The Baseball Writers’ Association of America elected Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn to the Hall of Fame yesterday, placing them on 98.5% and 97.6% of ballots, respectively. The Baseball Writers also gave Mark McGwire the finger; Big Mac did not merely fail to qualify for the Hall this year – he finished ninth overall in the balloting, behind not only Ripken and Gwynn, but Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, and Jack Morris. McGwire appeared in only 128 of the 545 ballots cast – 23.5% – a piss-poor showing for the first man ever to hit 70 Major League homeruns.
His numbers cried out for a first-year induction – those amazing 70 homers in 1998, and a career tally of 583 – but it was the lingering suspicion (increasingly, the probability) that steroids helped boost those awesome totals that killed McGwire’s chances this year and possibly for good. His old Bash Brother, Jose Canseco, also on the ballot for the first time this year, got only six votes – 1.1% – smashing any prayer the outspoken juicer might have had of seeing his bronze mug hung in the Gallery. The message sent is pretty clear: Chemically Enhanced Need Not Apply . . . From Now On.
Not that I believe there are unidentified ‘roiders already in the Hall – I don’t. But how many great players from the blissfully (and willfully) ignorant 1970s and 80s would fail a drug test today? Cocaine, amphetamines, you name it – who knows how many Hall of Famers knocked out hits, stole bases and pitched shut-outs with pharmacological assistance back when no one gave a shit? Given Major League Baseball’s history of indifference to performance enhancing drugs, the belated crackdown these last few years seems very hypocritical. McGwire was a star player during a time when steroid use was ignored at best, and sometimes downright encouraged. Can we blame him if he made use of the advantages available to him during a permissive era? Should he be punished with the ultimate fuck-you to his accomplishments, exclusion from the Hall of Fame?
I think he should; and so should Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, and any other potential HOF’ers found in violation of the drug policy (which is still way too fucking lenient, by the way). To knowingly enshrine a player who used steroids or other banned substances to augment his abilities is not just an insult to the fans of the game, but to the players already in the Hall who got there on their own steam, without having to swallow pills or get a trainer to stick a needle in their ass-cheek. Shit, Roger Maris hit 61 homeruns in 1961 with the arms of an eleven year-old girl and he’s still not in the Hall! Denying popular players like McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, and Palmeiro their plaques is a small price to pay for restoring a measure of the game’s diminished integrity. Look no further than this year’s inductees, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, for proof that steroids – not to mention gargantuan home run totals – are unnecessary for a Hall of Fame career.
When I was in 3rd grade I had a modest baseball card collection going. It was during my blessedly brief young capitalist phase. The prize of my collection was a 1987 Topps Mark McGwire, valued then at $8. Like I said, modest. I took the card in one day for show and tell and another kid in class stole it, though he gave it back to me before lunch that same day. I tried to be cool about it and promised him I wouldn’t tell the teacher it was him who had taken it, but he had already turned himself in, fucking dumbass. Yesterday I found another copy of the same card for sale on eBay for a starting bid of $2.99. Good thing I got mine back.