Soccer Hall of Fame voting is actually NOT broken

Broken pencils

The National Soccer Hall of Fame will soon have a new home, and the first class to be inducted includes Brad Friedel, Cindy Parlow Cone, Tiffeny Milbrett, Don Garber1Who was actually elected in 2016 but who deferred his induction until now. and Bob Contiguglia. (The first three got in on the Players ballot, while the latter two are Builders.)

It seems like no election in any hall of fame can go by without someone saying someone was “robbed” or that their failure to be elected was “inexplicable.” What’s actually inexplicable is how people don’t get how this works.

I am not aware of a voted-for hall of fame anywhere where every candidate gets in immediately as they become eligible. Some fans (and, apparently, media members) seem to want everyone they think deserves it to get in right away, and say it’s a crime if they don’t. That’s not the world in which we live.

There seems to be one of these flare-ups every year, only the player in question is different. This time, according to Mr. Goff, at least, it’s Steve Cherundolo.

Now, Cherundolo (an outstanding player who I voted for, by the way) has been on the ballot for just two years. He’s received 48 percent and 47 percent of the vote in those two years, which is more than Earnie Stewart and Joe-Max Moore (both later elected) got in their first two years.

Eight players have reached the hall after being eligible for three or more years. (Tiffeny Millbrett, Scurry, Moore, Stewart, Thomas Dooley, Preki, Jeff Agoos and Joy Fawcett.) That group makes up nearly half of all inductees since 2009. The waiting may be the hardest part, but it’s not out of the ordinary.

I have heard it suggested that the rule that the electorate can only vote for 10 players is the culprit, and that deserving players would get in more quickly if it didn’t exist. But that’s not really an issue, it says here, because there aren’t 11 or more Hall of Famers on a given ballot. If there were, we’d probably have elected 38 players since 20082And probably done better internationally, at least on the men’s side.. That’s too many.

I have been a voter for 13 years now, and in seven of the last nine elections, I haven’t even used all 10 slots. I’m probably not alone in that regard. I’ve given Favorite Son votes, yes (like anybody else3I voted for Frank Klopas, who was a fine player and a friend, but a vote for Frank is neither a slam-dunk nor an embarrassment.), but they’ve never kept someone out of the Hall. I’ve never failed to vote for a player inducted that year.

As for Cherundolo, given he was in the top 10 on 47 percent of all voters’ ballots this year, it seems unreasonable that 36 more would have gone for him had they been able to vote for 11, 12, 13 or more. (Based on the estimated 186 votes4Someone can check my math on that. Going with 186 votes was the only way I could get many of the percentages published by Steve Goff to work, though a lot of them were slightly off, probably because of rounding differences..)

Once you pass the top 10, players normally get under 30 percent of votes. With a decent-sized electorate, the results become meaningful at some point. And no one has started below 42 percent (Stewart) and been eventually inducted. Voting for more players isn’t going to do it. That’s not the issue.

Meanwhile, Marco Etcheverry, Frankie Hejduk, Kate Sobrero Markgraf and Carlos Bocanegra are the only players to get 50 percent or more of the vote in a given year and NOT be elected (yet). (Etch doesn’t seem likely, the others do, as does Cherundolo.) It’s a pretty good bet that if you’re getting right around 50 percent to start, things look good for your longer-term prospects.

Then there’s the related questions of players like Jaime Moreno and Steve Ralston. Our domestic league has had a number of stars over the years, some born on these shores and some born elsewhere. But no Major League Soccer player has been elected to the Hall without having a significant career for the US Men’s National Team. Fifteen years worth of data makes this obvious.

We have had 18 American MLS players elected, and most would have been anyway, even had they not played stateside. (Stewart – recently named general manager of the USMNT – had the sparsest MLS career of those 18.) Meanwhile, players like Ralston and Jason Kreis and Taylor Twellman (who all earned caps for the US, but were not significant stars) continue to fall short, year after year. It’s obvious that this electorate has and continues to prioritize national team success over all.

Fair, or no?

By leaving out players like Moreno and Carlos Valderrama and Etcheverry and Kreis and Ralston and Twellman, are we building a hall that is truly representative of “contributing to the growth of soccer in the US?” You could make the case that the answer is “no.” (I have the same argument about indoor soccer, which is basically ignored by the hall.) A number of foreign players who played in our domestic leagues are in the Hall, but they all predate MLS and all came in under a completely different voting system that was overhauled in 2004. (There’s been an argument floated for an MLS-only Hall of Fame, which I think would devalue both.)

So it’s possible we’re not electing everyone who deserves it (depending on your definition), but are we really being too harsh? Are we electing too few players?

Since 2008, 113 different players have been on the Player Ballot. Of those, 16 have been elected (14 percent, one in seven). How high would you think is reasonable for that number? Is it 25 percent? Is it 50 percent? Keep in mind those are the players who cleared the bar in terms of caps or years in a domestic league to reach the ballot in the first place. We’re not inducting 14 percent of ALL players. Nor should we.

So, here’s the thing: not everybody is going to get in right away. But there aren’t a lot of deserving players who stay on the outside looking in forever. So I’m not seeing a bunch of mission-critical problems. Some folks need to chill.

I mean, let’s be honest here: If Steve Cherundolo doesn’t make the Hall of Fame in a given year, that’s really only a problem for Steve Cherundolo. I have yet to figure out why anyone who’s NOT Steve Cherundolo thinks it’s a mission-critical problem.

The Soccer Hall of Fame is not perfect, but the election process is pretty good. We can’t just keep switching procedures or electorates until some people get the results they like52023 update: Oddly, that’s exactly what happened..

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch

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