Five Votes; Four Were Easy

Posted in Latest Developments on June 24, 2005

By Aaron Forsythe

From a meeting between then-Commissioner of Baseball Bart Giamatti and Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax:

“Sandy was talking about guys who threw spitters, and how they got away with it. Anybody who really knows how baseball works knows the spitball has been part of the game from the beginning. Not in Bart's book. ‘That's cheating!' Bart said. ‘I can't believe it.' You could see poor Bart, struggling with the idea of cheating in his game. He was a romanticist.”

—from The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine by Fay Vincent

We're talking Hall of Fame today, folks. Love it or hate it, it is the topic of conversation around here lately.

I love baseball more than the average guy. Not only do I love the stats, I love the history—I'm constantly reading baseball books—and the game itself. I'm the only person I know that can sit through an entire Royals-Devil Rays game.

There have been a lot of analogies made between our Hall of Fame and baseball's in articles and on message boards, and many of the analogies have been bad. But the truth is that when we set up our Hall, we drew a lot of inspiration from baseball's, so there a lot of valid comparisons to be made. In my recent baseball reading I've come upon a few poignant quotes that have some relevance to our Hall of Fame discussion, and I've dispersed them throughout my article today simply as food for thought.

“The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, enshrines some players whose worthiness seems questionable to the game's most knowledgeable fans—and excludes others whose credentials are remarkable. Critics of the current voting system, which uses two sets of electors and has been used for over sixty years, argue that it is too subjective—the only measurable requirement is that the player have at least ten years of major league service at the position for which he is selected.”

—from Outrageous Fortune: What's Wrong With Hall of Fame Voting, and How to Make It Statistically Sound by James F. Vail

Subjectivity is rough. Let's look again at what the criteria for casting our votes is:

“Voting shall be based upon the player's performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general.”

That seems like it says a lot, but it doesn't say that much. It does not say:

  • Pick the five people with the most wins or most points or highest median finish; or
  • Rank all the candidates from 0-10 in the five categories, then pick the five with the best average; or
  • Don't choose anyone that doesn't score positively in each of the five categories.

While it is fine to do any of these things, it is not what we were told to do. We weren't really told to do anything other than figure it out on our own. Totally subjective.

Another interesting quirk is that everyone's votes are made public. There is no hiding. That, in some ways, influences the outcome of some of the voting, like it or not.

“It's difficult to tell which is longer—the list of records Ty Cobb left shattered when he retired from baseball, or the stories of his nastiness.

“‘In legend I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport.' Cobb, who wrote that just before his death in 1961, was possibly the only one not to believe the legend. For everyone else, this was a case of perception and reality meeting.”

—from “He was a pain… but a great pain” by Larry Schwartz,

Here are the first four people I cast votes for - my votes are already logged and final… no going back now!

Jon Finkel. The no-brainer. I first met Finkel when I was still a PTQ-playing scrub and Randy Buehler brought him by the student union at the University of Pittsburgh for some practice drafts prior to US Nationals one year. My circle of Magic playing friends and I were pretty awe-stricken that Jon Finkel was in our building playing with us, and we were even more impressed when he fanned through his second pack and announced that the guy to his right had taken either Muscle Sliver or Pacifism, and he was right. We hadn't heard of print runs yet.

Years later I lost to Finkel at Nationals, but ended up winning a slot next to him on the US Team. It was amazing to watch Finkel mow through the competition on the way to becoming World Champion, and it was an honor being on the winning team with him.

Tommi Hovi. Winning two individual Pro Tours feels like a reason for automatic induction. The list is very short—Finkel, Kai Budde, Nicolai Herzog, and Hovi. Hovi was the first to do it. True, his opponent was disqualified in the Finals of one of them, but that's not Hovi's fault.

Hovi has played in big events as recently as 2004, and even though he's not finishing quite as highly these days, it's nice to know he's still playing. Plus, he is in the top five candidates in Points Per Event in both limited and constructed, showing a good all-around game.

Darwin Kastle. Tons of points, tons of events played. Lots of Top 8's and a team Pro Tour win. Hard to argue against him in any way. I can appreciate the “body of work,” and feel the need to reward longevity of Darwin's degree.

Rob Dougherty. Rob, like Darwin, has a long fantastic career. Plus, he's a wonderful tournament organizer and store owner. He's everything I want a Hall of Famer to be.

Is it weird voting for two members of the same team? Heck, I almost voted for all three. Although my roots are with Team CMU and our relationship with Your Move Games was competitive and sometimes antagonistic, YMG have been pillars of the pro community. I can see myself voting for Dave Humpherys next year.

Wizards actually used both Hovi and the members of YMG in print ads for the Pro Tour a couple years ago. That's respect.

On to my fifth vote…

From a meeting between then-Deputy Commissioner of Baseball Fay Vincent and Reuven Katz, head lawyer for Pete Rose:

“Almost at the start, Katz said, ‘Pete believes he is a national treasure and so do we.' I will never forget that phrase, ‘national treasure.' I sat there thinking about Rose's manic levels of betting, and here his lawyer was talking about his as a ‘national treasure.' I knew a settlement was out of the question. Katz talked about Rose paying a fine and doing community service for actions that were ‘regrettable,' but there could be no acknowledgement that he had bet on baseball.”

—from The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine by Fay Vincent

How does the company stand on the issue of Mike Long—a man who has transcended mortality and become the Essence of Cheating in many players' eyes—getting into the Hall of Fame?

The company allowed him to be eligible. The powers-that-be could have easily said that anyone ever suspended by the DCI is ineligible for the Hall of Fame, much like how the powers-that-be in baseball said that Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson are ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame based on their actions. The issue of Rose and Jackson never gets to be decided by the voters, although many baseball writers swear they'd vote for him if given the chance.

I'm glad that banned players are eligible, because I certainly plan to vote for Bob Maher next year. Blanket rules annoy me. Unfortunately, we're left to make the hard decision when it comes to Mike Long, and make it publicly.

So what matters to me? I stated in the forums of one of Brian David-Marshall's columns that I was probably voting for Long because of his contributions to the game—he made it relevant and interesting. In many ways this is what Rosewater is arguing—we need Mike Long for this whole thing to “work.”

It's not that I like his cheating—far from it. I actually despise that. What I like is his, shall we say, showmanship. In many ways, showmanship is the opposite of sportsmanship. I don't value sportsmanship very much at all, but I do value showmanship, lumping it in as a “contribution to the game.” When I'm at a Pro Tour, I want to be entertained.

Shawn “Hammer” Regnier taunting Tommy Guevin to the point where Guevin allegedly throws up is hardly sportsmanlike. Dave Price's “death stare” or refusal to ever wish an opponent good luck are hardly sportsmanlike. Chris Pikula's “pumping the fist” at his opponent's mulligans is hardly sportsmanlike. But we'd all vote for those guys in a heartbeat, claiming they were all great sports.

I like antics. Even when I was playing, I could appreciate a good piece of showmanship, even at my own expense. Incidents like Randy Buehler flipping out on Sigurd Eskeland at Worlds or Osyp Lebedowicz tearing a card in half during a draft would never be confused with cheating, and they make for fantastic stories that anyone who was there will remember for a long time. As I said in BDM's forums, “When the PT is a bunch of bookish silent prudes, I no longer care what happens.” Where art thou, Peter Szigeti?

Long was good at that stuff. I had to play him in the Top 8 of Nationals 2000 and it was memorable in every way. As a bonus, there was no cheating. If every match everyone had to play against Mike Long was like that one, I'm certain he'd be in the Hall of Fame.

So sportsmanship, whatever. Okay, if you punched an opponent in the teeth or something, maybe I wouldn't vote for you. But integrity… hmmm…

Having worked here, I have been convinced that the existence of Mike Long was good for the Pro Tour in some weird roundabout way. But having been a player for years, I'm still disgusted at what he did and pretty sure he got away with more than he should have been allowed to. I'm a little wary of shining too bright a light into the cracks of this whole process—I'm not writing an expose about the DCI in the mid ‘90's. Besides, if I start digging up too much dirt on everyone's past, I could probably find some nit-picky reason not to vote for Finkel, Hovi, Kastle, or Dougherty either.

But nothing needs to be dug up to know that Long cheated and was caught many times. There's the whole Cadaverous Bloom in the lap thing. The DQ from the US Draft Challenge. The stacked deck in the Masques limited PT against Kastle. And many more that I've heard anecdotally from my coworkers.

The thing that kills me it that he's never admitted anything, repented, or changed. And just recently, given the chance to humanize himself through a series of interview questions from Brian David-Marshall, he replied with some insane infomercial email that tries to turn his Hall nomination into profit.

When I first hinted that I'd probably be voting for Long, I left the door open by saying I could be talked out of it. Well, Mike himself basically talked me out of it with that email. It probably shouldn't have taken even that much.

It looks like lines are being drawn in the sand, and I know what side of the line I want to be on. I've mulled it over and changed my position. I don't think Mike deserves to be there, nor do I think any good can come from his election. He is cheating personified, and I can't in good conscience vote for cheating.

Cheating just can't be tolerated like that in a mental game like Magic. In baseball it's a totally different story—cheating is de rigueur. It's part of the culture. The spitball, the corked bat, the phantom double play, the takeout slide, the brushback pitch, pine tar, performance enhancing drugs—a lot of this stuff is taught to players by coaches and teammates as they move up the ranks. The game within the game is that both sides are always cheating to some degree—the loser is who gets caught.

My father, one of the most honorable men I know, pitched in the minor leagues for the Dodgers for many years. He has stories of chewing tobacco-enhanced curveballs and other tricks like pitching from the front of the mound instead of on the rubber. Anything you could get away with to win was acceptable to some degree.

Baseball has four umpires watching the game at all times. Magic doesn't. That kind of cheating can't exist in a non-physical game like ours, can't be made acceptable, can't be part of the normal goings-on. That's where the baseball comparisons break down. If Mike Long is the Ty Cobb or the Pete Rose or the Sammy Sosa of Magic, it doesn't matter. We can't have any of those.

So my fifth vote goes to…

Alan Comer. I almost didn't vote for Alan because he never won a PT, and I kind of feel that the inaugural class should be composed of people whose mantles are covered with trophies. But he did everything right and won a lot of money doing it. Five Top 8's is no joke. His deckbuilding and theory were top-notch, and his work on Magic Online cannot be ignored.

My votes are cast, they aren't changing, and I'm done talking about it. I know I'll have to hear Worth Wollpert and Mark Rosewater screaming at each other about the Hall of Fame voting for another month, so say a prayer for my sanity.

“In 1936, in the first balloting for the Hall of Fame, Cobb received the most votes (222 of 226), outpolling Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

“Cobb's outbursts didn't stop just because he no longer played baseball. He continued to argue with waitresses, cashiers, customs officials, policemen and old friends. When he drank, his behavior was even worse. Still, he was a wise investor, and he made a fortune on the stock market. When he died of cancer at age 74 on July 17, 1961, in Atlanta, The Sporting News reported he was worth as much as $12 million.

“Only four people from baseball attended his funeral.”

—from “He was a pain… but a great pain” by Larry Schwartz,

If you live in the US, good luck at Regionals this weekend.

Last Week's Poll:

How did you incorporate the Mirrodin “artifact-matters” cards (Affinity cards, Leonin Elder, etc.) into your decks?
I made decks with almost all Mirrodin-block cards. 4534 41.4%
I did both of the above. 2891 26.4%
I didn't play with them at all. 2598 23.7%
I put some of them into older decks that had lots of artifacts already. 920 8.4%
Total 10943 100.0%

These results back up my claim that Mirrodin was "kind of" parasitic. The best way to use most of the cards was with other cards in the set, there were still opportunities to come up with crazy concoctions using older cards. Part of the problem was that we intentionally kept artifacts out of the environment leading up to Mirrodin, which was probably a mistake. The set would have worked better if the environment had a few artifacts in it already.

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