You put snot on the ball?
Baseball hall of fame voting results are in, but on the outside looking in is Mark McGwire.
He was a 12 time All-Star (every other 12 time All-Star is in the hall), his slugging percentage is almost 100 points higher than Reggie Jackson. He won a Gold Glove award for defense at first base, and hit a homer every 10.6 at bats, finishing with 583 (5th at the time).
At one point, he was considered a sure thing for enshrinement, but today he garnered 23% of the vote. He needed 75% to be inducted.
Many see this as a statement being made about steroids. But many problems abound in this regard. It would be one thing if we knew he took steroids, but we don't. The problem is that for McGwire, and other big home run hitters in his era there is a great cloud of suspicion.
Major League Baseball did not test for steroids until rather recently and it's suspected that a great many players dabbled. But, how do we know which ones? Some have admitted it (e.g., Canseco) and others have recently tested positive (e.g., Palmeiro), but that's about it.
McGwire was mentioned in Canseco's book and didn't perform very well at the congressional hearing on the matter. He should have pulled a Sosa and forgot how to speak English.
Ripken and Gwynn were inducted today, but how do we know they didn't take steroids? What about pitchers?
Hey, if you cheat, that's bad bull. I'm not a fan of such (e.g., Kenny Rogers and Dirtgate), but if it's not cheating, then it's not cheating.
Beyond that, baseball is a game where cheating seems part of the culture. Some pitchers put snot on the ball. Some hide a file or pine tar in their glove. Some put vasoline or some other slooge on the bill of their hat. Some put cork in their bat. Baseball seems to be a sport where truly it's only cheating if you get caught.
Sure, McGwire got bulkier over the years, but he was also known as a health nut and work out fanatic. He hit 49 homers as a rookie. He was a stud at USC.
The assumption is that he and others like him (e.g., Bonds, Sosa, etc.) used 'roids, but I'd be willing to bet there were a great many who were lower level players who used the juice to help them compete and stay in the league. They won't draw any attention, however.
Look, if the baseball hall of fame is about baseball, then McGwire had the best home run to at-bat ratio of all time. He's number 7 on the all time home run list. He and Sosa put baseball back on the map in '98 with their home run contest, which was sorely needed after the '94 strike.
If the hall of fame is about character, then a great many people are indeed questionable.
I'm not saying McGwire did or didn't. I don't know. My gut tells me that we'd likely be surprised by those who did and those who did not.
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com explains his uncomfortable vote for Mark McGwire, criticizing baseball in the process:
Mark McGwire is the first prominent player tied to performance enhancers with Hall of Fame numbers to show up on this ballot. But he's only the beginning. So how do we know where to draw the line? How do we know which guys we should or shouldn't vote for if we want to make some kind of statement?
It was baseball that allowed all of this to happen. In a sport with no rules, no testing and no punishment for using the hottest substances of the day, this was no tiny problem, involving a few obvious home run trotters. This was the culture inside the game, just as amphetamines were part of the culture in the '60s and '70s and '80s (and beyond).
Admittedly, I am a Cardinals fan. I'm a fan of Big Mac as well. When he broke Roger Maris' record in '98, there were more than a few who renewed their affection for baseball.
For sports writers to eliminate that chapter (or the decade of the '90s) from the annals of baseball history because they think steroids were used seems beyond their task of determining those most important to the sport.