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Hall of Fame, or Hall of Infamy?

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The Hall of Fame voting for the 2007 class produced no joy for the Diamondbacks: two former Arizona players were present on the ballot, but neither Devon White nor Bobby Witt were chosen for induction. In fact, neither actually received a single vote, which is surely a traveshamockery. ;-)

There were, however, two near-unanimous entrants, in Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, and few would argue with their credentials. Gwynn was the winner of eight batting titles, including a .394 average in 1994, the highest number anyone has posted (albeit in a strike-shortened season) since Ted Williams in 1941. He hit over .300 for nineteen straight years, all of them for one team. Few current players (Pujols?) would be capable of the former, and in this free-agent, multi-millionaire era, the latter is almost more implausible.

Though originally a third-baseman, Cal Ripken almost single-handedly redefined shortstop, proving it could be played by a larger, power hitter, who could hit 20+ homers per year regularly, rather than only by slap-happy contact men. Selected to sixteen straight All-Star teams, homering during his final game in 2001, there's also the little matter of 2,632 straight games, spanning sixteen seasons, from May 30, 1982 until September 20, 1998. As an aside, the Iron Man also played in the longest game in professional baseball history: a 33 inning, 8 hour, 25 minute, 3-2 contest in which Ripken's team, the Rochester Red Wings beat the Pawtucket Red Sox; it began on April 18, 1981, and ended June 23rd!

Few would argue with the credentials of these two men, but the real debate begins further down the ballot paper...

For should Mark McGwire be inducted into the Hall of Fame? The voting results this year indicate that he has a lot of work ahead of him, with only 128 of the 545 voters this year giving McGwire their support. Since he needs the support of three-quarters of the ballots to be elected, this indicates that he has to change the minds of almost half those taking part, if he wants to end up in Cooperstown. If it were a simple question of baseball numbers, then McGwire would be a shoo-in, having been selected, for example, by the Sporting News as amongst the top hundred players of all time. But other factors than pure statistics do come into play: the cases of Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose would be the most obvious examples.

McGwire, however, is somewhat different: Jackson and Rose were both "convicted" of their crimes, while McGwire never failed a drug test, and has never admitted (unlike, say, Rafael Palmeiro) to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The closest was perhaps the discover of the muscle enhancer, androstenedione in his locker - though banned by the NFL, NCAA and the IOC, this over-the-counter nutritional supplement was not proscribed by Major League Baseball. Clearly uncomfortable with the publicity, McGwire publicly renounced the use of androstenedione in August 1999, and the issue was largely forgotten.

McGwire's reputation was, instead, torpedoed by his appalling, stammering performance before the House Government Reform Committee on March 17, 2005. There, he basically took the Fifth Amendment on the subject of steroids, saying, "My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself." The love of a nation, earned during the 1998 home-run chase with Sammy Sosa, evaporated almost instantaneously, and McGwire has retreated since, shunning publicity and declining comment.

Certainly, this year's results indicate that McGwire's silence is being taken as evidence of guilt by a lot of writers, and it may be that his policy is proving counter-productive, as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. It is possible to cheat and get into the Hall, as the notorious doctor of baseballs, Gaylord Perry, proves - he reportedly approached Vaseline about endorsing their product and got a postcard back, saying, "We soothe babies' backsides, not baseballs." But frank honesty and openness is as healing a balm as Vaseline; Perry titled his biography, Me and the Spitter. It's difficult to see McGwire writing a book called Me and the Syringe...

While McGwire remains defiantly silent on the topic, I can't imagine him ever achieving election. To me, the balance of proof does seem to indicate that he probably did use illegal drugs of some kind to achieve his results, and while the details of that remain obscured in shadows, I wouldn't be able to bring myself to vote for him. Every single one of his home-runs now has a big mental * beside it in my mind, and without more specific information on the issue, it's impossible to say whether it's McGwire or his supplier who deserves election.

The emphatic "no" from the voters this year doesn't augur well for the other sluggers, such as Sammy Sosa, who are heading towards election. And the reports today that Barry Bonds broke the speed limit, by testing positive for amphetamines last year, would seem to have damaged his chances of induction even further. If this proves true, it means Bonds doesn't even have the "I never failed a drug test" defense which some can claim. [As an aside, am I the only one who finds his claim laughable and ludicrous, that the test was caused by Bonds having taken something from a teammate's locker?]

It definitely seems to me that not voting McGwire in was the right decision this year, because it would be far worse to elect him, then have the nasty facts come out subsequently. Instead, if he gets 5% of the votes, he can remain on the ballot every year until 2021, which will hopefully be enough time for the truth to be revealed. If, that is, McGwire wants it to - the final decision on that, and probably also whether he gets into Cooperstown, rests with him. For the moment, his silence damns him.

Poll

Should McGwire be in the Hall of Fame?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Yes
    (13 votes)
  • 22%
    Not immediately
    (7 votes)
  • 19%
    Not unless he 'fesses up
    (6 votes)
  • 16%
    No
    (5 votes)
31 votes total Vote Now