Induct them already!
By Mike Greenberg
ESPN Radio

Wouldn't you love to see a Hall of Famer in action?

I don't mean a future Hall of Famer; I mean a bona fide, flesh-and-blood immortal.

Joe Gibbs
Joe Gibbs is going to be an active Hall of Famer -- so why can't players be the same?
You should be able to. In fact, there isn't any reason you shouldn't. After all, Joe Gibbs is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and they aren't taking him out just because he's coming back to coach the Washington Redskins again. Why would they? His return to the sidelines shows how silly it was for the voters to put the kibosh on Bill Parcells' candidacy a few years ago because they feared he might return.

There is nothing mutually exclusive about being a Hall of Famer and an active participant. Parcells and Dick Vermeil should be in Canton right now. And then the Pro Football Hall of Fame should take it one step further.

It should induct Brett Favre.

And Jerry Rice.

And Emmitt Smith.

For that matter, baseball's Hall of Fame voters should elect Barry Bonds right now, too. The Basketball Hall of Fame should enshrine Karl Malone, and hockey should honor Mark Messier.

Now, while we can still buy tickets to see them.

Wouldn't it be nice to tell your kids that they're going to a game and they'll see a hall-of-fame athlete, live and in person? I think it's a slam-dunk, particularly from a marketing perspective.

Imagine the television promos.

Jerry Rice
You think Jerry Rice would lose his fire just because he was a Hall-of-Famer?
TONIGHT, ON MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL, THREE HALL OF FAMERS ON THE FIELD AT THE SAME TIME!!!!

Imagine the season-ticket packages and advertising campaigns baseball could sell.

Weekday games: $35.

Weekends and holidays: $45.

Games featuring active Hall of Famers: Priceless.

A couple of problems with this plan have been suggested to me.

The first is that induction to a Hall of Fame during a player's career might diminish his desire to continue performing at the highest level. My response is that no player worthy of induction would ever let something like that happen. You think Jerry Rice is going to stop running stadium stairs because they've already put his plaque in Canton? You don't become Jerry Rice by letting trivia like that affect you.

The second question raised is the character issue. For example, if Pete Rose had been inducted during his playing career, how would the Hall deal with his current gambling confessions?

I would respond to that concern with two letters.

O.J.

Members of any sport's hall of fame are no more likely to disgrace themselves toward the ends of their careers than they are five years after their retirement. If Rose was in Cooperstown today, the Hall of Fame would have a choice: Live with it, or throw him out. Either one would be fine with me.

The fun part of this idea is in deciding which active players are already worthy of enshrinement -- which players would be inducted into their respective halls of fame even if they never set foot on the playing surface again.

Baseball has Barry Bonds, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Sammy Sosa (assuming Roger Clemens really is retired). Those are the only no-brainers. Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez and Tom Glavine would probably get in if they never played again, but none is a slam-dunk. Alex Rodriguez is an interesting case. So is Ken Griffey, Jr. I say Junior is a Hall of Famer, but I've been having trouble finding people to agree.

Mark Messier
Mark Messier is a sure-fire Hall of Famer -- why not induct him now?
Basketball's list is much shorter: Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller. That's it. The old guard is gone; the youngsters are coming but need a little more time to cook. Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson are probably within a year or two; Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett are just behind them.

Hockey's list, on the other hand, is long. Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Scott Stevens, Joe Sakic and Luc Robitaille all seem like shoo-ins. Mike Modano and Ed Belfour are on the cusp. Remember, Mario Lemieux is already in.

Finally, football. The no-brainers are Brett Favre, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson and Junior Seau. If Shannon Sharpe and Bruce Smith are still considered active, they're both in, too.

Then it gets interesting. How about Jerome Bettis? He has more yards than Jim Brown. Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen are the highest-scoring players in league history. Ray Lewis is the most dominant defender since Lawrence Taylor. Are they all locks?

That's the whole point: It's fun to think about. They should let us think about it for real. I'd like to see a Hall of Famer play.

Maybe someday I will.

Mike Greenberg co-hosts ESPN Radio's Morning Show with Mike Golic and frequently anchors SportsCenter.





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