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Best of Gary Trask
Making the call for the Poker Hall of Fame14 September 2009
Considering I have been a life-long, certifiable sports nut, Hall of Fame arguments are second nature for me. In fact, I've spent more time than I care to admit debating the merits of certain players and whether or not they deserve plaques of their own hanging on the sacred walls of their respective Halls of Fame.
That's what's great about Hall of Fame discussions. They're a sure-fire hot-button topic. And the reason is simple. Halls of Fame are forever. Once you're in, you're in. You and your career accomplishments remain there among all of the other greats from your trade for eternity. It is the ultimate lifetime achievement award.
That's why I was both humbled and honored to be asked by Harrah's and the World Series of Poker to be part of the 15-member media panel that votes on candidates for the Poker Hall of Fame. This time, my opinion counts for something more than simply winning a bar room debate. This time it matters. So believe me when I tell you it is a duty I accepted with great pride and something that I put a lot of thought into.
To me, the most important element when deciding a person's Hall of Fame qualities is longevity. There are plenty of people who can have a good run of a few years, but to be considered among the greatest in your sport – or game, in this case – you have to do it over a long period of time.
But even after taking Dwan out of the equation, narrowing down the list was no easy task. All of the Hall of Fame voters – which includes the 15-media members as well as the 16 living current Poker Hall of Famers – have been asked to vote for either three, two, one or none of the remaining nine candidates, who were chosen by the fans.
In addition to "standing the test of time," the other criteria the WSOP asked voters to consider included:
So after much internal debate and research, as well as conversations with my colleagues here at Casino City, I decided to vote for three players. And for the sake of full disclosure, I have detailed below my reasons for selecting these three players and explained why I didn't vote for the other six.
Now, on to the picks:
The three players I have voted for are Mike Sexton, Tom McEvoy and Dan Harrington. As you can see, I was quite serious about this longevity thing. This trio represents the senior members of the nine candidates both for age and length of career. But they also have done much, much more for the game than simply play poker for the last three decades.
I'll start with Sexton. Ever since the new Hall of Fame nomination process was announced, Sexton has received a great amount of support from fans and former players alike, so it was no surprise to see him land on the list.
The 62-year-old has been dubbed The Ambassador of Poker for good reason. His face and voice are recognizable to anyone who remotely follows the game because of his work as an analyst on the World Poker Tour's television broadcasts. He has won more than $3.7 million worldwide. And despite winning just one WSOP bracelet, he ranks in the Top-10 for WSOP cashes. In addition, Sexton was the point man for the creation of Party Poker -- he even came up with the name -- and has been with the online poker group since the very beginning when it launched in 2001.
The respect of his peers is unquestioned and his impact on the game has been profound. I would be absolutely stunned if he's not making an acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame dinner on Nov. 7.
As for McEvoy, he is one of three Main Event champions on the list of candidates and, in my mind, is a no-brainer for a "yes" vote just as much as Sexton. The Tom McEvoy Story is something out of a poker player's fairy tale. In 1978, a 34-year-old McEvoy was living in Michigan when he got fired from his job as an accountant. So, he packed his bags and moved to Las Vegas to become a professional poker player. Less than five years later he was a Main Event champ.
Simply put, poker is McEvoy's life. He has won nearly $3 million and owns four WSOP bracelets. He has authored books and is still very active as an instructor. And while online poker room sponsorships are the norm these days, McEvoy pioneered that kind of relationship when he became the very first PokerStars professional in 2003. In addition, he championed the effort to make the WSOP a smoke-free environment, something that many of his non-smoking colleagues benefit from every year.
This year at the WSOP, the 64-year-old McEvoy won the inaugural Champions Invitational when he outlasted 19 other former Main Event champs. When it was over, he told us that he hoped the victory would be the clincher to get him into the Hall of Fame. As far as I'm concerned, he was already a sure thing. But if the Champions Invitational victory is what puts him over the top, so be it.
Now, some of you may call me a homer for voting for Harrington since we're both from Boston. And the fact that I'm a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation and Harrington's trademark is his Irish-green Red Sox cap certainly didn't hurt his chances on this ballot.
But Harrington would have received a check mark on my ballot even if he was a Yankees fan. Like McEvoy, the 64-year-old Harrington is a former Main Event champ (1995) and he has also made three other Main Event final tables in his career, placing sixth in 1987, third in 2003 and fourth in 2004. Back-to-back years at the Main Event final table during an era in which Main Event fields were swelling is quite a feat. In addition, Harrington, who also owns a World Poker Tour title, finished in 17th in the WSOP Main Event in 1996, the year he was the defending champ. And he demonstrated his longevity (again) this year when he cashed at the Main Event.
Harrington, who away from the table is a brilliant and successful businessman, is a self-proclaimed part-time poker player. But his part-time status hasn't stopped him from earning about $6.6 million as a poker player.
If you're like me and you're looking for longevity, respect of peers, contributions to the game and tremendous skill in your poker Hall of Famers, you can do no better than these three gentlemen. I sincerely hope that all three of them will get the nod this fall.
As for the other six players, I must first say that I firmly believe that all of them should and could become poker Hall of Famers some day. But for varying reasons, they missed the cut on my ballot.
I'll start with Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey. Put it down in ink -- they are both future Hall of Famers. They have done everything a player needs do to meet the Hall of Fame's criteria -- and barring something catastrophic, they will get their chance to enter the Hall of Fame. But now is not that time. While there is no age minimum for the Hall, Negreanu (35) and Ivey (33) are both too young to receive this kind of honor. Negreanu has publicly stated this himself and I'm sure if Ivey ever decided to speak publicly he would say the same.
Two other players who I predict will also become Hall of Famers, maybe even before Negreanu and Ivey, are Barry Greenstein and Erik Seidel. In fact, I think it would only be fitting if these two talented and esteemed players go into the Hall together some year because the parallels between their careers are strikingly similar. They played in the same era, have around the same amount of wins and cashes and both have the undo respect of their peers.
At 47 years old, Scotty Nguyen is what I would call a "tweener" if you're talking about the age factor. And when it comes to his accomplishments, he's a certain Hall of Famer. Scotty's story of how he left Vietnam to come to America as a 14-year-old and became one of the most popular and successful poker players in the world has a fairy-tale quality to it.
But the 1998 Main Event champ and 2008 World Championship H.O.R.S.E. winner is also carrying a little baggage. His actions during that 2008 H.O.R.S.E. final table were deplorable and certainly not Hall of Fame worthy. And while I don't think Scotty should be forever condemned for his performance that night, it is something that I'm sure the Hall of Fame would not want to see one of its members be any part of. Hopefully, that one night won't have an everlasting effect on how people judge Scotty, but for this year anyway, it played a part in keeping him off my ballot.
Finally, we have Men Nguyen. This was a tough omission to make because "The Master" has all of the necessary credentials. And if there was an option to vote for a fourth player, he would have received serious consideration.
In the end, I firmly stand behind the votes for Sexton, McEvoy and Harrington. Of course, Hall of Fame debates are natural and I'm sure there are those out there that would vehemently argue for others to be voted in.
And, to be honest, I wouldn't want it any other way.
(For more information on the Poker Hall of Fame visit the Hall of Fame section at wsop.com.)
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