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.