Sunday, November 26, 2006

Big Mac No Sure Hall of Famer

On Friday, Hall of Fame ballots will be mailed to the approximately 575 voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Though there are few certainties in life, it's guaranteed that all Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn have to worry about is not if not whether they get in but by how much of a margin more than the 75 percent votes required for election to the Hall they will surpass the requirement that they be named on at least 75 percent of ballots cast .

Mark McGwire should be so lucky. For he is about to jump into the steroid-era cauldron as the first bona fide Hall candidate from that time.

McGwire's name will sit there in close uncomfortable proximity to noted juicers Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti. There, he will be judged by writers with 10 years' experience covering the game, this writer included.
Finally, McGwire's full body of work, from the 583 career home runs to the famous stonewalling of Congress, will be judge Forget being elected on the first shot. McGwire has to worry about getting the five percent of the vote needed to remain on the ballot.

Here is a sample of his tough road as seen through the eyes of some of the nation's leading writers who recently answered said how they will wrestle with the McGwire issue. Players are judged by the writers for their first 15 years of eligibility:

Jayson Stark
I'm going to vote for him. I can't say I feel good about voting for him. But here's why I'm going to cast that vote:

People have oversimplified this issue, to the point where, if you listened to the way most people talk about it, you'd think there were only 10 players taking any kind of performance-enhancing drugs in the '90s. But we know that, in truth, there were hundreds. So should I only cast votes against players who happened to get mentioned in Jose Canseco's book, or who got subpoenaed by Congress?

What about all the other players who I might suspect were doing something but have never come up in this conversation?

Should I vote only against players who hit home runs, or broke home run records, or challenged home run records? What about all the pitchers we know were taking something? Do we care about them or not? Should I vote against them if I just THINK they might have done something?

I don't see how I can start picking and choosing when, in fact, baseball allowed all of this to happen. So that was the culture inside the game at the time, just as amphetamines were part of the culture in the '60s and '70s and '80s (and beyond). Because baseball allowed all this to happen, we hardly know anything about what McGwire may or may not have done.

We know he gave some horrible answers to some members of Congress. But in truth, we hardly know anything about what anyone in the sport may or may not have done.

So to me, just as baseball allowed Gaylord Perry to go out and win his 300 games -- which got him to the Hall of Fame -- it allowed McGwire and all of these players to compile their stats and break their records and earn their money and accolades based on those feats. So I think I'm stuck with evaluating what the sport allowed to happen on the field. Either the '90s happened or they didn't.

Since they happened, and the hundreds of players using something leveled the playing field to some extent, I feel more comfortable voting for players like McGwire than I do trying to pick and choose who did what, and when, and why.

If more evidence emerges, I always reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, I'm going to cast a very uncomfortable vote for McGwire and, for the most part, every great player of an obviously tainted generation.

I know this was probably way more than you wanted on either guy. But I'm nothing if not exhaustive. Or is that exhausting?)

Bob Nightengale
USA Today

I won't vote for him on this ballot. I don't believe he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He had a fine career, but he hit about half of his home runs in a five-year period when he was allegedly on steroids. He had too many off-years to be considered on the same ballot as Ripken and Gwynn.

And yes, I will vote for players I suspect or have been caught using steroids. Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro will be on my first ballot.

Phil Rogers
Chicago Tribune

I'm not wrestling with the McGwire decision. He wouldn't be a strong candidate without his home run totals, which have been tainted by his unwillingness to declare himself steroid-free. Unless something changes drastically in how he presents himself, I can't imagine ever voting for him.

Pat Borzi
New York Times

I'm seriously considering not voting for McGwire at all this year. He admitted using andro, and if he doesn't use it, he doesn't stay healthy enough to hit 70 or go over 500. Doesn't matter to me that baseball hadn't banned it yet. It was already banned in the Olympic movement.

If I had a ballot in front of me today, I wouldn't vote for Bonds or any of the other implicated juicers either.

And even if I decided not to hold that stuff against then, there's another issue here: Stat inflation. The 'roids influence devalues 50-homer season and 500-homer careers. I usually vote for anyone with 500 homers, but in the modern game, 600 might be the fairer benchmark in judging players from this era.

Bob Elliott
Toronto Sun

McGwire ... 1,626 hits in 16 seasons. That total is not enough for me to vote for McGwire - clean or dirty which to my mind have not been proven - when ballots come out in a few months.

Can you justify voting for a guy with almost half as many hits?

A McGwire backer will ask about his single-season home run record of 70 homers. Very impressive. Those nights in St. Louis were magical. We saw homers No. 60, 61 and 62 at Busch Stadium. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's mark in 1961 with 61 home runs and that was pretty impressive, too, breaking a 37-year-old record.

And we saw Maris hit No. 57 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. Paul Henderson scored the greatest goal in Canadian history with seconds left against the
Russians in '72 but he is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Maris with his mark - and 1,325 hits - was on the ballot 15 years and never got more than 43.09% of the vote, far short of the required 75%.

There are only three Hall of Famers (position players) with fewer hits than McGwire's 1,626. They are:

- Infielder Jackie Robinson, who had 1,518 hits in 10 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He started at age 28, having previously played with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.

For the good he did for the game, for the man he was and for the abuse he took as the first black player in the majors, Robinson belongs even if he had averaged 15 hits a year. If Robinson had not opened the doors would we have ever have had the pleasure to watch the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Billy Williams and Reggie Jackson to mention a few stars? Robinson was named on 77.5 percent of the ballots by Baseball Writers Association of America voters in 1962.

- Outfielder Ralph Kiner had 1,451 hits in 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. His career was cut short by a back ailment. He won or shared the NL home run title his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh.

McGwire led his league four times -- 1987 and 1996 with the Oakland A's, along with 1998 and 1999 with the Cards. With a ratio of 7.1 homers per 100 at-bats, he trails only Ruth and McGwire among retired players. Kiner had more than 50 homers twice, 51 in 1947 and 54 in 1949. He received 75.51% of the vote in 1975.

- Roy Campanella had 1,161 hits during his 10-year career with Brooklyn. He was a three-time National League most valuable player (1951, 1953, 1955). McGwire's best MVP finish was second in 1998. Campanella broke into the majors in 1948 at age 26 after playing seven season with the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro National League. The catcher's career came to an end after an auto crash prior to the 1958 season confined him to a wheelchair. He was named on 79.41% of the ballots in 1969.

Jeff Blair
Toronto Globe and Mail

As for my Hall of Fame vote? I will, without question, vote for Mark McGwire along with Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. First, I'm not interested in moral arguments; I'm not electing a prime minister, mayor or Pope.

I would not vote for Pete Rose, because I believe that any manager or player tempted enough to bet on a game might be equally tempted to do something that would knowingly affect the outcome of a game. That's different than taking a performance enhancer, which is for 'enhancing' performance.

Generally, fans don't feel cheated by people who are 'enhancing' their performances. Second, I believe that at least as many pitchers used/use performance enhancers as hitters.

I think the playing field was a lot more level - is a lot more level, if we're talking about HGH - than we know or knew. Third, who cares if McGwire stonewalled Congress. Isn't that what cabinet members do in committee hearings? Better to break down and be thought of as being fraud than wag your finger at cameras, say you never took steroids, and end up failing a steroid test.

Mark Whicker
Orange County Register

The McGwire vote is easy. The man had 1,600-odd hits. The only category in which he excelled was home runs. Vince Coleman had only one standout category (steals) and he isn't in. Mark Belanger had one standout category (defense) and he isn't in. McGwire's uneven career, to me, takes steroidsout of the equation. That's not to say he shouldn't make the Hall of Fame eventually. Just not on the first ballot.

Ray Ratto
San Francisco Chronicle

McGwire, he doesn't have to do anything.

My vote will be based on what he did as a player, and whether that is enough on its face to get into the Hall. My feeling is that the HOF isn't church, that it is the history of baseball, bad and good, and that if we're making behavior an issue, then the people who defend Ty Cobb and Cap Anson have some serious explaining to do.

Ken Davidoff

As for McGwire, while I reserve the right to change my mind, I don't anticipate ever voting for him. His conduct during the House Government Reform Hearing, on March 17, 2006, as well as the revelations of his backroom dealings prior to the hearing, are all the evidence I need to believe that he was a steroid user.

Murray Chass
New York Times

On McGwire: A more difficult deliberation. Although the Times does not allow us to vote, I would probably not vote for McGwire.If I were voting,I'd do far more serious thinking about it than I have, but I would probably not vote for him.

He never tested positive and he has never said "I used steroids," but his Congressional refrain -- "I'm not here to talk about the past" -- made him look guilty as hell.

The home run achievements in the steroids era by McGwire, [Sammy] Sosa and Bonds were too far out there to think something underhanded didn't have an effect on their numbers. If they were in the Hall of Fame, they would unfairly skew the measurement of players in future years as well as dwarf the accomplishments of Hall of Famers from the past.

Jack Curry
New York Times

As you know, The Times doesn't let us vote for these awards. I am eligible for the H of F vote. If you're just looking for "numbers" to show how people are leaning, I would vote "no" on McGwire if I was permitted to vote.

I did a piece back in July or August where I polled 50 writers on McGwire. I forget the exact totals, but a very small percentage said they would definitely vote for him.

Bill Madden
New York Daily News

I'm on record as being a hard-liner on all the alleged steroids cheats. I'm not voting for any of them, but if 75% of my colleagues deem them Hall-worthy, I have no problem with that. They're just not getting in with my vote.

In McGwire's case, I'm not sure if I would have voted for him anyway. He was essentially a one-dimensional player, below average defensively, who had 4-5 big home run seasons. I put him in the Harmon Killebrew (who I also didn't vote for) mode.

Hal McCoy
Dayton Daily News

As for Mr. McGwire, he will not be on my ballot, probably not ever. Using performance-enhancing substances certainly aided everything he did. Then his non-performance during the congressional hearings wiped him out of my consideration under the character clause on the ballot.

Bob Dutton
Kansas City Star

The HOF is a tougher call. Intellectually, I feel if a player is on the ballot, then his numbers/contributions should be viewed dispassionately and on merit. Realistically, I know that's tough to do. I don't know how I'd vote on McGwire.

Rick Hummel
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McGwire has no chance to get into the Hall this year, not just because of his link to the steroids issue but the appearance of two clearly better candidates in Gwynn and Ripken. There is nothing McGwire needs to do - at least not now.

He doesn't have a chance anyway this year although that is not to say I wouldn't vote for him because I probably will. Next year, however, is different with no standout candidate ahead of McGwire and we'll have a better barometer of how much the steroids thing has hurt him.

Steve Buckley
Boston Herald

I have no intention of voting for Mark McGwire. I thought his performance before Congress was a disgrace. Whenever anyone asks me about his home run numbers, I simply say I am not here to talk about the past.

Jerry Crasnick

I'm probably going to vote no on McGwire - primarily because we're still trying to assess exactly what happened during the steroid era, and I'm afraid he might go into the Hall and some startling new revelation might come out. And once a guy is in Cooperstown, you can't vote him out.
I'd rather be cautious and wait on this one.

Marty Noble

I'm all but certain McGwire won't need my support to be elected - in some year. I still am unsure how to evaluate him because of the performance enhancers - legal or illegal. That uncertainty, that he had nine seasons that fell short of HOF standards, and that he played his entire career in a time of offensive glut will make me withhold my vote until I have a better sense of how his candidacy compares with what I think and HOF player is.

Joel Sherman
New York Post

As for McGwire, I think I know which way I am leaning (not to vote for him). But I really have decided to wait until the ballot arrives and think fully about what I think on this issue. I think time is the only ally we have to assess these matters and I am going to use all of it.

Paul Hagen
Philadelphia Daily News

My standard answer still holds, which is: Why make a decision before you have to? This is an evolving story. We learn more all the time. The three questions I think a voter has to ask himself/herself are:

1. Can you vote for anybody in what we now have to consider the steroid era or do we just measure players against their peers in that era and ignore the external factors?

2. Did the player have Hall of Fame credentials before he was suspected of using steroids?

3. Can you take into account something that, no matter how strong your suspicions, are at this point just allegations?

Claire Smith
Philadelphia Inquirer

The qauge I will use is, would such a player have been considered a Hall of Famer before steroids sullied his era and/or name? To my mind, only Bonds gets a firm yes here. McGwire, one-dimensional and both a beneficiary and victim of his times, does not, and therefore will not get my vote now, perhaps even ever.