The D.C. Sports Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony Sunday afternoon, this year headlined by Katie Ledecky, Juan Dixon and Tony Kornheiser, among others. If you’ve ever been to this event, it’s easy to see how much it means to the honorees, many of whom have not received ovations from 30,000 people in years, if at all.
The Hall of Fame, which exists not as a formal place but in our hearts, and also on that big banner up the left-field line at Nationals Park, covers an impressive range of sports and eras and contributors. It’s no doubt made many people smile many times. And heavens knows sports are nothing without their history and their historical debates.
And yet, if you’ve gazed at that banner — or at the latest group of inductees, or the names of those who are not in this Hall — you’ve no doubt come up with a few questions. Here are a few of the most pressing, along with some answers.
Why are there more Washington Post inductees than Washington Capitals inductees?
Kornheiser’s induction on Sunday makes at least seven honorees from The Washington Post orbit, with the podcast host joining Shirley Povich, Mo Siegel, George Solomon, Michael Wilbon, Thomas Boswell and Christine Brennan in the Hall.
The Capitals? They have three: Rod Langway, Olie Kolzig and Bryan Murray. Four, if you include longtime radio voice Ron Weber, who was one of this year’s inductees.
Now, I think we can all agree that there’s at least one more Post employee who simply has to be up on that wall, and I have my finest cheese-themed T-shirt all picked out for that event. But maybe we can also agree that the Caps are more central to the D.C. sports fan experience than the daily fishwrap?
Who’s missing from hockey? You could start with Hockey Hall of Famers with links to the Caps, people like Dino Ciccarelli, Adam Oates, Mike Gartner, Larry Murphy and Scott Stevens. Or what about Dale Hunter and Peter Bondra? Or former General Manager David Poile?
“That is absolutely right, and in fact we have talked about that,” said Bobby Goldwater, the Hall’s chairman, who is leading an effort to refine and codify the group’s policies and procedures. “If you look at the Capitals, if you look at D.C. United, there’s no question that there are obvious missing people. There are certainly some deserving people who are just not in there yet.”
Part of the issue is that the Hall originated at RFK Stadium as the Washington Hall of Stars, with induction procedures that are somewhat lost to history but that clearly seemed to favor RFK’s current and former tenants. More importantly, the Hall went dormant for about a decade starting in 2001, before Washington luminaries Charlie Brotman and Andy Ockershausen — with prompting from The Post’s John Kelly, and help from the Nats’ Mark Lerner — brought it back. Those dark years have left the voting board playing catch up, with dozens of obvious selections still yet to be tapped.
“We have to catch up,” Goldwater said. “We could do two dozen people a year, but I don’t think that’s anybody’s desire or intent. But we think that, over time, people will see the range of folks that will be inducted. And they’ll see that there is a thoughtful effort to put other deserving people in the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame.”
Speaking of the Caps … Alex Ovechkin isn’t in. But Katie Ledecky just got in this week, despite a rule that “athletes must be retired for at least three years to be eligible.” What gives?
“We are working on that process right now,” Goldwater said. “I know what’s on the website, but this has also evolved over time. The people who nominated Katie pointed out her unquestioned qualifications and decided that this would be a timely thing to do. So in response to that, quite frankly, we are in the process of revising the selection rules and bylaws to update them. They have not been reviewed or changed, and this is kind of an opportunity to do that.”
Goldwater pointed out that no future development in Ledecky’s career would somehow make her unworthy for induction, which is true. But the same could likely be said of Ovechkin, or Ryan Zimmerman, or John Wall, or any number of other active stars. A point with which Goldwater would agree.
“Nothing is going to change how great she is and was and how wonderfully she represented her home area, but we should have things that are more precise so that anybody who’s interested can see how things are being done,” he said. “So we are working on those rules and bylaws, literally right now.”
How exactly are people nominated and elected, anyhow?
No surprise: these policies are being worked on as well. As it stands now, there are 13 committee members, ranging from active and retired journalists (Brenda J. Curtis-Heiken, David Elfin, Chick Hernandez, George Solomon, Doc Walker, Phil Wood, Joe Yasharoff) to ownership (Mark Lerner) to men about town (Goldwater, Brotman, Ockershausen, Phil Hochberg, Mark Tuohey).
Committee members each suggest nominees at the annual meeting and speak on their behalf; there were close to 30 nominees this past winter, from athletes to coaches to executives to media members. There is a round of voting to winnow out the most serious candidates, and then voting on each remaining nominee. The published policy says nominees must receive at least 75 percent of the votes to be elected. The general aim is for about 10 annual honorees; there were nine this year, and 11 in 2016.
And so how are board members chosen? How long do they serve? These are all things that will be codified soon.
There have been rumblings that honorees must commit to attend the ceremony in person, which explains the otherwise inexplicable omission of John Thompson Jr. until 2015. Is that true?
“No, that is not true,” Goldwater said. “Several years ago I think there was a desire for that to be the case, but that is certainly not the case.”
In fact, three of Sunday’s honorees — Ledecky, Dixon and Brenda Frese — had conflicts this week and could not attend. They were honored in absentia. You do not need to attend to see your name on the wall.
“I will certainly concede that once was the case, or at least the goal,” Goldwater said. “But I think things have evolved, certainly in my time on the committee. People who deserve to be inducted should be inducted.”
Is there some sort of character clause? Is that why Len Bias is not in?
There is not. Bias’s absence is yet another historical quirk. For many years, the committee was not interested in inducting college athletes who did not have previous or future ties to the D.C. area, other than their college years. That changed in 2016 with the induction of Patrick Ewing, and this year with the arrival of Dixon and Tom McMillen. (David Robinson was inducted in 2015, but he also has high school ties to the area. As does Bias.)
Of course, that policy was always problematic, since a host of college coaches were in the hall.
“How could college basketball coaches get inducted to the Hall of Fame without their players?” Goldwater asked. “That really didn’t make any sense.”
Yet again, though, there is catching up to do. Where are Allen Iverson and Alonzo Mourning? Where are Boomer Esiason and Randy White? Where is Kristi Toliver? Where is Bias? You’re just going to have to be patient.
“We don’t want to have too many people from any single category at any one time, so this may take a few years,” Goldwater said.
What about owners?
A quick scan reveals George Preston Marshall, Clark Griffith, Edward Bennett Williams, Jack Kent Cooke, Abe Pollin, Ted Leonsis and Ted Lerner are all members. Seems to me there’s one prominent name missing.
Imagine the ovation. Just imagine it.
What about administrators, coaches and members of the media?
The Hall’s website says you must be 62 to be eligible in those categories. Let’s call that one under review, as well, because Wilbon and Frese, among others, are sure as heck not 62.
How long do you have to be a Washington athlete to qualify?
Among the 33 (!) (!!) (!!!) (!!!!) former Redskins players enshrined, for example, is Bill Dudley, who played just three seasons in Washington. But Basketball Hall of Famer Bernard King is not enshrined, despite playing four seasons in Washington, when he scored all kinds of buckets and made an all-NBA team. Bobby Dandridge is also not enshrined, despite being a key cog on a title-winning team during his four seasons in Washington.
This, as you’d guess, is another policy that is under consideration.
(The only Wizards/Bullets players in the Hall are Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Phil Chenier and Dave Bing.)
How long do you have to be a Washington coach to qualify?
Vince Lombardi coached just one 7-5-2 season in Washington, and he’s in. But Ted Williams coached three seasons in Washington and is not.
This, as you’d guess, is another policy that’s under consideration.
What about GMs?
George Selkirk was the GM of the Senators for six years, when they never finished with a winning record. He’s in.
Charley Casserly was the GM of the Redskins for 11 seasons, when they won a Super Bowl. He isn’t.
Which just demonstrates that today’s committee is working off a sometimes befuddling past. They can’t take anyone out, of course, and they can only put in so many people every year, and they’re trying to create a diverse list spanning different sports and eras, so it’s going to take a while.
Who else is missing?
You tell me. Jeff Malone? Gus Johnson? John Lucas? Joe Smith? Danny Ferry? Steve Francis? Grant Hill? Mia Hamm? Bruce Arena? Ben Olsen? Jaime Moreno? Eddie Pope? Steve Buckhantz? Joe Beninati? Alan Webb? Jim Larranaga? In addition to all the other names mentioned above, and all the local Olympians, and all the lesser-known but still deserving names. (Paul Tagliabue and Glenn Harris both got in this year.)
There will likely be new policies this offseason, and then next summer there will be new inductees. And we should all debate them and discuss them and figure out who’s missing and who should be next, as the committee tries to catch up
“I can’t explain things that happened back in the 1980s when [some of] these selections were made,” Goldwater said. “I just can’t. But I think anybody will be able to look at what is done going forward and say ‘Oh yeah, maybe this person deserves it over that person.” Frankly, that’s what sports is all about, having a good, healthy, enthusiastic debate. That’s always welcome That’d be great. We are where we are, and now we can hopefully do even better going forward.”