Enter The Hall of Very Good

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It's a part of growing up as a baseball fan: the moment when some parental figure or other explains why, as awesome as (say) Kevin Mitchell is, he is not Hall of Fame material. Because the Hall of Fame seems important when you're a kid, and because Kevin Mitchell seems hugely important when you are a kid who is named David Roth and it's like 1989 when this whole scenario is happening, this can be sort of a painful thing. Not even remotely the most painful considering the tween beatdown that awaits, if we're still talking about me (which we are, or at least I am) but a jarring bummer all the same.

For all the things I've grown out of in the years since—a list which includes pretty much everything except for the very large t-shirts and Public Enemy records I favored back then—the association of the Hall of Fame with a fusty, arbitrary and backward-thinking exclusiveness is not one of them. The question of why the Hall of Fame has to be so small and grumpy is a good one, but there's also a case to be made that the Hall of Fame shouldn't necessarily be big enough to offer a timeshare to the Mitchells and Albert Belles and Ellis Burks-es and Will Clarks whose periods of quasi-dominance were brief and/or qualified and/or not quite dominant enough. For that, you'd need a Hall of Very Good.

It's an idea that has come up in many a baseball fan's conversation, but Sky Kalkman and Marc Normandin were the first to recognize that the idea of a Hall of Very Good—and a celebration of the players enshrined therein—was fertile literary ground. Kalkman and Normandin invited a slew of baseball writer-types—among them Joe Posnanski, Jeff Passan, Rob Neyer, Jon Bois, Emma Span, Jay Jaffe, Josh Wilker and Classical staff-folk Eric Nusbaum and, um, me—to contribute to a Hall of Very Good e-book, and launched a Kickstarter campaign this morning to cover production costs and writer honorariums. The campaign earned more than half of its $3000 goal by the end of lunchtime on the East Coast.

In the spirit of continuing to support things that we think are good, I talked to Normandin briefly about the project over email.

The idea of a Hall of Very Good, by various names or other, is kind of a long-running baseball-ween trope, and usually something of a joke. What led you and Sky to decide to take it this far? A fit of pique over Jim Rice's Hall of Fame selection? A long-simmering desire to really explain Norm Cash to an audience that might have forgotten him?

A few years back, I put together something I affectionately named "The Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of Fame." It's essentially a Hall of Very Good in everything but name, but I put it aside after creating it without ever doing much in the way of upkeep. Sky had an affinity for the same topic, as we both agree that the kind of player in these hypothetical Halls of Very Good are the ones that tend to be forgotten with the passage of time.We've tossed the idea around for a while, but were never very sure how to put together or market this thing until we saw the potential in Kickstarter.

The stories worth telling in baseball aren't limited to just those enshrined in Cooperstown—those elite-level players had some pretty good teammates over the years, who had long and productive careers of their own, and in many cases those are fans' favorite players.

Did you create some sort of statistical threshold for HoVG consideration, or was this more a Potter Stewart/know-it-when-you-see-it thing? What marks a player as a HoVG candidate?

We went about shaping the actual list of Hall of Very Good members with a few ideas in mind. We wanted it to be comparable in size to the actual Hall of Fame, but, given there are more second-tier players in the game's history than elite ones, we didn't mind going bigger by a couple dozen, either. Sky put together the whole list of potentials (as well as how we would decide who was eligible for that), and from there we basically used Ray Lankford as a ruler to measure potential entrees' Ray Lankford-ness. Players with his career value and up who were Hall of Fame eligible, but not in or unlikely to make the real hall. Wins Above Replacement was the basic number we used to gauge career value, but we won't focus on that [stats-y] part of things too much in the book itself.

You put together a pretty impressive roster of writer-folk for this one, which is maybe not the most surprising given that you and Sky Kalkman have been in the game for a minute and that it's an idea all fans get at some level. What kind of response did you get, on balance? Have you been surprised by, say, how much Joe Posnanski wants to write about Mark Gubicza or whatever?

Sky and I weren't sure how people would react to being asked at first, but things came together quickly--you can count the number of people who declined to contribute on one hand, with fingers left over. And they were still excited about the prospect of the project, as well. There's something unifying in a project like this, because everyone understands what we mean when we [talk about] someone who belongs in the Hall of Very Good. Everyone has that player (or players) who they feel deserves recognition they might not otherwise get.

Do you know who you and Sky are going to write about? Is it R-Lank for you?

I've been holding back a bit, waiting to see who our contributors wanted to write about. I have plenty of names in mind, including Lankford, but I'll likely see who our benefactors would like to read about in combination with that list in my head. Because of when Sky and I grew up, you can probably expect us to go a little '80s/'90s-crazy with a few of them. The whole timeline will be covered, though.

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