From the Sublime to the Ridiculous ….
Just about every sport imaginable has established their own Hall of Fame, celebrating the Best of the Best. Isn’t that really what a Hall of Fame is all about? The individuals earmarked for this unequaled, prestigious honor should stand head and shoulders above the rest. Let’s just look at some of the fields and call to mind what these individuals have accomplished. Off the top of my head, but with input from others, the following (who are either dead or inactive) immediately flashed before me: (Baseball: Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams); (Basketball: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell); (Football: Jim Brown, Dick Butkus Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas); (Golf: Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sammy Snead); (Hockey: Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr); (Soccer: Pele, Ronaldo); (Tennis: Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras). Many others, very close in accomplishments and the miniscule number of female greats (such as Babe Zaharias, Steffi Graff, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova who excelled in the field of golf or tennis) were deliberately excluded for the sake of simplicity and space saving. Those cited were absolutely at the zenith of their sport, whose successes survived the test of time. No flashes in the pan or Johnny Come Latelys! They were well deserved to be mentioned above the other standouts who may be right behind them. But, no doubt their performances were as close to perfection as possible in their chosen field.
Now let us turn to our common pastime … the game of Bridge. For those not familiar with the Bridge Hall of Fame, it was designed to commemorate the achievements of outstanding living bridge personalities for their long range sensational feats with the pasteboards. It was the brainchild of Lee Hazen and inaugurated in 1964 by Sonny Moyse, then owner, editor and publisher of The Bridge World. The first three elected were Ely Culbertson, Charles Goren and Harold Vanderbilt; In 1965, Oswald Jacoby, Sidney Lenz and Milton Work were named; and in 1966, the honorees were Howard Schenken, Sidney Silodor and Waldemar von Zedtwitz. The inductions came to a screeching halt and the process was not resumed until 1995 when the acting CEO, Roy Green, came upon the scene and resuscitated the dormant Hall of Fame.
Naturally, almost thirty years had elapsed and many worthy candidates were deservedly waiting in the wings so there was much catching up to do. In addition to the primary Hall of Fame (decided by ballot), two other divisions were added and the recipients were selected by a Committee. The Blackwood Award (named after Easley Blackwood) was established to honor bridge players, living or deceased, who contributed to the game in areas outside of bridge-playing expertise (writing, devising conventions, teaching, promoting bridge, acting as good will ambassadors, directing, administrating, etc.) and the second was the Von Zedtwitz Award (named after Waldemar von Zedwitz), established to honor a deceased person who contributed to bridge as a player.
In 1995, the primary electees to the reactivated Hall of Fame were Edgar Kaplan, Alvin Roth and Bobby Wolff; in 1996 — Eddie Kantar, Norman Kay and Alfie Sheinwold; and in 1997 were Edith Freilich (a/k/a Seligman/Kemp), George Rapee and Bill Root. Bear in mind at the same ceremony as the HOF presentation, The Blackwood and von Zedtwitz honorees were inducted as well. Whereas the original inductees in the Sixties were the only honorees to join the HOF, by the time it was resurrected in 1995, the other two categories were in focus and as many as eight individuals were honored at one time. The original HOF’s intention was not to salute that year’s Best Personality, Most Endowed Sponsor, Most Entertaining Bridge Player, Most Popular Bridge Player, the Winningest Master Point Achiever, etc. The primary design of the Hall of Fame was to recognize SUPERIOR BRIDGE TALENT of living members — period!
At one point in the early 2000s, it became apparent there were some obviously egregious oversights of top players not achieving Hall of Fame Status. In 2001 Sami Kehela and Eric Murray (from Canada. which is part of Zone 2) and in 2002 Tommy Sanders were inducted. These were honors long, long overdue but I am trying to justify the classification into which they fit. The Von Zedtwitz honored top DECEASED players (so that rules out the Von Zedtwitz) and the Blackwood recognizes players (living or deceased) who contributed to the game in areas OUTSIDE BRIDGE PLAYING EXPERTISE (so how did these bridge icons fly under the radar)? Thank God they did and all lived to see the day (and are still with us in 2010) but can someone tell me how the electors could veer so far off course??? When I asked Bobby about the inconsistencies, he volunteered: “I doubt if there is a player alive who wouldn’t take those three as a partner or teammate and play any honest team in the world a long match.” And, if you know Bobby, he is not one to toss compliments frivolously.
As I look at the ACBL site on the computer, I note a list of Hall of Fame Members inducted from 1964-2009, but there is no distinction made (except between 1964-1966) as to those actually voted in and those selected. However, there is a significant difference in accomplishments and talent and, like many other phases of bridge these days, most things zoom out of control or get lost in the shuffle (no pun intended). There is no public differentiation between the three presentations — all of which have vastly different criteria (the latter two often spoken of in hushed tones). On the ACBL site each year’s electees are listed in alphabetical order — indicative of the Age of Misinformation. It appears as one big melting pot, separating the recipients by year of induction only — not delineating the category.
Admittedly, it took some time to officially recognize those not in the original group (’64-’66) because of the twenty-nine year hiatus, but after the “automatics” were inducted, it seemed like a free for all. I am not necessarily alluding to this year’s list of candidates as there are indeed some worthy names listed, but in the last ten years or so, it seems like the flood gates have opened up. There are tremendous gradations in performances of players. I feel strongly there is an unparalleled distinction between an exceptional expert/world class player and a good sponsor. Also, there are so few top women players who hold a candle to Helen Sobel, Sally Young and Edith Freilich (and perhaps one or two others) who set the standard for female superiority, holding their own against the best of the opposite sex. The Hall of Fame might reconsider branching out and having separate categories for the female sex (which suggestion I know was voted down before as it thought of as very chauvinistic) as well as one for successful sponsors who have achieved impressive records playing with professional partners. But, let’s not pull any punches and call a spade a spade. The Hall of Fame Shrine (as distinguished from other recognized award categories) should strictly house the most BRILLIANT, HONEST, SUPERIOR, DISTINGUISHED PERFORMERS (who also, not surprisingly, have countless scalps on the wall) — not merely those who have won ‘x’ number of championships (nationally or internationally) with or without the help of paid professionals.
Incidentally, those responsible for placing the nominations on the ballot are the Hall of Fame Committee and with all the close ties in bridge, it is virtually impossible not to have favorites and/or conflicts of interest regarding some of the proposed nominees. At one time (in 2002) I was appointed to the HOF committee (which I considered a great honor) but, in retrospect, I really question why I was selected other than as a tribute to my late husband, Norman (who also served on the Committee immediately before his death). At that time, I did not feel qualified to judge who were worthy candidates. However, it is amazing what one can learn in eight years. I ended up resigning about a year after I came on board (though I really enjoyed the company of some of my constituents), but I did not like the way friendships blatantly played their part in the proposed nominations. Besides, we were overruled on a few issues by the BOD who meddled in areas where they had little expertise. Finally, our current President, Rich DeMartino, then on the BOD, acted as a liaison between the HOF Committee and the Board (actually running interference) and resolved several controversial issues, thereby allowing the HOFC to function more smoothly and effectively — and, above all, became scrupulously independent.
I believe the time has arrived to put a halt to the absurd defamation of the ACBL Hall of Fame and honor it by the induction of only OUR VERY, VERY BEST — emulating the superb judgment exercised in the sports field to revere their legendary all-time greats mentioned in my introduction. To do otherwise and elect even one player with credentials substandard to those of our top bridge heroes and heroines would undermine the lofty ideals of its founders!