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January 11, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Mark McGwire admits to steroids use: Hall of Fame voting becoming a pain in the exact place he used to put the needle

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Today, we got the latest installment of a ballplayer throwing himself before the court of public forgiveness. I’m all for giving guys second chances, to a point. Had Mark McGwire gone out and robbed a liquor store as a teenager, I would not be campaigning against his ability to land a major league job and earn a living once he’d done his time and served his debt to society. We’ve seen pro athletes do the equivalent, or worse.
And to be honest, I stopped caring about the home run record in baseball about the time Barry Bonds came around and trumped McGwire’s feat just three years after that “magic” summer of 1998. It was clear back in 2001, and should be today, that something was not entirely right with those records. Bonds will keep arguing his innocence all the way to further trials, I’m sure, but his baseball legacy remains forever tarnished.
As does McGwire’s.
Today, McGwire told us what most had figured out five years ago: that he took steroids. Even during that 1998 season.
We’d mostly figured that out on our own since he had no reason not to clear his name in front of Congress in 2005: unless he was guilty of something. Guess what? He was.
The only reason I still care is that, as a 10-year minimum BBWAA voting member, I get to vote on the Hall of Fame (some of you might have heard that) and McGwire’s name keeps staring me in the face. Two years running now, I’ve ignored it.
But this isn’t only about McGwire. For the next 10 or 20 years, we are going to see names crop up that have been linked to steroids one way or another. Forget about Bonds, a guy who’s claimed (maybe even rightly so) that he’s been unfairly singled out in a steroids witch hunt. After all, Andy Pettitte has pretty much gotten a free ride from fans after his Human Growth Hormone admission, hasn’t he? As far as the media goes, Pettitte hasn’t killed anyone, so, if he wants to keep playing baseball and says he’s sorry, what am I supposed to do, hound him to his grave? I didn’t do it with Mike Morse. Why start with Pettitte?
But the Hall of Fame is a different story. All of these guys, Bonds, McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez etc. were pretty darned good players to begin with — PEDs or not. That’s why we’re going to be seeing their names on ballots between now and 2030 or so in some cases.
The fun question now for Hall of Fame voters is…how good were they really?
Here’s a quote from McGwire today: “I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids,” McGwire said. “I had good years when I didn’t take any, and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids, and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that I’m truly sorry.”
Great. Now all we have to do as Hall of Fame voters is sort out the “clean” years from the “dirty” ones. Based on what? Well, I guess we could have McGwire’s word on things. But he’s not exactly batting 1.000 when it comes to being forthright in quick fashion.
And that’s the great Hall dilemma.
Photo Credit: AP


I know of voters who say “Just let ’em all in” because we have no way of knowing all the players who took PEDs.
I am not in that group. Our legal system doesn’t work that way. We don’t let all the criminals do what they want without going to jail just because we can’t catch them all. We penalize the ones we do catch. Even when they happen to be popular. In McGwire’s case, he hasn’t really ever been penalized — i.e. forced to serve a suspension or give back any salary. He made his millions, in large part off steroids. Now, the only “punishment” if you will, has been self-imposed exile and, maybe, being excluded from the Hall. But he never really went to baseball “jail” over this the way a suspended player like former M’s farmhand Morse did.
And for now, for lack of better guidelines, doing something about the Hall of Fame guys that did get “caught” is the approach I’m taking. And it’s going to get tougher and tougher. McGwire was more or less “caught” when trapped by his inability to tell the truth before Congress.
A-Rod was caught in that test years back. Manny was caught in a test last spring. And so on and so on.
Yes, they are popular. They are legendary players. And they all cheated. Now, we are being asked to overlook that and let them in because we know they were good — but how good?
I know Edgar Martinez was a very good hitter, a great hitter. What I don’t know — but am hoping to get a better idea of in coming years — is how good he’d have been as a hitter if forced to play defense as much as every other Hall of Famer before him.
So, if I can use that as grounds to exclude Martinez this year, why should I be willing to overlook the cheating of PED users? That’s not fair. Why hold Martinez up to a higher standard than baseball cheats that have been caught? And please, no lectures on the technicality that using steroids “wasn’t against the rules of baseball” at the time for a lot of these guys.
Maybe not, but it was against the laws of this country to possess them and traffic in them for non-medical reasons. It was against the moral code of sport to use them to get an edge, which is why the Olympics did something about them nearly 20 years before baseball. And everyone who took them in baseball knew that at the time. If they want to use technicalities to slither off the hook, they can try, but I can tell you now that it’s not going to work with voters who are often a lot tougher in their views on these things than I am.
The sad thing is, cheating was so rampant we don’t know who is clean and who is dirty. That’s why you won’t catch me extolling the virtues of “clean” Hall of Fame candidates. For all I know, they are all dirty.
But right now, the only fair way I have to judge these guys is based on what is in front of me. I have the names of some of the dirty ones. I can’t look the other way and pretend the needles didn’t go into their hindquarters.
Some of you may think expanding the list of eligible Hall of Fame voters will make this an easier choice. Some of you would like to see more editors involved, when, in fact, the list of voters includes several editors. Some of you want more non-writer broadcasters in there, though that’s tough because few cover baseball year-round and many work in the employ of a team or as the business partners of a team.
Others want more coaches involved, though, I’d submit, the voting on Gold Gloves is so bad that I can’t see how coaches would help make this process better. As for former players, there already is a Veterans’ Committee, and let me tell you, those guys are often a lot tougher in their stance on steroids than the writers are.
We can debate the makeup of voters another day. Right now though, I just don’t see it making this question on PEDs any less difficult.
For those who say that morality issues, cheating and integrity of the game should not factor in to voting — witness Ty Cobb — I’ll counter that those things are already ingrained in the voting rules. As a voter, I am banned from picking either Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson because of their violation of integrity of the game rules when it came to gambling.
Frankly, I’m having a tough time finding evidence that Rose or Jackson did something to directly affect the outcome of a game to a greater degree than McGwire did. After all, when you hit 70 home runs in a season, aided in large part by steroids, chances are, you’ve affected the outcome of more than just a few games.
So, what to do?
Punish everyone, even the innocent, by excluding all players from the Steroids Era? That hardly seems fair. After all, some of history’s greatest figures got away with bad stuff like crime and infidelity. Some folks just get away with it. But you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
Do we let them all get away with it? That hardly seems fair either. What about the Hall of Fame candidates who hit 25 legit homers a year and never took steroids? Why should they be punished by being lumped into a juiced-up pool of candidates with inflated numbers? After all, we know who the guilty are, at least some of them. In this society we live in, we try to punish the guilty when they are made known to us. Why is baseball different?
Pick and choose? Along the lines of “Well, we know A-Rod is great and would be if he didn’t take ‘roids but Raffy Palmeiro? Man, that guy was never the best on his own team and would have been mediocre without the juice.”
Somehow, that just doesn’t sit well with me.
It’s a tough call. But that’s what being a Hall of Fame voter entails: being able to make the tough call. And for now, I just don’t see how voters who don’t elect McGwire based on steroids can justify doing so later on for Manny Ramirez.
I know that isn’t going to fly well with some of you, or some of my fellow voters.
Trust me, this Hall of Fame thing has a lot of contradictory stuff surrounding it and is getting tougher and tougher all the time. And voters will have to live with it.
So will baseball and its fans. That’s part of the price you pay for allowing a steroids mess to fester unchallenged for the better part of two decades.
I doubt McGwire will be getting in the Hall of Fame any time soon. And believe me, there are some other names out there who might be in for a surprise when their ballot turn comes due.

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