The same thing happened last week when Braves pitcher John Smoltz recorded his 200th lifetime victory. Smoltz holds the all-time Major League record for most saves from a pitcher who has started and won 200 games and, predictably, observers with calculators quickly deduced that he’d be approaching the magic number of 300 wins, had Atlanta not asked him to pitch in relief for three and a half seasons.
Human beings, who are burdened by emotion, elect players to Cooperstown. But this doesn’t claim they have brains. After all, the electorate is comprised of sportswriters - fellows who depend on media guides more than they do on gray matter.
Baseball provides measures or milestones which automatically allow players to get elected. Get 3000 hits like Biggio, and you’re first ballot. Hit 500 home runs, and you’re in. Pitch 300 victories, bingo. The system is simple, if not simple-minded. How easy, then, it would be for turf writers to have a similar set of formulae for the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Most of the new members aren’t strangers to real racing fans, although none of them are Mantle or Musial or Mays. Mistake-prone, albeit prolific, jockey Jose Santos; failed Triple Crown winner Silver Charm; John Veitch, a horse tutor whose best student Alydar served as a synonym for second; and Mom’s Command, some mare from New England that triumphed routinely in the Big Apple, made it in.
Ed Bowen, who chairs both the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee and the Historic Review Committee, which named the other four new members, said he wouldn’t want standards, such as the number of winning rides or victories in key races, on which the voters would base their election. Bowen contends that the different eras in which racing greats competed make a rule of thumb a thumbs down.
Nevertheless, without standards, wouldn’t it be fun to know what the current members have in common? Is 4000 wins in the saddle like Santos has the standard? Should a horse such as Barbaro, with six wins in just seven lifetime starts, make the grade? Why should a long run of middling triumphs qualify Earlie Fires for the Hall, but stellar careers like Fourstardave’s or Perfect Drift’s aren’t good enough?
In the final analysis, the Hall of Fame shouldn’t be for the hearty or accomplished, but for the truly great. A balance between achievement and impact should serve as the criterion for induction. But with the ever increasing early retirement of horses from competition, standards might serve some purpose. At least, everyone would know why some members make it in and some do not.