Thursday, January 14, 2010

Socking a Few Dingers

Mark McGwire Celebrates
Mark McGwire Admits Steroid Use

We've gotten quite busy at work, so I haven't been able to update as much as I would like - with upcoming movies for 2010, for example - but I've got enough time to dash out a quick note on Mark McGwire's admitted steroid use.

ESPN polled their writers with a Hall of Fame vote, to see how his admission would affect their future voting. They were pretty split in how they voted last year, and no one really seemed keen on changing their opinions. Most of the comments were things like this, from the No Vote (Mark Saxon) and Yes Vote (Tim Kurkjian):

He's a .263 lifetime hitter. His only qualification is the home run totals, which are the easiest numbers to correlate with PED use. Unfortunately, voting for players from the steroids era requires subjective judgments, but this one seems pretty objective to me.

I have voted for McGwire in each of the four years he has been eligible for the Hall of Fame. I will continue to vote for him. His numbers are worthy: a slugging percentage nearly 100 points higher than Reggie Jackson's, an on-base average higher than Willie Mays' and 12 All-Star selections -- no one makes 12 All-Star teams without going to the Hall.

That, I think, gives a fairly realistic version of the Yes/No fight - either his numbers (inflated or not) were or weren't good enough to merit Hall of Fame induction or not. McGwire was "one-dimensional" (he was two-dimensional, really, seeing as he got on base nearly 40% of the time), but in that regard, so was Bill Mazeroski (who, admittedly, was voted in by the heavy drinkers on the Veterans' Committee).

However, there were a couple of points that juxtaposed nicely, from Tony Jackson (No), and Jim Caple (Yes):

Mark McGwire's admission will have no impact on my Hall of Fame vote for the simple reason that I had already made the choice not to vote for him based on the high probability -- or, more to the point, the virtual certainty -- that he had, in fact, used steroids during his playing career. I have been a Hall of Fame voter for the past three years, and I haven't included Mr. McGwire on any of the three ballots I have submitted. I will continue to decline to vote for him in the years to come despite the fact he put up Hall of Fame numbers over the course of his career and despite his admission. The admission was admirable and courageous, but it doesn't change what happened.

It does not affect my vote. I have always voted for McGwire and will continue to do so. The same people demonizing him now are the ones who glorified him in 1998, even though we all had our suspicions then. I view his use of steroids similarly to how I view amphetamines, which were used by players for decades. McGwire did not violate a specific baseball rule -- unlike, say, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. If you want to make a mention of such use on a Hall of Fame plaque, fine. But let the guy in.

I'll deal with Caple's argument for his Yes vote first. He makes the point that, really, the playing field has never been particularly level, and players have always tried to keep, if not one step ahead, no more than one step behind their competition. Whether it be something as "innocent" as spitballs or corked bats, or as sinister as PEDs (including amphetamines) or racism1, baseball (and sports in general) has never, and probably will never, reach a status quo for a level playing field - it will always be in flux. As such, we can only judge each player against the era in which he played and, seeing as he played in the "Steroid Era", McGwire should not have his era held against him.

As for Jackson, he's just a goof. He's not voting for him despite his Hall of Fame numbers? Sounds more like "in spite of". Jackson's a new voter, so perhaps he just needs to gain some experience, but he may have unknowingly put himself on a very slippery slope - what's he going to do when players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds come through the pipe? Both of them have far superior numbers than McGwire, and have never been caught cheating - where does that fall on his radar?

And what about the players who have been caught or have admitted to cheating? Where do Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro rank for Jackson, or that guy that's tied on the career home runs list with McGwire - Alex Rodriguez? The former two were caught cheating, Rodriguez admitted to it - how do you grade them?

Baseball should be applauded for the transparency of their Hall of Fame voting process and the fact that the voters are called to task year after year about their choices, but its that transparency that makes everyone wonder if the right people are making the choices.

1 - Should we re-grade players that played before 1947 because they weren't playing against the top competition?

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