Monday, November 27, 2006

'Roid Rage and The Hall of Fame

Universal rejection vs. unanimous choice.Both intriguing possibilities were conjured up yesterday when, as expected, Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn made their inaugural appearances on the baseball’s annual Hall of Fame ballot.

The voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America — those with 10 years or more experience covering the sport — are expected to wrestle with McGwire’s candidacy, and only in part because of his overall numbers.Despite exceeding a time-honored Hall threshold (500 homers) with his 583 home runs, McGwire is very much on the bubble because of the steroid era in which he both thrived and was tainted.

Though McGwire never admitted to or was caught using illegal performance enhancers, he was famously accused of doing so by fellow first-time Hall nominee Jose Canseco.

McGwire has never denied the accusation. His not doing so, most notably before a congressional committee examining illegal steroid use in baseball, could cost him when the results of the BBWAA vote is announced Jan. 9.

Veteran Boston Herald columnist Steve Buckley perhaps illustrated some of the simmering condemnation when he told The Inquirer why he won’t write McGwire’s name on the ballot, now or ever.

“I thought his performance before Congress was a disgrace,” Buckley said. “Whenever anyone asks me about his home run numbers, I simply say I am not here to talk about the past.”

But, Jayson Stark of will reluctantly vote for McGwire in part, he said, “because baseball allowed all this to happen.“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 [spitball pitcher] 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.”

The approximately 575 writers aren’t expected to struggle as much, if at all, on the Hall merits of Gwynn or Ripken.

Gwynn, the eight-time National League batting champion, and Ripken, the man who surpassed Lou Gehrig’s legendary Iron Man streak by playing in 2,632 consecutive games, should easily gain the required 75 percent of the vote needed for induction. But will Ripken or Gwynn be named on every ballot?

No player has yet gained 100 percent of the vote. Not Babe Ruth. Not Gehrig, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb or Ted Williams.

Tom Seaver, elected in 1992, came the closest to perfection when he was named on 425 of 430 ballots in 1992, for 98.84 percent of the votes.

Seaver is joined in the top 10 in terms of percentage by: Nolan Ryan (491 of 497, 98.7), Ty Cobb (222-2226,baseball hall of fame website 98.23), George Brett (488-497, 98.19), Aaron (406-415, 97.83), Mike Schmidt (444-460, 96.52), Johnny Bench (431-447, 96.42), Steve Carlton (436-455, 95.82), Ruth (215-226, 95.13) and Honus Wagner (215-226, 95.13).

Rice and Rich “Goose” Gossage return to the ballot as the top candidates not elected a year ago. Rice, the former Boston Red Sox slugger, fell 53 votes shy in his most recent attempt at election. Gossage, one of a host of stoppers hoping to follow Bruce Sutter into Cooperstown, fell 54 votes shy on the last ballot. Cherry Hill East graduate Orel Hershiser is also among the holdovers.

This is the 15th and final time on the ballot for Steve Garvey, who was on 26 percent of the ballots cast last year. His best finish was 43 percent in 1995, his third year. This is the 14th year for Dave Concepcion (13 percent last year) and the 13th year for Rice (65 percent) and Tommy John (30).