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After Sarah’s comprehensive post on Mark McGwire, I felt the need to weigh in. Because there’s one thing about the McGwire debate that bothers me more than anything else. Barry Bonds.

The McGwire decision will set a precedent. It will be the benchmark for how we vote on future tainted stars, most notably Bonds. And I don’t think the baseball writers have thought about that. Not really.

On the surface, denying McGwire isn’t so tough. He hit a bunch of homers and it’s easy to say he wouldn’t have been a Hall of Fame player without the homers and he wouldn’t have hit the homers without the roids. But voters will have to swallow hard before denying Bonds. Through 2006, Bonds leads all players in career walks (2,426) and intentional walks (645). He is 2nd on the list of all-time career home runs (734 (trailing Hank Aaron‘s 755) and extra base hits (1,398), 3rd in at bats per home run (13.0), 6th in obp (on-base percentage) (.443), runs (2,152), slugging percentage (.608), and total bases (5,784), and 7th in RBIs (1,930). How do you keep the best player in the history of the game out of the HOF?

ESPN’s Jim Caple doesn’t think we should deny Bonds or McGwire. He writes, tongue-in-cheek:

You knew McGwire was taking andro in 1998′s home run chase and suspected he was taking something much stronger but nonetheless repeatedly wrote stories glorifying his deeds and crediting him with “saving baseball.” You now have no additional evidence other than those same old suspicions, but you are nonetheless repeatedly writing stories condemning his actions and blaming him for ruining baseball. Therefore you clearly must not vote for McGwire, because that was then and this is now.

Of course, there’s a problem with Caple’s argument. Because, we do know more now than we knew then. We know that McGwire was using steroids. At least, we know all that we feel we need to. When he went in front of Congress and passed on the chance to deny allegations that he was doping, McGwire essentially confessed.

SI writer Phil Taylor isn’t going to vote for McGwire, because he says use, not home runs. That sounds like a pretty flimsy reason to me. How we view a player changes over time. Ten years ago McGwire’s legacy was home runs. He saved baseball, remember? Sure, right now, his legacy is steroids. But, ten years from now, when the steroids debate has died down, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll return to viewing Big Mac as a great power hitter, instead of a performance enhanced cheater. After all, this is the country that forgave Marion Barry, Kobe, and Ted Kennedy. The winds of public perception shift constantly. Here’s how Taylor describes his thought process on McGwire:

A debate is definitely necessary for McGwire, a serious internal debate. Is it fair to assume he used steroids? If he did, would he have been a Cooperstown-caliber player without them? Should we hold his steroid-use against him when we have no idea how many other players were doing the same thing?

Now this is where things get sticky. Am I the only one who gets nervous when baseball writers are trying to quantify things like, “would he have been a Cooperstown-caliber player without [steroids]?” I mean, is there anything more impossible to determine? Why even try? Well, Taylor isn’t afraid to try. He says:

Would he have been a Hall of Fame caliber player without them? McGwire is no Barry Bonds, who was headed for the Hall long before anyone suspected steroid use.

Oh god. Shoot me now.

You know, I don’t really care if McGwire gets into the Hall. But I hope against hope that I’ll never see the day when baseball writers are trying to decide if a player would have been good had he decided not to use steroids.

In the future, if a great player takes steroids, fails a drug test and is suspended, will that stop us from voting him into the HOF? What if Albert Pujols flunks a test and is suspended 50 games, but then returns to win three more MVPs? Will we block his path to Cooperstown? What about if Roger Clemens flunked a drug test?

As far as I’m concerned, we need to make a collective decision: either using steroids is a sin tantamount to betting on baseball and getting caught juicing should keep a player out of Cooperstown, or we’re just going to decide not to care all that much and treat steroids like any other drug.

If we decide that using steroids should keep a player out of the Hall, that’s fine. But baseball writers should remember that when they’re deciding not to vote for McGwire, they’re also deciding not to vote for Bonds and every great but possibly juiced player that comes after him.

10 Responses to “Bonds' HOF fate tied to McGwire's”

  1. I think there’s a whole other angle to this decision which we haven’t looked at yet. Namely, that this is only the first time McGwire will come up for a vote – he’ll still have up to 14 more chances after this year.

    I think many writers realize this, and feel like they should at least make a pretty harsh statement now, on the first ballot, before quietly voting in McGwire a few years down the road. That’s my prediction of how it will go down.

    Is McGwire a Hall of Famer? In all likelihood, yes. But does he deserve the added honor of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer? He most certainly does not.

    We are definitely not happy about what McGwire did, and we need to express our disapproval by not voting him in right away.

  2. Coley Ward says:

    Nick, I couldn’t disagree more. It’s an honor to get a Hall of Fame vote. One shouldn’t trivialize that honor by using the vote to make a statement. It’s like winning an Oscar and standing up and making a political speech. It’s just tacky.

    If the guy’s deserving, you vote for him. If he’s not, he’s not. But a player who’s not deserving one year shouldn’t be deserving the next.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Clearly we need a post on how you decide who gets on the ballot. Scott Brosius?? That’s how people are deserving one year and not the next. It’s all about who’s in your class. That’s part of why tons of players get in after they’ve been on the ballot awhile. I, for instance, am rooting for Jim Rice this year, as I do every year.

    And finally, Ward, I can’t believe you said Barry was the best player in the history of the game.

  4. Nick Kapur says:

    I disagree Coley. I don’t see writers who don’t vote Barry in on the first ballot as “trivializing” the honor of getting into the Hall of Fame. I see it as them recognizing what an additional honor it is to get in on the first ballot, and further recognizing that McGwire does not deserve that extra honor.

  5. Nick Kapur says:

    And frankly, I just can’t get all that riled up about the “sanctity” and the “honor” of the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame means whatever we want it to mean, and that meaning has been different over time. There are lots of people who don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but are, and several people that do, but aren’t.

    Personally, I don’t think Bonds should be in the Hall, ever, so I don’t get very teary-eyed when you argue that we can’t block McGwire because then we might have to block Bonds.

    We know for a fact that both Bonds and McGwire used steroids. They’re cheaters – block em both is what I say. And the same goes for Pujols if he ever got caught, no matter how many ill-gotten MVPs he might have won afterwards.

  6. Coley Ward says:

    First of all, Sarah, I think there’s an argument to be made that Bonds is the best player ever, especially if you’re not grading on a curve b/c of the whole steroids thing. But I’m not gonna make that argument right now. I just don’t have it in me.

    Second, Nick, I agree that Bonds shouldn’t be in the hall. But I think he’ll get in. And what would really piss me off is Bonds getting in and MacGwire getting shut out. B/c where’s the justice there? Where’s the consistency? I just want baseball writers to take a stand and say, “right is right and wrong is wrong and steroids are wrong.” Or, “steroids are no big deal.” Whatever. But the same rules should apply to Bonds, MacGwire, and everybody else. It’s when baseball writers start to talk about, “would he have been hall of fame worthy if he hadn’t used steroids?” that I get really nervous. Who cares what Bonds/McGwire would have been like w/o steroids? They cheated! That should be it for them, right?

  7. Nick Kapur says:

    Okay Coley, we’re definitely on the same page now. I agree 100 percent that if Bonds is in, McGwire should be in too. Your point that their HoF fates should be tied together is right on.

  8. Sarah Green says:

    So, basically, we all agree, except perhaps for a slight discrepancy over who the best baseball player of all time is. Where’s the fun in that?

    Kumbayaaaaaaaa my lord, kumbayaaaaa.

  9. Sarah Green says:

    It’s just like the Williams sisters’ dad, Coley. Or Beyonce’s dad, or Britney’s mom. Or any of them. It’s not that we’re underachievers. It’s just that our parents aren’t, you know, psycho.

  10. Brooks Beasley says:

    i think that mark macgwire is the best baseball prayer that ever lived because he is in it for the fun of the game and i do’t think that mark took stillords or anything like that

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