Hall of Fame Debate – Steroids and Mark McGwire
The Hall of Fame Ballot was released Nov. 27. For the first time some serious suspected and admitted steroid users are eligible. Players inextricably linked to steroids including Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Ken Caminiti are listed alongside surefire first-ballot candidates Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.
Caminiti and Canseco wouldn’t get many votes (if any) even if they weren’t tied to performance-enhancing drugs, so the real controversy/debate lies with McGwire. McGwire finished his career with 583 home runs, seventh in baseball history, and of course, set the single season home run record in 1998 with 70 before Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. These types of statistical achievements would ordinarily make McGwire a shoe-in for the Hall.
The controversy gained steam in July during the induction ceremonies for Bruce Sutter and 17 former players and executives from the Negro leagues. In a Washington Post article, former players discussed their opinions on the imminent inclusion of McGwire and others on the ballot.
From Bob Feller:
“Everybody knows it’s coming. Some people would be upset (if McGwire is elected). I obviously wouldn’t like it. That would be very damaging to the Hall of Fame.”
From Ryne Sandberg:
“I’m interested to see how the writers will vote. They have a chance to make a point that needs to be made about what [the Hall] represents. They are supposed to consider integrity and character (as criteria for judging a player’s worthiness). I hope they do that.”
Recently Frank Robinson, former manager and Hall of Famer, spoke out about McGwire and others to reporters in Cincinnati. Ironically, Robinson sits just three home runs ahead of McGwire on the all-time list. Adding fuel to the fire, Robinson had this conversation with a reporter.
“Why aren’t you voting for McGwire?” Robinson asked.
“Steroids,” the writer answered. “McGwire admitted he was taking andro back in the 1990s. It’s the same thing as steroids – the steroids he won’t admit to taking. Andro turned McGwire into something he wasn’t created to be.”
“That’s exactly right,” said Robinson. “Who else?”
“I’m not going to vote for (Sammy) Sosa after that, or (Barry) Bonds after that,” the writer said.
“Good, good,” said Robinson, nodding.
A woman standing nearby chimed in: “Once it’s proven they were on steroids, their records should be stricken.”
“I’ve heard you agree with that,” the writer said to Robinson.
“I do,” Robinson said. “Why should baseball have to try to prove when (these sluggers) started using (steroids)? They used ’em, and they knew they were wrong.”
While Hall of Famers such as Robinson, Feller, and Sandberg are able to lobby the writers along their opinions about steroid use, the Hall of Famers are not the voters, the responsibility falls to baseball writers such as well-respected ESPN columnist Buster Olney. On his ESPN Insider Blog, Olney said he will vote for the best players of the era, including McGwire, “regardless of what is believed about whether or how or when they’ve used steroids.”
“So I’m supposed to withhold my vote on some guys I suspect of using steroids, but not all of them? How do I do that, in good conscience? Because I think I probably know who took steroids?”
Olney goes on to explain that the only fair thing to do would be to vote for no one that played during the steroid era, or vote for the best players regardless of ties to steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs and since Major League Baseball looked the other way until they were forced by congress to act it hardly seems fair to punish them.
“Now, we’re supposed to retroactively shun them for their alleged cheating, on moral grounds? When almost everybody in the game probably knew what was happening, as it was happening?”
Listed as No. 5 on the Hall’s guidelines for voters is the phrase that most defines the qualifications of a Hall of Famer. It says: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Those three words, integrity, sportsmanship and character, are ringing in the ears of voters. They have the unenviable task of sifting through public opinion, merit, morality, complacency (including their own) and historical perspective to make the right decision. This should get very interesting.