When Gary Carter wiped a tear off Andre Dawson's cheek at the ceremony which revealed the Nationals' Ring of Honor, there wasn't a dry eye among the 12 or 14 people who came to see one of the six or seven greatest Montreal Expos of all time.
All ribbing aside, the idea behind the Ring of Honor is a terrific one. Baseball -- sometimes perhaps to its detriment -- is stuck in the past. And any links and connections that it builds are great. Most of us don't have a grandpa who can remember seeing Lou Gehrig play, but we sure like the idea that there could be a grandfather somewhere who could. It's nostalgia, often contrived. But it warms the cockles of the ol ‘heart.
As they say, though, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Maybe the Ring of Honor isn't one of Dante's rings of hell, but the design of it, if you really think about it, is pretty poor.
The criteria the Nationals uses (in consultation with the Hall of Fame, which just reeks of pointless appeals to authority) is that the player has to be in the Hall of Fame, and has to have spent a non-trivial amount of time with the franchise or in D.C.
So think about this. When's the first modern Washington National going in?
You've gotta figure that Ryan Zimmerman has another 15 years of playing -- last 13 with the Yankees! Add in a few years of waiting for induction, and we're talking 2033 before Zimmerman would be inducted into the Ring.
That's a bit restrictive, no?
Take it a step further. What other players, period, are going to be honored in the Ring between now and then, owing to the requirements that they're Hall of Famers? Tim Raines should get in. Maybe Pedro Martinez will be inducted. Did Randy Johnson play for Montreal enough? Vlad Guerrero probably makes it to the Hall. That's what? Four, maybe five players over the next 20 to 30 years? Seems like that's a system that's been designed poorly.
The other thing that's a bit silly with it is the value of the honor. If the criteria is that the player has to have been inducted into the Hall, isn't that already enough of an honor? I'm sure the players would like a little extra recognition, but the Ring isn't really conferring anything -- status especially -- on a player that they don't really have. It's duplicitive of an honor they already have.
For a better approach, look to our neighbors to the north. The Orioles do it the right way. There, the team's fan club, the Orioles Advocates, hosts a yearly ballot, seeking input from long-time fans and media members. The team inducts two or three people every year -- a mix of players, managers, and front office members. They get a little on-field ceremony, and a small plaque in the stadium as a remembrance.
It's a much better approach, and a meaningful honor for those players and people who weren't Hall of Famers, but who provided the city with great memories.
If the Nats had that kind of system, Frank Howard would be honored. He never will be with the current system. If the Nats had that kind of system, we wouldn't be asking questions about Frank Robinson; we know he'd be going in soon. There'd be plaques for Ed Yost, Joe Judge, Mickey Vernon, Ted Williams, Dutch Leonard -- not to mention Livan Hernandez. Heck, maybe even Tim Wallach deserves some recognition.
There are tens and tens of players who the Nats should honor -- players who made amazing contributions to D.C. baseball, who excelled, and who brought smiles to you, your dad, and maybe even your grandpa.
Baseball is built on nostalgia, and the Nats are missing out on a chance to capitalize on it.