All the Hall needs is a few more inductees.
The Hall’s new process, with more discussion and less anonymity, may help. We should get at least two people inducted from the “Players” pool (the “Veterans” pool for those who’ve been retired longer is separate) each year. But thanks to the stingy voters of past years, we have quite a backlog of worthy candidates.
Now the Hall is adding another group of candidates from U.S. Soccer’s extended national teams -- Paralympic soccer, beach soccer and futsal. Some of those players have impressive resumes, but they have to compete with Steve Cherundolo, Christie Pearce, Hope Solo and many others to earn one of two or three spots in the Hall.
The Players pool is still limited to two potential inductees each year. If either the Builders pool or the Veterans pool has no inductee, which is unthinkable given the deep pools of candidates, a third person from the Players pool can get in. Add the Colin Jose Media Award recipient and the biggest possible number of honorees in a year is five.
As it stands now, soccer’s Hall is more exclusive than any of the “Big Four” Halls of Fame in annual player inductees. Even the grouches who run the Baseball Hall of Fame sometimes induct six players in a given year, though they slammed the door shut this year because of Curt Schilling's history of inflammatory comments and the ongoing fallout from baseball's steroids era. The Basketball Hall of Fame has had several 10-member classes in recent years. The Hockey Hall of Fame usually has four players and one or two builders. The Pro Football Hall of Fame typically has 6-8 inductees -- all from just one league.
The National Soccer Hall of Fame draws from several different candidate pools: U.S. men and women, foreign MLS and NWSL players, and now extended national teams in the Paralympics, beach soccer and futsal. Builders can include people who played vital roles at any level -- pro, college, youth or the Federation itself.
At worst, the annual limits should be doubled to four Players, two Builders and two Veterans.
It’s not as if unworthy people will suddenly gallop through the front door in Frisco.
An eight-person class of 2021 could include Cherundolo, Pearce, Solo and Shannon Boxx from the Players pool while still omitting Lauren Holiday, every former MLS player, multiple world champions and gold medalists, and every Paralympian.
The Veterans panel could pick Kate Markgraf, unfathomably snubbed in all her years on the Players ballot, and Jaime Moreno while still omitting Marco Etcheverry, one of the best best playmakers ever to grace U.S. soil along with Carlos Valderrama, who didn't make the final 10 this year from the 41-player 2021 eligibility list.
The Builders committee could pick legendary referee Esse Baharmast and legendary coach Clive Charles while omitting USL founder Francisco Marcos, Kevin Payne and Richard Groff. (Longtime U.S. Soccer Foundation president Ed Foster-Simeon, 20-year AYSO president/chairman Burton Haimes, Fire/Red Stars founding executive Peter Wilt, and some national team coaches didn't advance to the final 10 this year.)So even with some long-term changes, the Hall has a short-term problem. Fortunately, we have precedent for handling such a problem:
2003: One year before the start of the modern voting era and the influx of World Cup veterans, the Hall inducts eight NASL veterans.
2005: A special committee goes through decades of records to come up with five players to add to the regularly selected induction class.
Now that we’re shifting to a new voting era and expanding eligibility for consideration, what better time to make such a retroactive sweep? Such catch-up classes aren’t exclusive to soccer. In 2006, baseball’s Hall added 17 players and executives from the Negro Leagues and their antecedents. Last year, football’s Hall added a 15-person “Centennial Slate.”
A special committee (or two) could focus on two groups of players:• Paralympians, who are new to consideration for the Hall.
Finally, one more consideration: Follow the Basketball Hall of Fame’s lead and induct entire teams. Every World Cup-winning and Olympic gold-winning women’s team. The 2002 men’s World Cup team. (All of the 1930 players and the 1950 players are already in as individuals.) The 2009 Confederations Cup team. The 1998 D.C. United team.
Again, none of this will diminish the accomplishments of people who are already in the Hall. Adding Valderrama won’t render Tommy Fleming’s Bethlehem Steel accomplishments any less distinguished. Putting a bunch of gold medalists in the Hall won’t dilute the recognition of the 1930 World Cup third-place teamBring in more inductees. The fans will follow.