With the recent induction of the 2006 class into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the focus turned towards next year and it's interesting nominees. Up for induction is Cal Ripken. Consecutive game record, pioneer offensive shortstop and all around classy guy. He is a lock. Also up for induction is Tony Gywnn. Unbelievable hitter and outstanding humanitarian around the game. He, is also a lock. There are many others who are debatable, however, a third man was amongst this inevitable hall of fame group and was also considered a "lock". That man was Mark McMgwire. After the remarkable 98' season and his superman-like effort of resurrecting baseball post-strike, his legacy and image has been tarnished by what else - steroids. The following is a piece written for a sport management class regarding McGwire's bid for the Hall.
Big Mac's Undeserved Hall Attack
Following the strike of 1994, Major League Baseball was in need of major repair of its reputation. The damage done to the sport was apparent as many fans were skeptical and resistant to return to the game. Upset with the situation, fans stayed away from the game. America as a nation turned to the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, as both leagues grew into mega sporting machines. However, as 1997 rolled around, fans started coming back to the sport as Mark McGwire began hitting many homeruns, threatening Roger Maris’ single season homerun record. Although McGwire fell short, interest for the 1998 season grew heading into spring training. That year McGwire was part of a renaissance of Major League Baseball. He went on to set a new single-season homerun record captivating a nation attracting returning Americans to its national pastime. McGwire was held as a national icon and has always been looked at as a favorable guy. However, McGwire’s recent ties with the ever so popular steroid scandal has deterred his national “good guy” attitude and hurt his chances of the prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mark McGwire began his career playing for the Oakland Athletics where he accomplished many feats. McGwire won the rookie of the year his first year in the league and hit an ever so important homerun in game three of the 1989 World Series eventually leading to an Oakland win. After his trade to St. Louis, McGwire became a St. Louis icon. In 1998 he shared “Sportsman of the Year” with Sammy Sosa, as well as had part of route 70 renamed to the “Mark McGwire Highway”. McGwire finished his career with 583 homeruns (5th most in history), a .263 batting average, a .588 slugging percentage and ration of one homerun per 9.42 at bats, the best in the history of the game (Wikipedia).
On the other hand McGwire has been in the middle of controversy regarding drugs, steroids and enhancing supplements. In 1998, following his stellar historic season, McGwire admitted to taking Androstenedione, an androgenic steroid. The supplement at the time was not banned by Major League Baseball or under Federal Law. With steroids now such a huge issue in Major League Baseball, McGwire’s admittance lead to many believing that he used steroid use. Adding to the situation is the fact of McGwire’s 5th Amendment-like response during a response in front of the House Government Reform Committee. In a response to the question regarding other players and steroids, McGwire stated, “Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers 'No,' he simply will not be believed. If he answers 'Yes,' he risks public scorn and endless government investigations. I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject.” (Wikipedia). Following these statements, McGwire’s reputation took a hard hit as members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BWAA) vowed not to vote for him when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. This situation over his induction asks the question if we as a society have become overly cautious about steroids, drugs and supplements in our sports.
Mark McGwire has enjoyed and put together one of the most impressive careers the game has ever seen. However, due to his latest steroid controversy, his goals and accomplishments have been somehow put under a spotlight until further clarification and confirmation. Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com stated in a column responding to the situation:
I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, but if I did, McGwire’s name would be written on my ballot right after I jotted the Phillie Phanatic’s name, followed by Black Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, and Marv Throneberry of the 120-loss 1962 New York Mets. I wouldn’t let McGwire within a sloar system of my No. 2 pencil, not until he quits hiding behind the law firm of, I’m not here to talk about the past and associates.
Wojciechowski isn’t the only one who thinks this way as Howard Bryant of the Boston Herald states, “He’s not a Hall of Famer. Not now, not ever. I will never vote for him” (ESPN.com). Nonethless, you can’t be overly upset with their viewpoint. In our society, using drugs is frowned upon. In sports, especially baseball which we hold so sacred, cheating is unconditionally punished and rarely forgiven. It is almost religion-like. If in fact McGwire did take steroids and did cheat, then everything he has ever done will be wiped away, even if its not official. This nation would never forgive him after being such a transition hero for the sport and held in such high regards.
McGwire is also “tied” to the entire situation. Jose Canseco’s highly controversial book exposed McGwire as an avid steroid user. In the beginning, Canseco’s credibility was an issue, however, with the recent proof of former “feel-good” story, Rafael Palmiero taking steroids, minds are beginning to change. The bottom-line is that, Hall of Famer’s are not controversial. McGwire did nothing that would clear his name nor did he help defend the sport which gave him so much during a trying time. He simply tucked his tail bewteen his legs and went off into the unknown of sporting world. The Hall of Fame can’t take a chance on inducting a cheat, a liar and a coward. Until further evidence, Mcgwire should be left out of the Hall of Fame.
On the other hand, how can we judge? The steroid he admitted to taking was not banned by Major League Baseball or by our Government during the time of his record breaking performance. How can you penalize a man that was excercising his freedom and breaking no apparent laws with his use during that period? Staying on the rights and laws of the land, is it not a right of an individual to excericse the 5th Amendment? So why is it when McGwire uses this right during discussions and questions pertaining to steroids, we criticize him?
Nonethless, many would say that drugs are an inevitable “no-no” in the sporting world and should have bearings of punishment to set a standard. For starters, McGwire was never proven to have taken illegal substances. Mere specualtion on size and statistics is not only inaccurate, but absurd and irrelevant. McGwire’s performance, statistics, and off the field contributions are what we should base his induction on. Bruce Jenkins, an official voter of the BWAA stated, “Yes. The numbers are there. They are not removable. We don’t have nearly enough evidence as if the so-called Steroid Era should be stricken from the record. I was sickened by McGwire’s testimony, and it’s my gut feeling that he- along with hundreds of players was an active steroid user. But cowardice doesn’t remove one from the Hall, nor does hearsay” (ESPN.com). Another voter of the BWAA, Tracy Ringolsby follows up on the support of McGwire by stating, “The fact Jim Bunning or Gaylord Perry threw spitballs didn’t affect my vote. I don’t see why I should hold McGwire to anything more stringent than I would hold those guys to” (SFGate.com). The fact is, we don’t put people in jail based upon specualtion of murder. McGwire dserves a fair shot at the Hall like everyone else.
McGwire’s induction into the Hall of Fame raises many questions on how drugs in America changes a situation. McGwire’s case as some feel his connection to the controversy should leave him out, whereas some think that his career statistics and unconfirmed status in the situation is good enough. As a sport fan and American, it seems to me that our society has gone beyond the brink of caution of drug use and has entered a new level of paranoia. Now, I am all for keeping things, clean, fair and under control in the world of sports. You cheat, you’re wrong. You use drugs, you’re wrong. You gain advantage chemically, you’re wrong. It’s simple.
However, it’s becoming a game of specualtion within the media, sport leagues and fans. I have no idea if Mark McGwire took steroids illegaly or not. I do know that when Major League Baseball needed a figured head to lead the game out of the depths of America’s garbage pile, he accepted that role. And he did just that remarkably. With the ever so popular and rampant news and controversy regarding sports in sports, we have become a nation on assumption. We view an athlete with unbelievable talent and the first roadblock of thought and anlyzation is, “he is on ‘roids!” Hardwork is beginning to be overshadowed by specualtion of steroids and its just sad. Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and many more were never tested for anything. How do we know they were all clean?
Although that is another paper in itself, the point is as a nation we need to tone it down. It’s OK to be cautious and disciplanary about drug use, but once it goes beyond the point of fact and proof and becomes specualtion and “I think”, then we are treading dangerous waters. Baseball is about numbers and actual happenings. No one has a batting average based upon what everyone thinks they will hit. In closing, until proof or news bearing otherwise, let’s give the man his due, and induct one of the greatest homerun hitters of all time into the Hall. It’s America. We’re innocent until proven guilty.