Monday, September 21, 2015

My Thoughts on the Magic Judges Hall of Fame

Today I cast my 2nd catch up ballot for the Magic Judges Hall of Fame. This isn't about who I voted for, although I'll tell you that (Toby Elliott, Mark Brown, Scott Marshall, Jason Ness, and Yoshiya Shindo). This is about who I didn't vote and a potential problem that the Magic Judges Hall of Fame (MJHoF from here on out) faces in the future.

I'm a fan of sports, sports hall of fames, and sports hall of fame debates, especially for Major League Baseball. Who should be in, who shouldn't, and why are fascinating discussions that go to the core of why I love sports: statistics. For MLB HoF discussions, these form the core of the debates. Should someone with 500 Home Runs automatically be in? (The answer was yes before the steroids era.) Is On-Base Percentage more important than Battling Average?

We see a similar thing for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. The discussions are all about Pro Tour Top 8s, median finish, GP wins. Those discussions interest me for the same reason the baseball ones do. There is no analog to those with the MJHoF. There are a few numbers associated with judging, like GPs and PTs judged, reviews written (and heck maybe we can dig up numbers on Warnings given) but none of them are fundamental to the art of judging in the same way that they are for the other HoFs.

In the absence of concrete stats that matter we are left voting with our gut a lot more, and that ends up being a lot more personal. I have personally met all of the people that I've voted for on the two ballots, and I find it exceedingly difficult to vote for someone who I haven't met personally. I know that disqualifies a wide swath of people on the first few ballots. I've read all of the kind things that my peers say about these individuals, but without the personal connection I can't get behind a candidate emotionally.

At the top of this post, I mentioned that this was about who I didn't vote for. Here are a few names from the ballot: Riccardo Tessitori, Alfonso Bueno, Shawn Doherty, Chris Richter, and Steven Zwanger. If you are currently involved in the Judge Program and/or have been to a GP in the past few years you should know at least one of these people. They are great judges. But are they Hall of Famers? And if they aren't--if I don't vote for them and publicize my ballot without them on it as I've done--how do I look them in the eyes and work with them at a future event. Heck, Steven Zwanger is someone who I sit less than ten feet away from at my day job at StarCityGames.

While I did put a lot of thought into my ballot and feel comfortable with who I voted for, it sucks to make a negative value judgment ("Sorry, I don't think you're HoF worthy") about friends and coworkers that I will continue to see on a regular basis. For sports HoFs there are rules in place so that players are only eligible for induction some set number of years after they retire. This isn't the case with the MJHoF, although the very first class, the old Emeritus level, did used to be for retired L5s. The first catch up ballot from a few months back included two very current, very active judges in John Carter and James Lee. How weird is it to work alongside a Hall of Famer?

The PT HoF has the same issue of active players being eligible for induction, but there it is actually a benefit because the voting is so stats-driven. If someone doesn't get your vote, you can point to a stat and say "3 PT T8s isn't enough. If they get a 4th, I will consider them." Several people have failed to get inducted in their first year of eligibility then gone on to pad their numbers a few years later. This is actually an evolving aspect of the PT HoF that I like and the discussion on what is Hall worthy has changed over the years.

When making the decision to leave some people off, that idea did play in my head that they are still active enough that they can do things to pad their resume in the future, and I might vote for them at a later time. For two of the names on my list, their active judging career is over (Jason Ness and Yoshiya Shindo) and a third, Mark Brown, semi-retired but may be on the road back to a more active global role. I felt that my votes were much better used on those names because they aren't as likely to significantly pad their judging resumes from here on out, while the Riccardos and Zwangers of the Program still have plenty of gas left in the tank.

But will I be able to convince myself to vote for them in the future? If they are Hall worthy, then I should vote for them right now, like I've done with active stalwarts Toby Elliott and Scott Marshall, right? That I didn't do so means that I don't find them Hall worthy, and again there's that negative judgment about my peers, and what should be a celebration of great judges ends up feeling like a pooh-poohing of good-but-not-great judges.

There's also the problem of the small ballot. I voted for Mark on the first catch up ballot and he didn't make it in (he got 25.3%, the highest total among judges who didn't get inducted--the line for induction is 40%). I feel obliged to continue to vote for him... until when? Until he gets in? And if doesn't, my ballot is perpetually locked in at one spot smaller. Or more because Shindo-san is probably not getting inducted either, since he is relatively unknown outside of Japan.

This makes me think that we need a mercy rule, or a second mercy rule. I believe the current rule is that any judge who receives less than 10% of the vote on 3 consecutive ballots will be removed. Yes, that makes the upcoming ballot huge because it has every survivor from the first two ballots as well what I dub the "Ballot of Death" (named after various soccer "Group of Deaths"). John Alderfer, Jared Sylva, Jeff Morrow, Frank Wareman, Cristiana Dionisio, and me among others. Yeah, all those names and I'll still have some number of holdovers. At least I can't vote for myself. And this problem only gets more difficult every time someone I don't vote for doesn't get in. At some point, my ballot may be a bunch of judges who get 10-39% every year and stick on the ballot perpetually. Something should be done about that sooner rather than later. There needs to be a mechanism for removing people in the 10-39% range after some number of years. It's possible that a deadline will boost their candidacy. Plenty of people in the MLB HoF have made a late run and been inducted in their last year of eligibility due to the urgency of their expiring candidacy.

I'll be honest with you. I want to be in the MJHoF. Well, that's not entirely true. The Hall itself is somewhat meaningless. They haven't cemented what the promotional gift is. A ring? A plaque? Those are just things, and I already have plenty of medals from running races that I don't display on my mantle. Being "enshrined" in an online Hall of Fame boosts my profile as a Magic Judge, but I already feel like I have one of the more public profiles in the community.

It's the recognition from my peers that stands out the most as being "valuable" to me. I've had a few people tell me privately that they will be voting for me on the next ballot, and that means more to me than a gift or having my name on the marquee. We should tell each other how much we matter to each other rather than wait for a HoF ballot to tick their name off on. The latter is just so impersonal. It's the former that I really want, and it seems like being inducted into a HoF would just be a substitute for that, albeit on a mass scale.

At the end of the movie Remember the Titans, the two coaches share a moment together and one says to the other "You're a Hall of Famer in my book." It's an important moment because the coach was not inducted into the High School Football HoF because he chose to work with a black coach (race relations are a big part of this movie). That moment captures my feelings pretty well. It's that peer-to-peer recognition--to have someone you have worked closely with say it--versus a voting body, even one that is made up of your peers, that means the most.