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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.