out the most relevant variables to measure and how to qualitatively work your numbers into an algorithm or formula that presents you with relevant and explainable data.

With this in mind, you could have a Hall of Fame of anything. You could have a Hall of Fame of toothpaste or hand soap. You could have a Hall of Fame of bagels or breakfast cereals. Alternatively, you could have a Hall of Fame of bus drivers or sanitation engineers. You can actually make valid data-driven arguments to pick the very best consumer products or stars in any particular niche. Whether those arguments are worth making for the sake of posterity is another question. Imagine Waste Management having a Hall of Fame for standout employees. Imagine one of the major food conglomerates ranking their products statistically.

Of course, there are arguments to why neither of these Hall of Fames would seem to be a good idea. In terms of consumer products, brand loyalty is extremely important and is directly correlated to sales numbers. Were you to prove statistically that one product is so much more popular and/or qualitatively better than another, that would seem like a good idea for the sake of consumers. The trouble is, many brands are owned by the same corporation, meaning you are shooting yourself in the foot by literally devaluing one of your own brands, despite appearing to be competition in the market. In terms of sanitation engineers, that sounds like it would be a great Human Resources move, but who would care outside of the company or even the waste disposal industry?

Heck, why even have Hall of Fames in the first place, as many inductees are in these Halls due to sheer longevity, cronyism, or media attention. Of course, longevity and media attention are key components of what you could subjectively call fame, but cronyism is a big argument against these sorts of halls. Yes, data-driven arguments are certainly more prevalent in the 21st century, but these other three things still apply! Of course, Hall of Fames are not Hall of Stats – which do also exist by the way. They are also key historical institutions which have a responsibility to future generations to share the best that the subject has to offer.

I didn’t initially choose history as a college major on some sort of whim; I realized from a very young age that history is the best way to relate what makes particular events touchstones of human existence and who embodies excellence in their given fields or even as overall members of the human race. Hall of Fames are the culmination of a lot of historical research and analysis being put into an easily digestible form. Whether or not you agree with the choices shouldn’t at all neglect the fact that so much work went into their creation and continues to go into their maintenance.

If for nothing else, Hall of Fames exist as a way to celebrate a shared passion for a given topic or field. Some people Stan so hard for one particular person, and at times, it becomes almost comical. But, passion is a human necessity; if we lack passion, we deny ourselves an important part of our own humanity. Even having passion for something that may appear silly to others – you know, like being a nerd – is extremely important to our self-worth and identity. Once we lose our passion, our very lust for life declines, sometimes to the point where we fail to really live much at all.

Going forward, it seems necessary to me to better understand how Hall of Fames could be used even more productively. In fact, I have considered creating Hall of Fames for things that don’t perhaps need them, yet data and arguments for potential inductees exist that could provide a basis for creating objective guidelines for induction into an imaginary Hall of Fame. These include staples from trading card games, to stalwarts of seemingly pedestrian industries, to consumer products, to just about anything that can impact our daily lives and give us something to be passionate about. I also want to delve deeper into existing Hall of Fames that don’t get much attention, especially if they are so niche to only appeal to a small crowd.

Being unfortunately quite human, there will be a great deal of selection bias in what I decide to cover. But, the arguments I stand to make can be applied to any field, figuring out the all time worthiness of a subject in regards to giving that subject essentially immortality in the form of a Hall of Fame induction. For many years, I toiled writing articles about things I find interesting with some incredible booms but many, many more busts. In an age where it’s go viral or go home, my knowledge of optimizing for search engines is all that gives my work much traction. I don’t write “sexy” or “trendy” content, and I will continue to shun the low-hanging fruit in pursuit of conducting historically important research.

While my findings may not be published for some time, rest assured that my studies will continue. It’s far past time for me to put my analytical skills to the test, to tie together all of the research I’ve done in gaming, sports, and several other fields to create something worthy of historical discussion and debate. Will I one day find myself among the Hall of Fame candidates for best early 21st century bloggers and content creators? That Hall certainly doesn’t exist just yet, but perhaps I will end up creating that very behemoth just yet. (There are, in fact, many deserving candidates!)

Yes, selection bias is going to be a prevalent topic of discussion for me throughout my research notes. However, because of our ready access to an unprecedented amount of information and data at our fingertips, the arguments will be more data-driven than ever. There are people who are far smarter and much better educated than myself that I will certainly defer to in the course of some of my studies, but at the end of the day, I know that my conclusions will be imperfect, but in doing my best, I hope to help others better understand how historical figures and events must be taken into context, and their creations with the same sort of objective understanding. Yes, there will be subjective data points considered, and when it comes to a Hall of Fame, the subjective often wins out over the objective, but we will aim to champion the latter.

In closing, I’ll finish with this query, so that I may better understand just what today’s readers are looking for in terms of what should be historically preserved: Which Hall of Fame are you most passionate about? If not, is there a Hall of Fame you would create? If so, who or what would be included and why?

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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