Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The ballot for the 2006 Hall of Fame candidates was announced earlier this week. Among the first timers on the ballot are two no-brainers, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn. Also on the ballot, and garnering the most attention at this point, is Mark McGwire.

We all know the story. McGwire, along with Sammy Sosa, captured the country's imagination with their pursuit of Roger Maris' single season home run record during the summer of 1998 and pulled baseball back from the hole it had dug itself with the 1994 strike. Later, as the steroid allegations ran rampant, McGwire, Sosa, Rafael Palmiero, Jose Canseco and Curt Schilling testified before Congress. McGwire refused to talk about the past, Sosa suddenly didn't understand English, Schilling refused to throw fellow players under the bus and Palmiero wagged his finger, proclaiming he was clean. He later failed a steroid test.

Unbelievably, the most forthcoming and honest guy in the group was probably Canseco, an admitted steroid user and advocate.

So now, the 600 or so baseball writers with a ballot have a choice to make. Based on numbers alone, McGwire should be standing on that podium with Ripken and Gwynn this summer. However, the numbers don't take into account the fact that he cheated to compile them.

Here are the three arguments the people who are considering voting for McGwire, Palmiero, Sosa and Bonds always throw out there. Permit me to debunk each one:

His numbers were so good, he would have been a Hall of Famer even without steroids: Lots of people try to "discount" the statistics of known steroids users. The argument goes something like this: "Barry Bonds hit 700 homers with steroids, so he probably would have hit 500 without them. Those are still Hall of Fame statistics." Sorry, it doesn't wash with me. Cheaters should not be in the Hall of Fame. I don't care if he hit 1,000 home runs. If he used performance enhancing drugs, he should be out.

We don't know everyone who was taking steroids during that period, and we might let some of them in. These guys should go in, too, or everyone should be out.: That's kind of like saying that the cops can't catch everyone who is speeding on the highway, so no one should get a ticket. If there are players we know (as in the case of Palmiero) or have strong evidence that they were taking steroids, they should be out. If some guys get in and it's later discovered that they were taking performance enhancers, it needs to be dealt with, but it's no reason to let these players in the Hall.

Steroids weren't against baseball's rules at the time: Taking steroids is illegal without a doctor's prescription. If you are doing something against the law to enhance your performance, that shouldn't be OK either.

So, obviously, McGwire wouldn't get my vote if I had one. I think Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe said it best about McGwire in his column yesterday, referring to his testimony before Congress. Well, Mark, if you can't bring yourself to talk about your past, I don't see any reason why we should waste time evaluating it. I couldn't agree more.


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