Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 9, 2007
BASEBALL: Put Him In Already


I'm not going to belabor this point, which has been beaten to death by sportswriters who never met a high horse they couldn't mount, but when they announce the Hall of Fame balloting this afternoon, I do hope they put in Mark McGwire. Yes, I accept that McGwire used illegal steroids, and on some level that was cheating even before it was formally against the rules of the game. McGwire should be embarrassed by that revelation, as should Palmeiro, Bonds, and Sosa (I'd say Canseco too, but Canseco brings to mind George Will's line about Senators - that you can no more embarrass a Senator than a sofa). He should carry an informal asterisk, in discussions of the great ones. And everything possible should be done to get steroids out of the game.

But let's be real here. Cheating of one sort or another has always been rampant in baseball - the old National League Orioles used extra baseballs in the outfield, skipped bases, mauled baserunners, etc. Multiple spitballers are in the Hall, including guys from the era when "everybody did it" (e.g., Ed Walsh) and guys who were clearly breaking the rules (Whitey Ford, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton). Leo Durocher's 1951 Giants made a science of illegal high-tech (for the 50s) sign-stealing. Do we really need to discuss corked bats here? Or, for that matter, segregation?

Ballplayers who cheat take risks; sometimes, that costs them, and costs their Hall of Fame cases as well. And Lord knows, many of the Hall's most honored members had lengthy moral or legal rap sheets of one sort or another on and/or off the field. The Hall isn't about retrospectively rewriting the competitive conditions of particular eras - it honors the best in the business at each point in time. And more than anything else, the Hall should not be about the moral agendas of sportswriters, who are hardly the most reliable judges on that score. McGwire put wins on the board, and in the time he played he didn't get caught. Unlike Shoeless Joe, he never tried to take wins off the board. Hang a scarlet "S" on the man, that's all fine with me. But the Hall will be poorer without him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 AM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

Hear, hear Crank.

I agree with you 100%.

Posted by: Mike at January 9, 2007 9:56 AM

Nicely said, Crank. I've really come around on McGwire lately. For a couple reasons...One: he was putting up pretty prodigious numbers before there is any indication he was juicing. Two: He never got caught. Three: And if he did, baseballl had either NO policy or a ridiculous blind-eye policy. And that goes double for the writers. The same writers who are boycotting McGwire now were fawning all over "Big Red" when he was breaking records and they ALL knew what was going on. McGwire was basically doing what was tacitly allowed at the time. Retroactively punishing him now is crap.

Frankly, without his Senate (non)testimony we likely wouldn't be having this debate, and that is a bullshit reason to keep somebod out of the HOF.

Posted by: Mr. Furious at January 9, 2007 10:44 AM

Personally, I have to disagree. Hall of Fame selection isn't and shouldn't be automatic. Mr. Furious says he was putting up pretty prodigious number before he started juicing. Well, we don't know when he exactly started doing what, but in 1993 and 1994 he hit only 9 homers each year. Through 1994 his career batting average was .250 with full season BA's of .231, .235 and .201. Then from 1995 to 2000 he was magically able to stay healthy. His career batting average is .263. He is a very one dimensional batter - all or nothing. If you understand how the 1960's were dominated by pitching then Harmon Killebrew actually was statistically very similar to McGwire but somewhat better. Killebrew waited 4 years for HoF induction. If McGwire waits a couple years for a fuller review of his career no one is harmed. I'm not incredibly against McGwire, but it is silly that people are saying he would have been a slam dunk even if he didn't juice. That just isn't the case.

Posted by: largebill at January 9, 2007 11:50 AM

Originally I had started writing a similar criticism of McGwire's record aside from steroid use, but then I looked more closely at the numbers. While his batting average was pedestrian at best, his career on-base percentage was nearly .400, and he put up some insane numbers in that regard in a few individual season (lots .450+ seasons), and I believe his career OPS+ was 160. So he wasn't as one dimensional as I had figured. But he's still not a slam dunk even if you ignore the steroids stuff, though he'd definitely be worthy of getting in.

But can you ignore the steroids stuff? Crank, and then Mr. Furious, make the best cases I have heard for doing so. But I can't help but think that there's a difference in cheating by spitting on a baseball as opposed to injecting chemicals to alter the structure of your body. That baseball turned a blind eye at the time shouldn't necessarily enter into the equation.

One other thing - he either deserves to get in or he doesn't. They had one poll that showed something like 10% of the writers (maybe a bit more) were not going to vote for him this year but would then vote for him at a later date. That's just bs. This idea that there is some quantifiable difference between being a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a non-first ballot type is malarky. The plaque doesn't look any different depending on when you get voted in. So either a guy is a Hall-of-Famer or he isn't. The silly "first ballot" game is just a waste of time.

Posted by: paul zummo at January 9, 2007 12:49 PM

I have one thing to say about all of this: "Me and the Spitter."

Posted by: Steve at January 9, 2007 12:51 PM

Paul, while I agree with you about whether a first ballot inductee is BS or not (they don't have that on a plaque), I think it became a bigger deal when Henry Aaron complained he wasn't unanimous. Someone should have gently and calmly rapped him over the head with a baseball bat and pointed out in the two biggest elections in this country (and I do count the HOF vote as either 1 or 2), only George Washington was unanimous. No offense Henry, but he and the other George was better.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 9, 2007 2:04 PM


I should clarify my position. I don't necessarily think McGwire is a HOF lock. I meant I am coming around on my position regarding the HOF/steroid issue.

There are legit statistical arguments against McGwire as a HOFer. Hypocritcal sanctimony by the writers should NOT be the leading reason he doesn't get in. If you don't think he's a HOFer, make the case (as largebill does), but don't tell me you're protecting the game and the Hall—writers had a chance to do that years ago, and they failed miserably.

McGwire's numbers are . There is plenty to bolster both arguments. In fact, taking another look at the numbers (his failure to earn an MVP or even finish high most years is particularly damning) swings me back in the direction of not putting him in.

That said, using two injury years where he played only a handful of games to denigrate his perfomance is weak.

Prior to 93 and 94 (the lost injury years) McGwire had hit 220 HRs over six seasons. An average of 36 HRs and good for a top 3 finish five of those seasons—leading the league as ROY.

McGwire was a fearsome homerun hitter, who was on a pretty good pace before injury cost him a couple years. Did he compensate for that by cheating after he came back? Seems like it. He stayed healthier and his numbers bulged along with his physique.

Without the drugs he would likely fall short statistically, and for that reason, I can see an objection by fans. But with writers, it rings a bit more hollow.

The writers, along with the League, turned a blind eye to steroids, and in the case of McGwire, they were practically a professional fan club as he chased Maris. They didn't care then, they shouldn't pretend they do now.

Posted by: Mr. Furious at January 9, 2007 5:09 PM

Blew the formatting on the link up there, but it still works...

Posted by: Mr. Furious at January 9, 2007 5:13 PM

The bottom line is regardless of whether he juiced or not, he did not violate the rules that were in place at the time he played. Therefore, every record set is valid and should stand.

You can't watch me jaywalk, run to City Hall and pass an ordinance and then have me arrested. The cow is out of the barn. Raffy tested positive, he does not get a pass unless he can prove he was setup.

Posted by: maddirishman at January 9, 2007 5:36 PM

"The bottom line is regardless of whether he juiced or not, he did not violate the rules that were in place at the time he played. Therefore, every record set is valid and should stand."

Exactly. Aside from the fact that it wasn't against the rules (but, oddly, was illegal) there is no way to even PROVE that he did the steroids at this point. Unless they're going to bust out some ten year old urine (ala Lance Armstrong) this is all seculative.

Since the writers and MLB were willing to loook the other way when it happened, I have a problem with their posturing now.

My honest opinion? McGwire will wait a few years but eventually get in. Same with Bonds. As for the other borderline cases from the steroid era, the bar will probably be raised, and numbers besides HRs will gain importance.

Posted by: Mr Furious at January 9, 2007 9:53 PM

I agree with everything Crank said except the slam on Shoeless Joe. He was banned for taking money from gamblers but that's not illegal. If he did something in return, then it's a bribe, and the trial is in a criminal court, not the Commissioner's office.

That's exactly what happened th Joe Jackson. In the trial, his series .325 average was mentioned, as well as a circus catch that saved a game for the White Sox. He was acquitted by a jury of throwing the World Series, so in the eyes of the law, he didn't "take wins off the board".

Posted by: The other brother Larry at January 9, 2007 9:54 PM

Larry, I addressed Shoeless Joe here.

The related issue beyond guilt on the steroids thing is, there's no way to know for sure who was innocent - so we surely will put some people in from the 90s without anyone ever finding out whodunit. That's another reason to mistrust purely retrospective enforcement.

Posted by: The Crank at January 9, 2007 10:11 PM


Minor correction, Jackson actually batted .375 during the 1919 WS.

Posted by: largebill at January 9, 2007 11:28 PM

Just in reference to the "first ballot" thing mentioned above by Paul and others: My father in law is a voting member of BBWAA, has been for 40 years (covered baseball as a beat writer in a major NYC area paper for 30+ years). He's old school, so no sabremetrics for him. He looks at numbers and he looks at clutch. Or, his perception of both, anyway. He has told me many times he will not vote for someone on the first ballot unless they are a slam dunk, and he feels they are "worthy" of 1st ballot status. As an example, he wouldn't vote for Winfield on 1st ballot because he felt he wasn't "clutch" enough (Mr May and all that, you know).

As to McGwire, he didn't vote for him this year but will next year, because he felt the steroid thing made him unworthy of 1st ballot status, as he defines it. Is he correct? Eh, who knows. I only know that after almost 20 years, it's useless trying to argue the point with him.

Posted by: Darren at January 10, 2007 12:03 PM

McGwire is a rare case where I might have chosen to not vote for him now, but do so in the future. I don't think there should be a distinct standard for "early admission" to the Hall, and I also don't think voters should "punish" McGwire or anyone else by making them wait. But I can see how in this particular case, a writer could validly feel that not enough time has yet passed to put McGwire's career in it's proper context.

Posted by: Jerry at January 10, 2007 2:34 PM

The biggest problem with the whole steroids debate is this insane idea that they are some kind of magic pill that automatically makes you bigger, stronger, faster and more athletically gifted. The more the idiot writers talk and write about them this way, the more they make teen athletes want to take them.

Steroids only help those who are working out with weights so hard and so often that they can't sufficiently recover in time for the next exhaustive workout without them.

They can't help a batter with his timing or contact (which are the two most critical parts of hitting a baseball). They are far more useful in football than baseball. Yet football (and its writers) seem to have a much healthier attitude toward those who used them in the past. No one up for the Pro football Hall of Fame is having his navel examined to decide if he is worthy.

Merriman gets caught, he does the time. But everyone avoids the insane chicken little routine.

Can we please bury the insane "magic pill" aspect of all this.

Posted by: stan at January 11, 2007 3:49 PM

The problem with McGwire is that he is a fraud.

He, from the start of his career, if we are to believe Canseco, (who, as loathsome as he is, comes out better in this piece than McGwire) did steroids from the very inception of his career.

1. His 49 home runs as a rookie. Fraud.
2. His 500 Home Runs. Fraud.
3. His 70 Home runs in a season. Fraud
4. His oft repeated respect for the game. Fraud
5. His absolutely detestable charade using Roger Maris' family on national TV as part of his illegal actions. Fraud.
6. His absolutely cowardly performance in front of the congress. Fraud.

1. It is OK to defraud the public?
2. It is OK to take adulation rightfully due others?
4. It is OK to cheat other players, who not frauds out of the money that would rightfully be theirs as part of the budget a team has for all players?

McGwire, consciously and over a long period of time, broke the law for personal gain. In doing so, he showed a total disdain for the the game, his fellow professionals and the public who paid his salary. He also felt that he was well within his rights to so.

Guess what? He wasn't and now the time has come to pay the piper. So, now it seems that his ill-gotten gains have to be paid for with public rebuke and humiliation. I think that is the way it works.

Without 'roids McGwire may not even be Adam Dunn.

I mean, can you imagine the induction ceremonies with all the Hall of Fame guys in the audience thinking, "What is this steroid freak, talking about." In any case, Mark probably wouldn't come to make a speech considering his aversion to speaking about the past.

There is nothing wrong with the whole steroids era being tainted. There is nothing wrong with some players from the era not entering the HOF. Letting it go allows the basic integrity of the game to be grossly compromised.

1. The complicity of Major League baseball in this conspiracy, along with FOs throughout the league is a travesty.

2. Selig's performance throughout his reign and especially during this period should have earned him a recognition that is beneath contempt.

3. The failure of authorities to go after the FOs and MLB, so far, is craven. I am being charitable here.

So, the players that used will bear the brunt of the punishment for compromising the integrity of the game. McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Palmiero, Giambi, et al will not enter the Hall. Their names will be tarnished and their "accomplishments" will be looked upon as bogus.

No amount of finger pointing at others, who will not be justly punished, can absolve these guys from their part in denigrating the game. This was a grevious transgression. So much so that it is hard to look at anyone's accomplishments throughout the period and not hold them in question.

The pall created by their actions is cast equally on the innocent and the guilty. The victims here are guys that didn't use and are tarred by the steroid brush.

One question? When Bonds surpasses Aaron, do you think Hank should be there to congratulate him? Do you think he should bring his family along as well to celebrate the occasion as Maris' family was paraded out on National Television to celebrate McGwire's "feat"?

These guys, most especially McGwire, deserve no defense. If you cant do the time, then don't do the crime.

Posted by: GIGAWIT at January 20, 2007 11:38 PM
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