Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Candidates: Mark McGwire

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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.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”