Not a huge fan of Deadspin, truth be told, but one of their writers put Hall of Fame voting in perspective for me. Albert Burnenko wrote – well, you know what, here's are the links where he speaks his mind on the topic, he's perfectly capable of speaking for himself.
If you're click-phobic, here's what I consider the relevant line.
“It’s bad to me that I’d have to spend 0.03 seconds strolling past a plaque with this guy’s face on it if I visited that museum” - literally every argument ever made against a given player making the HOF in any sport
Needless to say, I feel, as the kids say, seen. David Beckham is the latest on my list of "ha ha, no" potential inductees, but there were others before him. I'll try not to have too many others after him. Or if I do, I'll try to phrase it as "there were simply ten or more who I thought were more deserving."
Beckham technically breaks the criteria I set for myself – does the story of American soccer make sense without this player? Well, no. But then, you can't tell the story of American soccer without Phil Anschutz, and how many assists did he have?
Last year I voted for Ante Razov, a player that…I believe was not the tenth most deserving player on the ballot. But it was his final year, and I didn't want the fact that I didn't particularly care for the guy ruin his final, if unlikely, chance to induction. Besides, I had a vote or two to spare. Jeff Cunningham was the one I left off, and I had time, and every intention, to make it up to him.
No harm, no foul. Razov was not inducted, Cunningham is still on the ballot.
I had no intention of making it a rule to bow towards people whose time was running out. Razov didn't have a fantastic off-season in 2017. Nothing changed at all. The only difference was who else was on the ballot.
A year later, the Hall distributes its ballot, which I proceed to order in the following manner.
Kate Sobrero Markgraf
Lauren Cheney Holiday*
This isn't the best ballot I've seen, or will ever see – probably the Mia Hamm/Julie Foudy ballot wins that prize. But this is the toughest ballot I've seen. This is the first ballot where I've failed to vote for a player that I voted for previously, when it was possible. I dropped the first goalkeeper to win multiple MLS Cups, and I dropped the all-time MLS assist leader at the time of his retirement.
Looking back, I could have dropped Abby. She would have made it in comfortably in any case, and at least I could have put Cat Reddick Whitehill on. But she deserves to go in unanimously, even if she wasn't my favorite player and I didn't like watching her play and I didn't like the way the national team looked during her career and I thought magicJack was a blot on the sport and oh, well, too late now, I voted for her.
No, she really does deserve to go in unanimously. Just because there were other players who also deserved to go in unanimously, but did not, has no bearing on this.
Boxx and Cheney Holiday belong, too. You can read their bios if you disagree.
Homare Sawa belongs, partly for the same reason I've tried to make a campaign for Jaime Moreno and Pat Onstad. It's not the US National Team Hall of Fame. It's the US Soccer Hall of Fame. If the women's club scene in the 2000's was largely a promenade of disappointment, that certainly wasn't the fault of a superstar like Homare Sawa.
Not going to lie to you, though. She's on the ballot because Sissi can't be, and because I'm genuinely afraid she won't be on the ballot next year if I and a few others don't stick my neck out. The precedent for international players on the men's side is horrible enough, but down the road we'll have Marta, Christine Sinclair, Sam Kerr, and who knows who else. Players who played in America contributed to American soccer. I don't feel too horrible about forcing Pat Onstad to step aside for one year (assuming he cares about my ballot in the first place).
Then there's Taylor Twellman.
I couldn't live with myself, folks. Maybe I should have the ballot taken away from me for this, but I couldn't do it. What if. What if it was my one vote that kept him out.
"Then the Veterans Committee would put him in eventually, you goof, stop acting like you're Hodor or whatever."
….no, I still think I did the right thing.
Is the logic of not voting for someone until the last possible moment defensible? Nope! Do I plan to do this every year? Well, um, I didn't with Ben Olsen or Tony Sanneh. I'll probably limit it to people I've voted for in the past that may not be in the top ten of a particular ballot. I'd have made room for Steve Ralston and Jeff Cunningham somehow if it were there last year.
I still hate the idea of a "sympathy" Hall of Fame vote. And that's not what this was, Taylor Twellman has a good solid case. I put him ahead of other people who have good solid cases, which isn't a crime. But it was a gamesmanship, ballot-rigging vote, and even though Albert Burneko would approve – well, actually, no, he probably wouldn't, he strikes me as someone difficult to please – I feel like I made the best of a lousy situation.
I was going to say these ballots aren't going to get any easier, but maybe they will! We miss the World Cup a few more times, or if the women decide to make it a habit of getting bounced in the quarterfinals or before? That would thin the herd out beautifully! Christian Pulisic would be the only player voted in for a two-decade stretch, but at least the votes would be easy.
Fine, so Ohio isn't really the world capital of association football. And you know what, it might even be some time before it is – three, maybe five years, who knows?
For fan bases this close in proximity, it's fun to see how different they already are. Columbus Crew Stadium – or MAPFRE Stadium, if you're some sort of capitalist – is full of wizened, hardened fans who love the Crew and hate MLS. There will be a siege mentality in that fanbase probably for over a decade, assuming it ever goes away. They may not be angry or desperate as much as last year, but they battled every week, every game.
I'm not a Columbus Crew fan, but it feels more like home. Part of it, of course, is that for a generation of US men's national team fans, it was home. I think Precourt took that away from us, and we'll see how many of the ghosts and spirits make the commute to the new stadium. But for now, those are the same walls, same benches, same slabs of concrete. Major League Soccer fans who don't support the US are, of course, not obliged to get misty-eyed over this.
But there's a shared experience among longtime MLS fans, mostly surprise at being longtime MLS fans. Again, I'm probably projecting here in my senescence, but Major League Soccer was such a Generation X league. We grew up thinking we'd be nuked due to the malice or hatred of some incompetent dictator. Or the Soviet Union, whichever.
KIDDING! I'm KIDDING, we're all pals here. How's the vegan veal, everybody?
So of course the league had "dying young" spray-painted all over it. So did human civilization. We thought the baby boomers were going to kill us all. Or at least, do it more quickly.
I mean, was this the work of someone who thought they would live to see 30?
Crew fans – like Earthquakes fans most obviously, but also RSL fans, Sporting KC fans, Rapids fans, and of course everyone who was around when the Florida teams were folded – are surprised to still be here, for lots of reasons. I can relate, man. That's why it's fun to go to Columbus, even if the weather is terrible and you're stuck in front of two yapping bloggers who think they're just so damn amusing. We can kick it like it's 1996 now.
Columbus, the city, is home to a gigantic college and a gigantic state government. It's a mixture of forward thinking progressivism and entrenched political power. Kind of like…
I wasn't going to say Austin. I was going to say…crap, I need a state capital with a huge university….
Tallahassee. Yes. Columbus is kind of like Tallahassee, Florida.
In any case, the hunted underdog feel of the Crew seems weird in their current context. It will be interesting to see if the tone changes when the new stadium goes up. It might even once again be a US national team home. Until then, Crew fans will be as hard as the hats on their dearly departed logo.
Meanwhile, there's Cincinnati – a conservative banking and engineering capital, whose Gilded Age heyday would be mourned if anyone here admitted it had ended. Oh, and it's also the coolest, happiest place in the soccer world right now.
Yes, I know. But even if I weren't in the blast radius, I'd still love it. Major League Soccer has a glorious history of adding fans and communities with messiah complexes that would make Jim Jones take off his sunglasses and raise an eyebrow skeptically. The law of averages states that someday, MLS will add a team whose fans don't consider themselves God's gift to God, just as it's theoretically possible that those same fans won't treat the next set of new arrivals like a ship full of plague rats. But I'll be sad when that day happens.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati and its soccer team right now have a self-esteem you could use to sharpen diamonds. FC Cincinnati, champions of nothing, playing in a college football stadium Amos Alonzo Stagg would consider quaint. And take it from me, it's wonderful. It really is. I'd be the first to tell you if it wasn't, but if you're within the catchment area of the Ohio Valley and you don't make the trippert to Nippert, you're missing out. I broke down and bought a season ticket, because it would honestly be stupid of me not to.
But…they're not my boys.
Maybe it's because I was in LA at the beginning of MLS, and feel like I'm a part of their story. And I like FC Cincinnati perfectly fine, I hope they do well. But they're not a part of me. They're a part of all the people here who made it a success, though, and the people here should be proud as hell. And I'll be cheering them on, too. Every game but one.