Mark McGwire began his career as a record-setting rookie and ended it as one of the most feared sluggers of all time, but he won't make it into the Hall of Fame. Why? Because baseball writers, an intellectually lazy group who couldn't spot the steroid fire even as it was burning down their own house, think they know how to put this fire out.
|Reporters loved Mark McGwire during the Mark-n-Sammy saving baseball tour. (AP)|
According to a recent Associated Press survey of Hall of Fame voters, McGwire has no chance of getting in this year, his first on the ballot. The AP got definitive responses from 97 voters, 74 of whom said no to McGwire.
The hypocrisy is sickening. Eight years ago when McGwire and Sammy Sosa were blowing up baseballs, their bodies and what had been the accepted limits of power hitting, baseball writers sat on their brains and waved their pom-poms. Mark-n-Sammy were saving baseball! One home run at a time!
When the AP's Steve Wilstein had the nerve to notice that bottle of Andro in McGwire's locker and the poor form to write about it, baseball writers circled around McGwire, defended him, cherished him, journalistically pleasured him. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News, who in 2006 leads the crusade against Barry Bonds, in 1998 wrote a gushing book, Summer of '98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America.
Now, with the tide of opinion flowing safely in the other direction, baseball writers have turned on McGwire. He cheated. He took steroids. He went to Congress and lied, or evaded, or something. And if there's anything baseball writers won't abide, it's a liar.
But baseball writers will abide a drug user. Paul Molitor had used cocaine, but they voted him into the Hall of Fame in 2004. They'll abide an alcoholic. Dennis Eckersley was a recovering alcoholic, but they voted for him in 2004. And they'll abide a philanderer. Until Bill Clinton blew past, Wade Boggs was the most famous womanizer in the world. Baseball writers voted for him in 2005.
Do Molitor, Eckersley and Boggs belong in the Hall of Fame? Of course they do. But baseball writers, after voting in those sinners, will tell McGwire to go to hell.
They're doing what they do best: protect the game. McGwire cheated, so voters will keep him and his unfairly gained advantage out of Cooperstown. Which is interesting, considering that baseball-doctoring Gaylord Perry wrote a book called Me and the Spitter in 1974, while still throwing the illegal pitch that helped him win 314 games, and then was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Apparently baseball writers abhor a cheater, but only if the cheater embarrassed, well, them. And that's what McGwire did. So did Sosa, Bonds and anyone else who inflated his body overnight. Baseball writers didn't see it -- didn't want to see it -- and now they feel used. One Hall of Fame voter, Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, explained in a recent column why he won't vote for McGwire.
"Right now," he wrote, "I don't like the idea of putting McGwire into Cooperstown any more than I look back on 1998 with any feeling other than the sense that I, and we who chronicled the McGwire-Maris chase, all were exploited during a freakish period of abuse to baseball and its records."
Payback's a bitch, in other words. Another baseball writer, Bill Madden of the Daily News, believes that a phrase in the Hall voting guidelines justifies his decision not to vote for McGwire. The phrase notes that voting "shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship (and) character ..."
Madden told the Palm Beach Post, "I don't feel comfortable being a moralist, but as long as that clause is in our ballot, it's our obligation to take it seriously."
Kind of like how moralists took Don Sutton's sins seriously. Sutton was a notorious ball-scuffer -- he was ejected once, then suspended -- but he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Whitey Ford was the Gaylord Perry of his era, defacing balls like a graffiti artist, but he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1974. Cap Anson and Enos Slaughter were racist. Ty Cobb was vermin. Tris Speaker was forced to resign as a manager for throwing a game during his playing days. Baseball writers held their noses and voted them in, too.
But McGwire won't make it. Which means Bonds won't make it, because the steroid case against him is much more persuasive. Bonds is a better player than McGwire, but if baseball writers are going to use the steroid defense to bar one, they have to use the steroid defense to bar them all. Sorry Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and anyone else connected to BALCO. You're out.
Never mind that players in the 1990s were eating steroids like players from the Babe's era ate hotdogs. Cheating sucks, but scores of ballplayers have been busted, most of them pitchers. McGwire homered off more than one pitcher with needle tracks in his own butt.
Mobster Hyman Roth wasn't talking about baseball in The Godfather Part II when he said, "This is the business we chose." But it's the same thing here. For us, the unchecked steroid era of the 1990s was the business of baseball that we chose. Home runs soared. Fans bought tickets. Owners paid exorbitantly. Commissioner Bud Selig looked the other way. Baseball writers gushed.
Now baseball writers are getting religion? Too late, hypocrites. You sold your soul years ago.