Winning an Academy Award, who gets one, who deserves one, who's shut out, who's "snubbed," is the closest parallel I can find to Baseball Hall of Fame voting. The actual award itself, the little statue, is largely forgotten in the vast scheme of things. What matters is the debate. How did "Crash" beat "Brokeback Mountain"? How did "Ordinary People" beat "Raging Bull"? How in the world did "The Artist" get so many Oscars?
Much of what happens in the world of entertainment and sports are entirely out of our control, but Hall of Fame voting and the Oscars, they feel like something we can have some effect on. We can't hit a fastball, we can't frame up a single shot, but we can argue whether or not Jack Morris should be in Hall of Fame, and whether or not "Chicago" is really going to stand the test of time. It doesn't really matter, ultimately, who actually gets the Oscars. All that matters is the discussion.
Thus, the Honorary Award. This is for people who have worked in Hollywood for a long time, whom everybody in the business knows, who have made a lot of money for a lot of people, who are getting toward the end of their career and need to be honored in some way. Hollywood, like baseball, is just an industry like everything else, from insurance to dentistry to, gasp, even journalism. We like to honor people when they get older because, someday, we'd like to be honored ourselves. The Honorary Award is a chance to give an Oscar to someone who (almost always) never actually won one in the conventional rat-race sense, but who has done enough that the Academy should just go ahead and give them one. And because it's outside the bar-debate circuit -- that has long passed -- no one particularly minds. Last year, the Academy awarded Honorary Oscars to Spike Lee and Gena Rowlands, two massive talents in the film industry who never won one. Spike deserved one for "Do the Right Thing" or "Malcolm X"; Rowlands for "A Woman Under the Influence" or "Gloria." They didn't get one then. So they get one now. Everybody's happy. And we didn't all have to vote or make a big fuss about it.
This is the way, I think, we should look at the "Today's Game" committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which on Sunday announced that it had elected Bud Selig and John Schuerholz to the Hall. Also on the ballot: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGwire, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella and George Steinbrenner, a.k.a, executives, and people who passed through the traditional process without getting elected. There has been some debate Monday morning about whether or not Selig and Scheurholz should be in, particularly Selig, less because of his achievements or demerits and more because of the debate whether or not a Commissioner should be in the Hall of Fame at all. (A debate neatly settled by the, uh, the large number of Commissioners in the Hall of Fame.) But the debate, at least when compared to the annual rending of garments that the writers' vote for the Hall of Fame inspires, has mostly been muted. It's something to talk about until the first big move of the Winter Meetings, and then we'll forget about it until Induction Day. And even then we'll mostly just be paying attention to those winners.
Selig will always have to answer for baseball's steroid crisis (which I continue to find mostly overblown and moralistic) and for the cancellation of the 1994 World Series (which makes my soul cry every time I think about it), but it's impossible to argue that baseball wasn't in a far healthier place when he left it than when he took over, by a pretty massive margin. If there were only one Commissioner in the Hall, it would have to be him. As for Schuerholz, this was a franchise architect before it was COOL to be a franchise architect: Billy Bean, Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman and the rest are all following in his footsteps. Besides, Bobby Cox is already in the Hall of Fame: How could Schuerholz not be? Frankly, he should have been there first.
But this will not be a massive public debate. Even though there is voting involved, "Today's Game" is a specialized committee rather than the big BBWAA foofaraw every January. This is just a small group of people inside the game who decide who hasn't gotten in but probably should, and then those people show up at the induction ceremony and then we all move on. This is, for all intents and purposes, an honorary Oscar.
Now, an honorary Oscar isn't any different than an actual Oscar. It is, in fact, the exact same statue. Sure, the person who wins it doesn't pose with pictures all night, doesn't have to campaign for it for months (as anyone vying for an Oscar next February will have to do), doesn't have to give a speech where they thank the Academy and tries not to forget their spouse. But it's an Oscar, just the same. It weighs the same, it sits on a mantletop the same. It's the same.
Selig and Schuerholz will be in, and maybe later some of those other names will get in, and it will be the same and it will be fine. In 2012, Ron Santo, after 15 contentious, sometimes ugly years on the Hall of Fame ballot -- in which he never got above 43 percent of the vote -- was selected by the Veterans' Committee. Even though he had been rejected for 32 years, by more than half the electorate, no one seemed to mind that he was in. (If anything, they were angry that it couldn't happen while he was still alive.) This is because in the public eye, it felt like an honorary award. All Veterans' Committee selections, or "Today's Game" committee selections, or whatever, will feel this way. We've already fought all the wars about these players and executives. These committees give us a chance to move on without tearing each other's faces off about it. That's why they're so valuable. They let everybody in the industry award those who spend decades succeeding in that industry get their big reward, when the rest of us have all moved on to new battlefronts. We like to think the Hall of Fame is for us, and in some sense, it is. But it's not just for us. It's for the people in the sport, or in the Hollywood industry, who just want to honor their own. So that someday someone will honor them.
Every year, the Hall of Fame debates get a little more intense, and a little more performative, and a lot more exhausting. The Veterans' Committee, or the "Today's Game" committee, and all the other committees, they are a pressure release valve on those debates. We will all lose our minds every cycle, and then, a decade or so later, some of those guys will get in anyway, long after our attention has been redirected elsewhere, long after we've stopped caring. It's not the Hall of Fame we value: It's the debate that we love, the insistence that we, personally, know best who should be elected. Once that election is over, we move along with our lives. And then come the honorary Oscars. You might think Bud Selig doesn't belong, or John Scheurholz doesn't belong, or that Jackie Chan maybe doesn't deserve an Oscar. But the people who work in those industries do, and they know that eventually you'll get over it. And they're right. This might honestly be the only sane thing about this process.