ESPN The Mag: ‘Hall Of Fame’ issue debuts; let the debates begin

Cover of the ESPN Magazine “Hall of Fame” issue.

ESPN The Magazine’s “Hall of Fame” issue debuts on newsstands today.

It’s a particularly timely topic, Deputy Editor Bruce Kelley explained.

The idea came about after Buster Olney, The Mag’s MLB senior writer, reminded the staff early in the year that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were going to be eligible for Baseball Hall Of Fame consideration this month.

“That got my attention,” said Kelley, who was editor of San Francisco Magazine during Bonds’ controversial time with the hometown Giants.

NFL senior editor Ryan Hockensmith mentioned that the Pro Football Hall Of Fame balloting is approaching, too, and that wide receivers — like [ESPN NFL analyst] Cris Carter — were not being inducted despite great career stats.

“So we took a leap and declared this the beginning of the ‘Debate Era,'” Kelly said. “[Editor-in-Chief] Chad Millman loved the idea for a deep dive on Halls of Fame.”

Front Row got more details from Kelley, who oversaw construction of this issue.

How did your former role with San Francisco Magazine influence this issue?
I was born and raised near Bonds on the Peninsula, while Tim Keown, a brilliant writer for The Mag, is also a lifelong Bay Area resident. So we talked and both saw Bonds’ 20-year-long, Macbeth-like journey to this judgment day as rich fodder for the issue. Tim’s essay in the issue, which is called Great Wasn’t Good Enough, kind of says it all about perfectionism, ego and legacy in sports. For years, me and my 15-year-old son bonded watching Barry be the best hitter who ever lived. Then the steroids stuff landed and his world — my world — kind of lost its innocence.

With regards to Buster Olney’s take on allowing players such as Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa — into the Hall of Fame, what camp do you fall in?
I am with Buster. Always have been. The institution of baseball and individual teams have long let players use drugs, and even tacitly approved the use. So why punish the best players of the era after the fact? That said, I’m happy as a fan that there has been a long-needed correction, with testing and penalties.

What are some other interesting aspects of this issue?
For longtime NBA fans like me, Mr. Stern, Please Tear Down This Hall, is a really good read. In it, editors Ross Marrinson and Ty Wenger essentially re-rated the best players in NBA history, using a formula we developed. It involves new metrics called Win Shares and is provocative, very accurate and cool.

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