Earlier this week Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were deservedly enshrined in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Sadly, what overshadowed theses two legends reception was the dark cloud of one Mark McGwire. McGwire is the first of many "Steroid Era" players eligible for the Hall of Fame. It was no surprise that McGwire was not elected, almost all preliminary polls showed that he would not get nearly enough of the requisite 75% of the vote necessary to get in. The polls proved accurate, McGwire only garnered 23.5% of the vote and was denied Hall of Fame enshrinement this year and maybe forever. But if the powers-that-be deny McGwire where will it end? Regardless of what you think about McGwire, denying him creates a domino effect that could destroy the Hall of Fame's credibility.
Numbers are far too hallowed in baseball. But as these holy numbers are being assaulted by smaller ball parks, juiced baseballs and increasingly larger players, "records were meant to be broken" has turned into "records were meant to be broken, but only by people we deem worthy." People were up in arms when Hank Aaron was coming up on Babe Ruth's career home run record. But that had a lot to due with race. Someone, sometime is going to break Aaron's record. Eventually, almost all of baseball's beloved records will be broken. That fact is something a lot of people don't want to acknowledge. McGwire breaking Roger Maris's long standing single-season home run record probably angered a lot of people. Clean or dirty, people hate seeing records of their favorite players (sometimes teammates) be broken. I am sure a lot of Ty Cobb fans smiled when Pete Rose got busted for gambling, thus denying him the Hall of Fame plaque he (still) deserves.
McGwire was denied the Hall of Fame not because of his numbers (no matter what people say) but because he represents the dark cloud hanging over baseball that is steroids. He will be the first 500 home run club member not to make the Hall. McGwire was a member of 12 All-Star teams, won 3 Silver Slugger awards, was the 1987 Rookie of the Year and has notorious home-run records, single season (70) and career (583, good for 7th all-time). But most importantly McGwire (along with Sosa) saved baseball in 1998. The argument that McGwire is one dimensional may be true but he was prolifically one dimensional. The Hall of Fame is full of one dimensional players, especially those on the 500 home run list. How can a player who is 7th on the all-time home-run list not be in the Hall of Fame? Because of performance enhancers. There is no proof McGwire took illegal performance enhancing drugs (Jose Canseco's book aside). McGwire admitted to using an over the counter, un-banned substance, Androstenedione. But McGwire is being vilified as an example of the steroid era. McGwire not being elected to the Hall of Fame is something much bigger than he is.
Anyone the media deems as a steroid user will now not be included in the Hall of Fame. There is absolutely no evidence that Sammy Sosa took or did anything, but since he was hitting homers the same time McGwire was, he is going to be dragged down with him. Barry Bonds, one of the top 5 hitters of all-time, steroids or not, will also be denied the Hall of Fame due to the Balco scandal among other things. Bonds (7-time MVP, 13-time all-star, 8-time gold glove winner and 12-time silver slugger award winner) was a Hall of Famer around 1995, well before the supposed steroid scandal.
What intrigues and angers me the most about the whole steroid era is that there is positively not a single way to tell who uses performance enhancing drugs. We all picture 250-pound monsters jacking bombs 600 feet over the outfield fence. But what about pitchers? 160-pound relievers who want an extra 1-2 MPH on their fastballs. Or a starting pitcher who wants to be able to recover quicker between starts? What about America's darling Roger Clemens? A hulking power pitcher who has peaked after the age of 35. Why does no one talk about him as a possible steroid user? If we are in the business of slinging accusations at players like Sosa and Bonds why not guys like Clemens?
Look at David Ortiz. In his first six seasons in Minnesota he never hit more than 20 home runs. Granted he didn't have a lot of playing time (roughly 400 games) but in his first four seasons in Boston he hit 31, 41, 47 and 54 home runs. Sure the team around him and ball park has something to do with it, but is it possible Ortiz took steroids to increase his numbers? I really don't know. The truth is anyone could be on steroids, we can't tell by looking at them and if you are going to accuse someone, you better look at everyone in baseball.
The solution isn't as difficult as it seems. Put McGwire in the Hall of Fame and on his plaque write something to the effect of "possibly used steroids and pleaded the 5th during a congressional hearing." The Hall of Fame is full of cheaters anyway, whose deeds are brushed under the rug. By putting some "disclaimer" on McGwire's plaque allows players like Bonds and Sosa, who are slam-dunk Hall members, to be inducted with little uproar. If this solution is not satisfactory then find out how steroids augmented these guys numbers and A) change them or B) asterisk them. You say that's impossible? You're right. Mark McGwire deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.