For those of you who only follow soccer – and good for you, what this sport needs more than anything is more blinkers and tunnel vision. Anyway, the baseball Hall of Fame made the news for a couple of different reasons, and coincidentally enough, that was also about the time that this year's Soccer Hall of Fame ballot was sent out. Even though in the past I've been public on who I've voted for, I thought it would be helpful to explain my overall philosophy towards the voting. Here, this might be useful. It's this year's ballot, the rules, bios, and such. Read and enjoy.
First of all, the baseball voting is completely screwy, which I don't think is a problem with soccer. The Soccer Hall of Fame has embraced voters besides beat writers – probably due to necessity, because unlike with baseball, there haven't been a lot of paid soccer coverage spots over the decades. We also don't have a steroid scandal – and I don't believe that's because of our willful ignorance. I've asked a couple of players about it over the years, on the promise of off the record anonymity (duh), and they claim there's nothing there.
So, the franchise is fine, and the sport is healthy – I can't think of anything wrong with the Soccer Hall of Fame at all. I encourage everyone to visit.
What we do have is one Hall for what could easily be considered separate sports. Basketball does this too, but there are separate voting pools for college and pro ball. My ballot doesn't contain college stars, thank God, but it does have both men and women. That makes it pretty hard to compare peers – who is a more deserving member of the Hall, if your ballot comes down to Marco Etcheverry or Kate Markgraf? They didn't play each other, they didn't play any of the same teams or players – it's the same sport, but very different.
Some voters react to this, unfortunately, by refusing to vote for women players. That's a valid opinion, but it's also a valid opinion that should be followed up by giving up the vote entirely. The debate is over. Women players are in the Hall, and have been for over a decade. What is not going to happen is some future bunch of commissioners kicking out Hamm, Akers, and Foudy. They're in to stay. A voter who refuses to acknowledge Kristine Lilly isn't saying anything about Lilly, or women's soccer, or the Hall. If your picture of the Hall is explicitly contrary to the rules, then don't return a ballot.
With indoor soccer, it's the opposite. It's explicitly a different sport. You may think that the people who played indoors, especially during the time when the highest outdoor division was the NCAA, deserve recognition. That's a nice opinion for you to have, but…
…oops. the rules have changed this year. Indoor players from the time when the highest outdoor division was the NCAA are now on the ballot. The petard is on the other foot. Indoor players are eligible if they did this:
Played at least five seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League between the end of the NASL in 1984 and the end of the MISL in 1992, and been selected as a first-team postseason all-star in at least one of those seasons.
Oh. Well, that explains why for the first time I can remember, my ballot includes someone I've never heard of. My knowledge of 20th century indoor soccer isn't non-existent, but peters out rapidly after Steve Zungul and Tatu. Neither Zungul nor Tatu are on the ballot – they are now the responsibility of the Veterans Committee voters.
The indoor player on the ballot is Zoran Karic. This is his first, and last, year of eligibility. Here is his bio:
A Yugoslavian forward who starred in both the Major Indoor Soccer League and the National Professional Soccer League.
Karic played five seasons in the MISL, all of them during the gap in first-division American outdoor soccer after the end of the NASL, for the San Diego Sockers and the Cleveland Force. He was chosen as a first-team MISL All-Star in 1991, after a season in which he was the league’s scoring leader.
He later played 12 seasons in the NPSL, where he was an all-star selection four times and the league MVP in 1994.
That all means next to nothing to me, because I don't have any context for it.
So, as a responsible voter, I try to educate myself. What I don't do is dismiss Karic out of hand, simply because I didn't follow indoor soccer back before television was invented.
Here's what I found: http://www.indoorsoccerhall.com/news.htm
Is this autoritative? Nope! The main site is dead, there was no follow-up after 2011, and if there's anything that's completely illegitimate, it's a Hall of Fame that only exists in the imagination of the Internet. *cough*
However, the person who organized it sampled the opinions of a number of indoor soccer experts. It's not like he just sat there and handed out a CONCACAF award without asking anyone.
In any case, this site had twelve "inductees" and six "alternates." Zoran Karic was not among them. I can leave Karic off with a clear conscience.
However, this means I need to reconsider someone else – Victor Nogueira, who is also in the final year of eligibility. Nogueira was eligible all this time because of his NASL years, which I have thus far considered and completely ignored. But now, his indoor record is part of the consideration. Here are the bios from both US Soccer and the late Indoor Hall:
Victor Nogueira - The ageless goalkeeper from Mozambique enjoyed a career that spanned the NASL, MISL, and NPSL over parts of four decades before retiring at 45. Nogueira won 12 Goalkeeper of the Year awards, four MVP awards, and seven championships with the Sockers and Milwaukee Wave. Nogueira won 166 games in the MISL with Chicago, Cleveland, and San Diego and was the Wave's all-time wins leader with 227. He held the MISL records for wins in a season (31) and GAA (2.86).
A goalkeeper who starred in the NASL and then continued playing indoors for two decades afterward.
Nogueira, who was born in Mozambique, broke into the North American Soccer League in 1979 with the Atlanta Chiefs. He won his only NASL championship in 1984, the league’s final season, with the Chicago Sting. During his six-season NASL career, he played 79 regular-season games and eight playoff games.
After the end of the NASL, Nogueira played nine seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League and 13 seasons in the National Professional Soccer League. He was named the MISL most valuable player in 1991 and 1992, and the NPSL most valuable player in 1996 and 1998. He played 16 games for the U.S. National Futsal Team between 1992 and 2000.
I have to vote for him. The rules of the Hall say that indoor players must be considered, and his overall record, now, demands inclusion. I need to take someone off, and put Nogueira in. Otherwise, I'm not respecting the Hall of Fame, and I'm diminishing my vote.
Voters have a responsibility to tell the story of our sport – especially our sport, where so much can be lost through inattention or bad luck. The Hall is not a platform for me to crystallize my prejudices.
Which brings us to MLS players, and how I crystallize my prejudices.
There is one overriding criteria I use when deciding to vote on a player – can the story of American soccer be told without him or her? This is why my ballot leans extremely heavily on players in the early days of MLS.
Kenn Tomasch is going to write what I assume will be a far briefer Hall of Fame philosophy piece, and he said that pioneers tend to be remembered. Except, they really don't. I can name one basketball player before Wilt Chamberlain – well, who cares, the NBA had a color line back then. I'm sure I know more than one baseball player before 1901 without cheating, but swear to God I'm drawing a blank after Cap Anson. And Al Spaulding, who if it wasn't for his sporting goods line I probably wouldn't recall. I'm not even sure his first name was even Al. I got Jim Thorpe and George Halas before 1925, and both of those guys were famous for reasons besides their play for the Oorang Indians and Decatur Staleys. Oh, and Fred "Duke" Slater, but I think you kind of had to grow up in Iowa to know him.
You know how I would learn some of those names? Those sports' respective Halls of Fame. We need to make sure we do the same for soccer.
Also, this is a sport where the history of an entire top qualify first division league disappeared like Atlantis for a while. The early days of MLS aren't going to be overshadowed that badly, but we do have a responsibility to remind people that the league didn't begin when Michael Bradley was signed.
Now, that means, if you use national team achievement as a baseline, I'm voting for a lot of guys who probably weren't as good as players I'm leaving out. Eddie Lewis had a vastly more memorable national team career than Steve Ralston. I'm voting for Ralston and leaving off Lewis. Ralston was an MLS mainstay for the league's first decade. He was everywhere on the field, and retired as the league's all-time assist leader. (He's keeping that warm for Landon Donovan, granted.)
Also, Ralston's years in MLS helped build American soccer in a way that Eddie Lewis playing for Fulham didn't. I realize this is problematic for a number of reasons. I'm punishing guys who were offered bad contracts from MLS, or thought they could play at a higher level, and rewarding less skilled players who stayed home because they might have had fewer options.
Sorry about that. The guys who left MLS to try Europe, first of all, weren't pioneers in that regard. Peter Vermes and Paul Caligiuri were, followed shortly by Wynalda, Ramos and Harkes. We've already had the guys who played a few years abroad and didn't set the world on fire. The only guys who I would remotely consider for the Hall of Fame based on a foreign club career were or will be locks based on their national team accomplishments, anyway. Eddie Lewis, Tony Sanneh, and Clint Mathis probably would have had even better MLS careers than Kreis or Ralston if they had stayed. But they didn't stick the landing.
There are a couple of reasons why I can justify this. First – the Hall says so. MLS seasons are explicitly included, separate from national team accomplishments. This is why Etcheverry and Moreno are eligible, and this is why Pele is in. The criteria say nothing about what was accomplished abroad, and probably never will. It also says nothing about conflating performances for club and country. Voters can, of course, but they certainly don't have to.
I would also say that we already have players in the Hall because of their MLS career. Preki is officially a weird case now, because now that indoor counts, he has claims for both MLS and indoor. But apart from that sweet goal against Brazil, I don't think his national team career stands up to scrutiny.
Jeff Agoos is an even more obvious example. He had over 100 caps, of course, in one of the most consistently depressing and horrifying national team careers outside of Mike Burns. Like Burns, he had precisely one truly solid season for the US in a qualifying campaign, and, like Burns, followed it up with a ghastly World Cup. By far his most memorable accomplishment on the international level was his goal for Portugal.
But his MLS career was sterling, from start to finish. It's possible that the Hall voters just went "Oh, 100 caps, gotta vote for him," and bleached their brains of what he did while earning those caps. I very much prefer to think they were saluting him for his considerable accomplishments in DC and San Jose.
There is one other issue that the baseball Hall of Fame controversy brought up – whether fans should have a voice, and whether it is ethical to "outsource" a ballot. I think for technical reasons fans really can't have a vote, because otherwise Ron Paul would win. I also, for selfish reasons, don't want to split my vote with a Galaxy fan who only started watching in July 2007. I'm not the most qualified voter by a longshot, but at least I have a paper trail.
That's probably not fair to you, who, since you're reading this, are probably a committed fan of long standing just like me (or more so). I wish I had better advice for you than "start a blog."
But I do value your opinion, even if I value mine much much much much much much more. The ballot isn't due until early February. So if you have a big problem with:
Chris Armas Marco Etcheverry Robin Fraser Kristine Lilly Kate Markgraf Brian McBride Jaime Moreno Victor Nogueira Steve Ralson Briana Scurry
….well, come at me, bros and sisses.
In fact, if you throw bricks at me, I can collect them and get started on an actual building.