At the Gathering: Don't Hassle The HOF

Hall of Fame voting has begun, and this year there are a few wrinkles added to the mix. Let's take a look at the requirements, the changes, and some likely inductees.

Three years of inductees has really given us a solid base of Hall of Famers, headlined by Jon Finkel and Kai Budde. Each year, the top 5 vote-getters were inducted into the Hall of Fame. To be eligible, you had to meet three requirements.
1. 100 or more Pro Points. So, you actually have to have done reasonable well at this game. Makes sense.
2. Your first Pro Tour had to have been at least ten years previous. Note, you didn't have to do well in that first experience. An 0-2 drop still counts, even if it took you many more years to actually do well. Just playing in a PT 10 or more years ago satisfies this requirement.
3. You cannot currently be suspended by the DCI. Not really much of a problem, just avoid hitting old ladies with chairs.
There is a new twist to the game, however. Rather than take the top 5 vote getters, now, any eligible player appearing on at least 40% of the weighted ballots will be inducted. If no players meet that criteria (very unlikely) then the single top vote-getter will be inducted. So, mathematically speaking, we'll have anywhere from 1-12.5 players inducted, which realistically means 12. (You can't induct half a player, not even Mike Long) Historically speaking, there's been an average of just under 4 players a year that have exceeded that 40% threshold, so we should expect a 4 man induction group. Here's the stats for voting in the previous three years:

Year 1: (class of 2005)
1 Jon Finkel 97.10%
2 Darwin Kastle (Mess) 62.32%
3 Tommi Hovi 52.17%
4 Alan Comer 46.38%
5 Olle Råde 34.78% (Would have missed the cut under the current standards)

Year 2:
1 Bob Maher 60.01%
2 Dave Humpherys 56.78%
3 Raphaël Lévy 42.58%
4 Gary Wise 39.03% (Would have missed the cut under the current standards)
5 Rob Dougherty 38.20% (Would have missed the cut under the current standards)

Year 3:
1 Kai Budde 90.42%
2 Zvi Mowshowitz 62.28%
3 Tsuyoshi Fujita 49.74%
4 Nicolai Herzog 41.50%
5 Randy Buehler 35.58% (Would have missed the cut under current standard)

So, four fewer players in the HOF, including some very notable players. Olle Råde, Rob Dougherty, Gary Wise, and Randy Buehler would not have made the cut, and more than likely, at least one of them would still be on the ballot today. Interesting.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the current crop of nominees

Eligible HOF candidates:

Dirk Baberowski: Dirk probably has the single strongest chance of being inducted. He's my prediction for the highest vote getter of this years induction class. In a vacuum, he has the strongest resume of any player on the list. He has 5 Top-8's, tied for the most on this illustrious list, and three wins, also tops. In fact, only Kai Budde himself has more PT wins. Some may point out his piggy-backing on the inimitable and already-inducted Kai Budde, but many forget that Dirk won his first Pro Tour before Kai did. (Dirk won PT: Chicago 98, while Kai's first win was not until the following August at Worlds) Dirk certainly benefited from playing with Kai, but he was a Pro Tour force in his own right. I don't think anyone can say he doesn't deserve a slot. I strongly believe that Dirk will be amongst the inductees this Winter.

Scott Johns: I also think that we'll see Scott Johns there with Dirk during the induction ceremony. Scott is another member of the 5- Top-8's group, and is the only one remaining from last years slugfest. He also has a PT win under his belt, albeit as a member of Team Potato Nation, at Pro Tour New York '00. Probably one of the more powerful teams in history, with Hall of Famer Gary Wise and current nominee Mike Turian Again, quite an amazing resume, and certainly worthy of consideration. Furthermore, Scott has done so much for the game outside of just playing, including his work at WotC (longtime editor of the mothership, amongst other accomplishments) I think we'll see him inducted on the strength of the non-player votes. Scott has a resume that compares well to other Corporate Jumpers Randy Buehler and Alan Comer. They have short careers, mostly in the early days of the tour, but still very strong.

Olivier Ruel: Another player I think is a strong possibility for induction is Olivier Ruel. 5 PT top-8's, as well as 21 Grand Prix top-8s, and 4 Grand Prix wins, is just ridiculous. Olivier also has the most Pro Points of any of the nominees, by quite a large margin. In fact, he is third all time in Pro points, behind only two men, Finkel and Budde. How do you not induct someone with that kind of stature? Even further to his credit, Olivier is still playing on the circuit. He is not just the past, but the present, and probably future of Magic as well. Olivier is a risky choice, though. He has had some, let say shady areas, in his Magic playing career. Ted Knutson has blatantly called him a cheater, on more than one occasion, and he's certainly in a better position to observe and comment than I am, as a relative newcomer to the Pro Tour scene. In my research, I could find a few things. One was the shuffle shenanigans (say that three times fast!) banning. Olivier has given a reason (some might say excuse) for that, and I'll believe it on first blush. The difference I see between Olivier Ruel and Mike Long is twofold.
1. Oli is still on the tour, and I don't think you can go as long as Oli, at as many high-level events, and cheat all the time, especially given the judging staffs of today. Were Oli the type of cheater he's made out to be, he should have been caught far more often than he has.
2. That resume is embarassingly impressive. I don't think any level of cheating can accomplish what Oli has done, which to me means he has "the skillz," as the kids say. You don't consult with the caliber of players he does, test with and plan with, without bringing something to the table. If he accomplishes all that he has by cheating, it's basically saying he loafs off the innovations and plans of his teammates. And I don't believe he does. Finally, i don't see any of what Olivier has done as worse than the fraud of Bob Maher, described here for those of you curious, and Bob was a lock to make it in his first year of eligibility. If you think Olivier Ruel doesn't deserve to be in, you should think the same about Bob Maher. I think Oli's history may cause some second guessing, but I think Seamus campbell put it best:

Quote from Seamus Campbell »

So I believe that I will spend the rest of the month talking with pros and judges, trying to get a sense of Oli's approach. If I convince myself that he really is sincere about his mistakes, he'll get my vote. If I don't get a sense, or (perhaps more likely) if I just find myself lacking convictions, I believe I will leave that space on the ballot empty.

It's Oli's space, whether he gets the vote or not.

That being said, were I to have a ballot (and I certainly don't have one, and don't deserve one right now) my ballot would be the three above, as well as the following two:

Patrick Chapin: Old School, and still on the cutting edge of all the new hotness. Not only a great player from yesteryear, but also a top-notch player nowadays as well. Seriously, we all remember the Worlds Semi from NYC, with the Dragonstorm Mirror. Chapin and Nassif battling it out. Classic Magic, one of the top 10 Top-8 matches ever. So, we've established he has playing chops. But that's not all, he's a cutting edge deck designer (Look no further than GP: Denver's winning decklist, a Chapin creation) as well. Look at the innovations coming out for the last year or so. Chapin has his hands in a lot of those Cookie Jars. Finally, he is also an entertaining writer for Star City Games. And if that resume wasn't ridiculously diverse enough for you. he also had some time at WotC on the corporate side of things. I'm not sure the entire scope of his tenure, i.e what he actually did there, but if he had even 1/10th the impact as he has out here, it's definitely noteworthy. I think he has a strong consideration, at least in my book. Plus, Patrick has the best chance to be that magnetic "Superstar" personality WotC needs. Not since Kai has anyone really been that forceful presence. While Patrick isn't Kai (and really, only Finkel is close) he has that ability. Look at is writings, his appearances on "The Magic Show", his upcoming Documentary and potential TV show. Even his own line of clothing. This, my friends, is what we need on the Pro Tour.

Mark Justice: In my opinion, there have been four men worthy of the title "Best Magic Player." Mark Justice was the first, followed by Olle Rade, Jon Finkel, and then Kai Budde. Those other three men are already in the Hall, and I think Mark Justice should be as well. I have heard that he took a bit of a hit to his integrity later on, but I haven't been able to actually find anything on that. Perhaps you readers can enlighten me. But nonetheless, This man was once the most feared Magic Player on the planet. When you asked the other pros who they expected to see across from them at the final table, a large number of them said Mark Justice. He was the first Superstar of Magic, and without him, the Pro Tour may not have taken off enough to entice the likes of Finkel, or gone global enough to snare Kai Budde. He might have taken up Pokemon instead. Remember, each player stands on the shoulders of those who came before them.

Now, let's take a look at the future. Next year, we have a rather light class of new potential pros. Antoine Ruel becomes eligible, and should make for the first brother combo to be inducted (barring any O'Mahoney-Schwartz shenanigans) and a few other players should make a strong bid. Some of the players are easily recognizable as still active on the Tour. I wonder how much of an advantage they will be given based on their current play. Being mentioned in the present tense can sometimes help, but just as often hurt a candidates chances.

Finally, let me pose a few questions out to all of you. How would you feel about either Mike Long, with his history of divisiveness, or Mark Justice, with his own downsides, making it into the HOF? (Or even Antone Ruel?) I've heard arguments slanting both ways, and they tend to fall into two camps. One side frequently uses Babe Ruth examples, pointing out that he was a drunk and a womanizer, etc. And he's in the HOF. The counter to that is the Pete Rose/Barry Bonds argument. Cheating in the game, no matter how, should preclude you from being in the running. You have no way of knowing how much it helped. Many people have pointed out that Barry Bonds was on pace for a Hall of Fame career before his alleged steroid use. But how much of that prevented injuries, and allowed him to return preemptively? How much of an effect did Rose's gambling have on the outcome of games? They would argue the Hall must be the pinnacle of Magic, and we can't let any doubt in.

Secondly, who would you put in, and why? Who would you keep out, and why? I look forward to your thoughts in the forums.

This is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don't make The Loser Choice.

**Bonus Section**

I had to sit on this information, but now I can reveal it! The Pro Tour is going to Hawaii next year! June 5-7 in Honolulu is the second Pro Tour stop for the '09 season. Also, Worlds will be in Rome, and I fully plan on making my first trip across the Pond to be there. Here's hoping we see you out on Tour!


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