Today at noon, the International Boxing Hall of Fame will announce this year's crop of inductees. While this is the first year in a while that has several no-brainers, boxing's hall of fame has been more ridiculed than many due to a seemingly very high proportion of fighters with borderline accomplishments, or who seem like they were very good for a very long time but never truly great. To move the IBHOF closer to respectability, should it adopt a set of objective criteria? Currently, voters just get a ballot without instruction, leaving infinite leeway for each person to vote as he or she chooses.
Nearly 25 years ago, baseball statistical pioneer Bill James developed a set of objective criteria for baseball hall of fame inductions. He named it he Keltner Test, after Ken Keltner, a decent but not particularly great major leaguer who was inexplicably picking up significant support in his hall of fame campaign. While the test was developed for baseball, the types of questions used have general application to hall of fame voting, simply because most of the questions revolve around the baseline for who is already in the hall of fame. In fact, both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame have instuted variations of the Keltner Test as part of their objective criteria that voters are supposed to use for inductions.
The original Keltner Test was as follows:
- Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
- Was he the best player on his team?
- Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
- Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
- Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
- Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
- Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
- Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
- Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
- Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
- How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
- How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?
- If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
- What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
- Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
A little bit of tinkering could lead you to a similar test that might be applicable to boxing:
- Was he ever regarded as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the sport? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best active pro boxer?
- Was he the best fighter in his weight class in his era?
- Did he win any titles? Any true championships?
- Was he good enough to continue fighting at a high level when he was past his prime?
- Is he the very best player in boxing history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
- Are most fighters who have comparable records (accounting for the level of opponent) in the Hall of Fame?
- Does the fighter's record and level of opposition meet Hall of Fame standards?
- Is there any evidence to suggest that the fighter was significantly better or worse than his record?
- Is he the best fighter in his weight class who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
- How many all time greats did he defeat? If none, how many times was he close? Were there mitigating circumstances in his era?
- How many champions and top 10 fighters did he defeat? Did most of the other fighters who beat as many titlists and top 10 fighters go to the Hall of Fame?
- Was the fighter ever considered to be one of the most exciting in the sport? Was he a major fan favorite?
- What impact did the fighter have on boxing history? Did he change the sport in any way?
- Did the fighter uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character worthy of the Hall of Fame?
Lucky for us, when they announce tomorrow's inductees, we're almost certain to see the names of Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez and Kostya Tszyu grace the halls. All three of those guys meet most of the objective criteria above, but then again, almost everyone would agree that they all belong in the Hall.
On the other hand, would adding more objective criteria downplay the spirit of the Hall of Fame? In the most individual of all individual sports, where the rulebook can be fit on a few pages and it's just one man and his fists against another, should there be rules for election? Or, for this sport more than others, does it make sense for the electorate to vote similar to the way most judges score fights - they know who won when they see it?