January 07, 2014

Mark McGwire Will Never Make the Hall of Fame

I wrote this back in July 2010, but with the Hall of Fame vote results expected tomorrow, I thought it was timely to bring it back to the front. -BH

And he knows it.

There are certain stigmas players can't get over when it comes to Hall of Fame enshrinement: gambling, drugs, cheating, and monumentally frosty relations with sportswriters. Oh, and a low batting average or a high ERA.

What about an alcohol problem? Next round's on me, Mickey. Were you a racist brawler? Hey, Ty Cobb is in there as an original member. Did you engage in folk-hero-esque cheating as a player? Get in here Gaylord, you lovable scamp.

Gambling is pretty cut-and-dry. Pete Rose? Never means never, man. Hal Chase? Not gonna happen. Shoeless Joe? I don't care if you have the IQ of a raisin, you just can't accept money or the promise of money from a known gambler. Of course, there are others who dodged the gambling bullet (John McGraw (he owned a pool hall, for pete's sake!), Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb), and don't forget that Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were briefly, officially exiled by Bowie Kuhn for conduct detrimental to the spirit of the game because of their post-retirement associations with casinos (as greeters, no less).

Drugs is less cut-and-dry, but let's just say that when your drug nickname makes it onto the front of your 1989 Topps card, you better just enjoy the moment there, Rock Raines, because while the Hall opens its doors for drunks, it does so with less frequency for known drug users. In fact, I think it's safe to say that if you were somehow involved in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials or perjured yourself in front of Congress whilst denying steroid abuse, you're not going to make it to the Hall. And honestly, the double standard is a shame. Especially in light of the "character" issue Hall voters use to judge players. So what – alcohol is ok but not drugs? Seems a little hollow. I mean, what if society was big into social drug use and drinking was considered a breakdown in morals? I'm guessing it would be the other way around, no?

What's important here is that between these two events — Pittsburgh Drug Trials and the House Committee hearing after the Mitchell Report — we're talking about a lot of talented players who will have the drug albatross around their necks forever. Guys like Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, and Tim Raines, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and yes, Mark McGwire, to name but a very few. And in the end, it doesn't matter if drugs in any form were rampant or the accepted culture of the game: to make it to the hallowed Hall, you have to do it cleanly, on your own two legs.

So back to the original idea: Mark McGwire never making it into the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with statistics, though I think he's only a borderline Hall of Famer based solely on stats. And before that vein in your forehead pops, let me say this: being a prodigious home run hitter does not get you into the Hall of Fame by itself. You have to do lots of other things, too. Having a decent batting average helps, as does a relatively high hits total. McGwire was a career .263 hitter, with a total of 1,626 hits. Over a third of those were home runs.

Did you want McGwire in your lineup? Yes. Was it exciting to watch him break Maris's record? Of course. Did he take copious amounts of muscle-enhancing drugs? All signs point to yes. Were those drugs illegal at the time he took them? Ehhhh, no...

And this could be McGwire's saving grace: when he took them, the drugs he took weren't illegal in the eyes of baseball. But now, in this post-shit-hitting-fan period where we're debating his eternal baseball immortality, the drugs are illegal. And not only that, but the drugs association is a bad one to have. A very bad one.

Statistically, McGwire could make it. But it's going to take him a heck of a long time to garner enough support. For one thing, he denied, denied, and denied again. They he shunned the spotlight. And after a tearful admission, his case seems really weak. Weak like "I'm only saying this so I can work again" weak.

Sportswriters and Hall of Fame voters may have a tendency to worship the ground sports heroes walk on, but when it comes time to vote on enshrinement, the player's entire history comes into play — not just what they said recently.


dogfacedgremlin said...

I guess that rules out Dock Ellis anytime soon.

Joe S. said...

I hate the "not illegal" in baseball crap. If they're illegal in the whole rest of the world, it should be implied. Is "murder" officially disallowed by baseball? Rape? Child abuse? The list goes on. It's excessive, but you get the point.

I think more than anything, what's keeping McGwire out is the fact that EVERYONE was juicing on something, so a high home run total is no longer impressive in itself.

Mike'd said...

Another great post Ben, glad you're back.

I think in time McGwire will end up like Pete Rose, he will be seen as this sad old man and be forgiven by fans and the media. I'm still not sure that's enough, Bonds and Clemens were the best of their generation before they (allegedly) started juicing and intelligent Baseball writers know this. They will have to balance that with the idea that they compromised the integrity of the game, but as of today I would say the integrity of the game is intact (thank you jimenez and Strausburg)

As for the narcotic issue.
Cepeda and Jenkins were both caught and charged with trafficking. I thik Cepeda was a veterans committee choice and Jenkis went in on his third year on the ballot.

Paul Molitor admitted to using cocaine and was a first ballot HOFer. I'm sure if Raines had reached 3,000 hits like Molitor he'd be in already.

John Milner and Dale Berra tried to throw Stargell and MAYS!!! under the bus during the Pittsburgh drug trials. Mays was already in and Stargell (who denied any wrong doing) went in on the first ballot.

So yeah I do see a lot of selective righteousness when it comes to this subject.

One more thing about Raines, he may be the only player kept out of the HOF due to labor shenanigans. He was a rookie during the 81 players strike and was on a pace to steal 100 bases, all of that was kind of lost during Fernandominia. He was also a victim of collusion, after 86 he did not receive any reasonable offers from Montreal or any other teams ans had to re-sign a budget contract with the Expos missing the first month of the season (87 his best). And he was still in his prime during the 94-95 lockout. If you add it all up thats a whole season of prime Raines.

--David said...

Juiced or not, you still have to be able to hit that freaking little ball with a stick. Double standards from the inception of the HOF are what make it both the most hallowed of grounds and the most unholiest of places.

Great piece - got us thinking!

PM said...

Very nice column. I take issue only with the comment about prodigious home runs alone not being sufficient for Hall of Fame entry. Historically, that is clearly not the case: hit 500 or more (and be presumed "clean"), and you're in -- in fact, the threshold was even lower than that. Now, that may change as that number has, in the minds of many, become less exalted than it once was (stay tuned, Fred McGriff.)

PM said...

Clarification! I didn't mean to suggest McGriff had 500 HRs. I was unclear; I was referencing the de facto HR standard for the HOF. Sorry....

Todd Uncommon said...

Part of the problem is with the selecting authority, the BBWAA.

Even the pompous term "enshrinement" bothers me. There's no religion in this ceremony. Please. Let's get on with it and just call it an induction like any HOF.

Conversely, I think that the character clause, even selectively applied, is invaluable. I smiled large when that super-talented, yet arrogant prick Roberto Alomar failed to get in on his first ballot this year. I think he should get in--someday. However, his negative contributions to the game assured that his ego would go unsatisfied for at least another year. And that is a good thing.

Really, what would one expect with the character clause? For it to *not* be applied selectively? Any pretense of consistency would simply be false on its face.

However, I can't abide by some baseball writers, whose last solid bowel movement was during the Eisenhower administration, making ludicrous ballots.

What's with the blank ballots on completely indefensible "principle"? What's with not electing Rickey Henderson unanimously, first ballot or not?

I think the players clearly can't be trusted to avoid unsavory aspects of their fellow fraternity members, and any popular election would be mob rule ridiculousness greater than that of the All-Star Game.

So, I guess we're stuck with sportswriters overwhelmingly employed by dying, dinosaur media.

At least many of them, so far with their idiosyncrasies, still have a moral barometer than works twice as much better as anyone else's half their age or less.

Steve said...

I think it comes down to the steroids really DON'T help you hit home runs per se, but they do help you recover quickly from injuries, fatigue, etc. It is a lot easier to hit more home runs when your body feels healthier. McGwire always had the power, but it wasn't until he kicked the back problems that were plaguing him earlier in his career that he started getting them consistently in bunches.

Aaron is still the home run king in my eyes and Maris is still the single season home run holder in my eyes too.

Stubby said...

I don't think sportswriters have any moral barometer whatsoever. These are the same POS sportswriters who KNEW players were juicing and absolutely turned a blind eye...said not a word. Now that get religion? Sorry, if we're going to have sportswriters refuse to vote for steroid era players, then I say its time for any steroid era sportswriters to be barred from voting. And let's be honest, here. Every dang sportswriter on the planet would happily shoot up just about anything if they knew it would advance their careers as PEDs do ballplayers (if they do). Its easy to be holier than thou when there is no comparable choice to be faced. And, hey, how many of these #@%& sportswriters are on viagra and cialis? Because that's exactly the same thing. And, no, I don't think we'd fare worse with either players or fans doing the selecting. In fact, I would suggest perhaps a system that includes all three voices. Sadly, though, I think the voice of the sportswriters is too tainted, now, so I'd have to suggest a combination of players and fans and let the sportswriters go pound sand in the corner.