On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Mark McGwire
The case for his induction:
I can think of 583 reasons. Yes, Mark McGwire has been accused of being a one-dimensional player, but when that single dimension is dingers, it’s a pretty good case. He broke Roger Maris’ single-season record in 1998, becoming the first guy to hit 70 bombs in a season and followed that up with 65 the following year. He hit 50 homers or more two other times and threw in seasons of 49 and 42 homers too boot. His power was so feared that people started pitching around him more than anyone not named Barry Bonds.
In addition to the numbers, he definitely earned the “fame” in his Hall of Fame case. His 1998 home run race with Sammy Sosa was widely and, I might add, pretty accurately credited as the catalyst for baseball’s rebound following the 1994-95 strike. It may be too much to say that McGwire and Sosa single-handedly saved baseball, but thanks to his exploits, people cared about the game in ways they hadn’t for many, many years. He helped baseball regain the place in the national spotlight it had lost, put butts in seats and in front of television screens and helped put the sport on the lucrative course it remains on to this very day.
The case against his induction:
There are some who have claimed that he was too one-dimensional or that his 16 seasons was not quite enough to build a Hall of Fame resume, but that’s baloney. Everyone spoke of McGwire as a sure-fire Hall of Famer during his career and the only reason he is not in Cooperstown already is because he took performance enhancing drugs. Indeed, he was the first prominent PED user to reach the Hall of Fame ballot and most voters made it quite clear that they were not voting for him on that basis. He reached 23.6% of the vote in his second year of eligibility before seeing that total sink annually, getting as low as 10% in his second-to-last year on the ballot. The BBWAA barring the door against McGwire set the tone for its similar handling of Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others with PED associations, real or imagined.
Would I vote for him?
Absolutely. As we have written over and over again, penalizing Mark McGwire or other stars of his era for doing what hundreds of baseball players did at the time is nonsensical. His taking PEDs may not have been admirable, but it was widely known, widely accepted and often encouraged by those inside the game. And heck, unlike most of them, McGwire didn’t lie about it. He may have avoided the topic for years, but he eventually did tell all about his drug use as many people had demanded that he do. Then they slammed him even more once he did, suggesting that this is all an exercise in shaming, not an exercise in truth, ethics or morality. Either way, the Hall of Fame is home to many, many people who did things we may find distasteful but which were typical for people of their era.
Morals and ethics aside, it is unequivocally the case that tons of players took the same drugs McGwire took. None of them, however, did what he did on the field, which puts lie to the notion that he was some artificial creation of chemistry. He was an amazing slugger who did amazing things, even if the specific numbers attaching to those things were pushed a bit higher thanks to PEDs. And did I mention that he helped save baseball?
Will the Committee vote for him?
I’m guessing not. Some of the loudest critics of the PED guys are ex-players from before the PED era and a lot of them sit on the Veterans Committees. I strongly suspect that they will continue to level the moral judgments that the BBWAA began leveling on McGwire in 2007.
Then they’ll happily vote in Bud Selig, who enabled and benefited from PED-use as much if not more than anyone, after which they’ll dodge questions about all of their contemporaries who took amphetamines.