What Makes a Hall of Fame Career?

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The words “Hall of Fame” immediately evoke a sense of accomplishment… grandeur… a place in history. No one ever goes into an HOF kind of shrugging it off…kicking dirt…with a cloud of “whatever” hanging around them. To use a now famous phrase from our current Vice President, “It’s a big F-ing deal.” So when my buddy, Robbie O’Bryan, recently informed that he was being inducted into his high school Hall of Fame, and that I was invited to attend with his wonderful family, I, naturally, said yes. I mean, that’s the closest I’ll ever get to an HOF induction ceremony of any kind, after all. Plus, he’s from this small town in Eastern Kentucky, and trust me when I say, that place is “off the chain”…whatever that means. I never miss a chance to go there. (I’m not joking. You have to go to experience it. This past trip I met a dude named “Cock-eye“ who was on his 5th wife, and tried to sell me a cross-bow and a Glock, while pounding  $1 Bud Lights.).

Now, when something like this comes up, it also evokes all kinds of varied thoughts…other than “I wonder how late JB’s stays open.” For me, as we drove through the beautiful hills of East Tennessee and East Kentucky, I pondered,” What does a Hall of Fame career and life look like?” I mean…it means something. It’s supposed to mean everything. It’s the place where they put the best…the place where “really freakin’ good” isn’t good enough. It’s where history stands. So, what does that kind of life look like? For my buddy…well, he had a very successful high school and college career in basketball (playing and coaching), he was state champion in something like corn production and seed identification (no kidding. I couldn’t make that up.), and he’s been successful in business. All in all, kinda Hall of Fame cloth for Johnson Central High School. That cloth passes the proverbial smell test…and yet, others don’t. And that leads me to…Cheaters, poseurs, and wannabes.

There’s an ongoing discussion amongst sports fans about who should be in “The Hall”. This discussion transverses sport, with usually the same variant of talking points used for both sides of the argument, and without regard to the player. Baseball enjoys a special designation for contemplation here. For example, bring up Pete Rose, and a room full of fans will immediately take sides…and the dude’s been out of baseball for like 30 years now. McGuire, Bonds, Sosa, A-Rod, Clemens…just mention their names in a room full of sports fans…especially, if the conversation is lagging…and it won’t be for long. Why, you may ask? Because it matters. Just like with my buddy’s high school, the baseball Hall of Fame is where we literally put people on pedestals for future generations to look up to and admire. All of those gentlemen I mentioned earlier share two distinct definitions of their lives and careers: 1. They were all Hall of Famers based on natural talent and had HOF careers. 2. They all cheated and lied… because hubris and glory caused them to cut corners and then lie about it. Now, there are those who say, hence the aforementioned debate, that we should focus on point 1 and forget point 2. I disagree (could you tell?). Choosing an entrant to any Hall of Fame is defining your culture. When we point to a life and career and collectively say, “He or She should be honored and enshrined!”, it tells our present and future generations what qualities we extol… who we admire…who we want to be…who we are.

Truthfully, there are more pressing issues in this crazy, crazy world…i.e. Iranian nukes, child slavery, Miley Cyrus twerking all over God’s entire friggin’ creation with her nasty tongue hanging out like a camel…but this does matter, too. For, if we can’t get the small things right, how the hell can we get the big things right? Who we choose as our heroes, pop culture or not, says something about us. Lying and cheating should not get gold plaques, and I would wager (for all you Pete Rose fans out there) that my buddy wouldn’t want his HOF plaque next to someone who disgraced his school. Or, maybe he would.

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About The Strong Sauce

W. Michael Lawson currently is host of “The Strong Sauce Hour” and Co-host of “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 FM in Cleveland, Tennessee, and a weekly columnist for The Chattanoogan. Mr. Lawson had a marginal career as a collegiate golfer, and then focused on academics. After teaching and studying in Asia, Europe, and South America, attending Grad School, and a brief stint as a door to door salesman for The Air Supply Fan Club, he now works in Finance, in addition to all that other stuff. Follow him on twitter: @thestrongsauce.

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