No Such Nonsense

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Of McGwire, Steroids and the Hall of Fame

Late last week, the Baseball Writer's Association of America announced the results of the latest Hall of Fame voting. Considering all the hubbub about the results, I thought the process could bear some explaining before diving into the controversy.

Here's how it works - if you played in the major leagues for at least 10 years and you have been retired for 5 years, your name is automatically added to the Hall of Fame ballot. Along with new candidates, the ballot contains the name of any player who received at least 5% of the vote the previous year. The ballots are send out to a bunch of baseball writers who can vote for as many as 10 candidates. Get 75% of the vote and you're in Cooperstown, baby. Get less than 5% and you're out for good. Get more than 5%, but less than 75%, and you can stay on the ballot for up to 15 years. If you still don't have enough votes after 15 years on the ballot, you're out of luck - unless you can somehow convince the veteran's committee to induct you, which is whole other story. Basically, though, you're done.

According to the Baseball Hall of Fame's website "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." Note that it isn't supposed to be about just playing ability. Integrity, sportsmanship and character, hmmm. Just like that old, miserable drunkard Babe Ruth, I guess.

Not in the Hall of Fame:

Shoeless Joe Jackson - Jackson was banned for life from Major League Baseball for taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series. As such, he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Apologists argue that Jackson took the money but actually played his best in the World Series. Of course, knowing that the rest of his team was actively tanking it probably freed him up a bit in that regard. The Hall has a pair of Jackson's shoe's on display.

Pete Rose - Another guy on the ineligible list, he was banned from baseball after kind-of, sort-of admitting to betting on baseball. In fact, as a manager, he bet on games his own team was playing. Integrity, shmintegrity. He's also been whining about his exclusion for years.

Roger Maris - Maris was a soft-spoken, aw-shucks kind of guy who broke one of the legendary records in baseball. In 1961, Maris and Mickey Mantle - his Yankee teammate - spent the summer chasing Babe Ruth's legendary1927 home run record. Maris got it over fan- and media-favourite Mantle, and many have never forgiven him. In claiming the record, Maris took down not one but two beloved Yankee icons. He never got his due in life and he'll probably never get into the Hall.

In the Hall:

Ty Cobb - Widely agreed to be one of the most hateful SOBs in the history of sports, but also one of the best players of all time. What's that about character?

Charlie Comiskey - The tightwad owner of the White Sox - and legendary ass - who inspired such loyalty from his players that they were willing to throw the Series.

And new this year, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn. You can't really argue with either one. The fact that Ripken showed up ready to play for 2,632 games in row is pretty impressive - but let's not forget the guy was also a two-time league MVP. He's probably in Cooperstown even without the streak. Ripken was a throwback to an earlier era - he spent his whole career with one team and played hard every day. His record-setting streak is widely credited with reviving interest in baseball after the 1994 strike. Gwynn's no slouch either. He made the all-star team 15 times and was damn close to the first .400 season batting average since Ted Williams (In 1994, he was hitting .394 when the rest of the season was cancelled.)

And then there's Mark McGwire. When he retired 5 years ago, McGwire's election to the Hall seemed a slam dunk. He was a fan favourite and a home run hero. Yet last week, he got less than 24% of the vote. In five years, his stock has dropped so much that some suggest he'll never make the Hall now.

Let's be clear here. McGwire was a great, if not entirely multi-faceted player. He broke Maris' single season home run record in exciting, convincing fashion. McGwire also took a lot of steroids. Anyone with eyes and a modicum of sense can see that. He also took those steroids before baseball had a rule against it. And he took them in an era when lots and lots of his fellow players, including the guy who was chasing the Maris record along side him, were juiced to the gills. A loophole to be sure, but who isn't above a little lawyerball (certainly not the guy who has since beaten McGwire's home run record).

No, McGwire's problem isn't that he took steroids. It's that he's been a total punk about it ever since. In front of a Congessional panel, after Jose Canseco had laid waste to the house of cards that was baseball's steroids policy, McGwire hemmed and hawed and said he wasn't there to talk about the past. Have we learned nothing from the mess that is Pete Rose? Man up, McGwire! Admit the steroids. Repent taking them because of the message it sends the kiddies but don't fail to point out that it wasn't banned and that all the other boys were doing it too. Just own up to it, for heaven's sake! That alone might be enough to get him back into the public's good graces. Probably not, however, enough to get him into the Hall.


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