Roger Allaway always cringes when I botch eligibility years, and this year shows why. Last year, I thought we'd have Brandi Chastain and Brian McBride in their first year of eligibility. Since Chastain and McBride are the kind of player that doesn't tend to have a second year of eligibility - in a good way - then I thought my ballot would simply be one more piece of confetti in the ticker-tape parade. However, there are no clear favorites making their first appearance on the ballot...and (almost by definition) there aren't any clear favorites left on the ballot, either.
Get me wrong not - I always take this vote seriously, I always want to have reasons for every vote or non-vote, and I hold very dear the idea that the Hall of Fame should confer as well as celebrate fame.
But glancing at this ballot - which you can also do here - is giving me a very strong sense of one vote can make a difference. There aren't three players measuring their heads for tiaras and fifteen guys turning up in Google searches for the first time in half a decade. Instead, there are fourteen guys who, to my mind, can make claims to Hall status.
In years past, I would have given Wade Barrett an "attaboy" vote. Now, taking a vote away from someone might cost them. No one has been elected, or failed to be elected, by just one vote. But if it ever will happen, it'll be in years like this.
Which is the other reason I've decided to, once again, use all ten votes. This goes against the way a lot of people feel about Halls of Fame, and probably goes against stuff I've said in the past about the Soccer Hall of Fame, so I think I owe you all an explanation.
Well, first, let me explain why I think it's a problem. Last year, I didn't vote for Jason Kreis. This year, I'm probably going to. Next year, depending on the ballot, I might not again.
If there were a Fire Joe Morgan for MLS, they would be crucifying me right now. How can a guy not be a Hall of Famer in 2012, a Hall of Famer in 2013, and not a Hall of Famer again in 2014? That's worse than "Hall of Famer, but not a first ballot Hall of Famer."
There is a strong school of thought that says there shouldn't be any borderline candidates at all for a Hall of Fame. It should be for the greatest of the great, the best of the best. Maybe means no. "Of course" or nothing.
I sympathize with that, but I can't indulge it anymore. Now, if colossal MLS/indifferent or non-existent US career isn't something that you vote for, then the 2013 ballot is very, very easy for you. And probably very empty.
But not only do I think players like Jeff Agoos and Preki should be in the Hall, most voters agreed with me. We have a rough baseline of - and I'm certainly not trying to crapmouth Agoos and Preki here, I voted for each of them every year - the bottom rung of players who should make the Hall of Fame in the MLS era. You must be as tall as Preki in order to ride.
Every player on the ballot doesn't have Preki's qualifications, but over a dozen are roughly at that level...and none of them are a slam-dunk like Reyna and Meola last year. Hell, few of them have better bios than Earnie Stewart, and it took him something like six tries.
Here's the other thing. A good but not great baseball player who nearly but doesn't quite make Cooperstown - there's a word for that kind of player. Multi-millionaire. Fred McGriff has thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of admiring fans who owe him some cherished sports memories - and for years, he was paid a lot of sweet, tasty American currency. Nothing wipes away tears faster than a hundred dollar bill.
Down the road, the equivalent of Taylor Twellman or Tony Sanneh would be a very rich and famous man, too. But we're not there yet. Twellman is a household name in your household, but our households are still in a sporting ghetto. Even if you take at face value Don Garber's assertions that MLS has broken through to the American cultural mainstream (hint: it hasn't), these are players who helped make that possible, without reaping the benefits.
On this ballot, I have a chance to give those guys some recognition. This was a generation that played for love of American soccer. Maybe/hopefully the last one who played for love and little else. I don't feel right about telling those players that they don't live up to some arbitrary vibe I have about greatness. They fought too hard, they were hurt too much, and they played too damn well.
I can't vote for all of them, but I'm going to vote for ten of them.
Which ones, though. I have until February 22 to decide.
Oh, and one of them is going to be Shannon MacMillan, too. She's probably the easiest choice on the ballot left.
(Also, a Hall of Fame should physically exist. But I can't do everything at once here.)