Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TheStar.com - Big Mac won't get my vote for hall: "Mark McGwire may well make it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on the strength of his home run numbers. Some day.

He'll probably do it without this vote, though, and he'll certainly not be getting it in this, his first year of eligibility.

This isn't about moral outrage or first whacks at a poster child for the steroids era. It isn't about McGwire participating in a common practice, now illegal in baseball, that not only was not against the rules but was tacitly endorsed by the high sheriffs of Major League Baseball when he was slugging home runs with unprecedented frequency and 'saving' the game after a particularly messy labour disruption.

The feeling here is that McGwire simply has very borderline numbers, even including his home-run exploits
."

I have known Dave Perkins, at least through his regular columns for the Toronto Star, for longer than I have known any of you. I also know that Perkins is either lying in denying a moral component to his vote against McGwire, a very valid reason, or he is dead wrong in denying merit to McGwire's career.

He is right to point out that McGwire's career was precarious until 1995. That he ever came to break baseball's single season home run record is unfathomable considering that his career may well have come to an end after 1995 thanks to injuries. He played a total of 74 games in 1993-94 and batted no better than .235 from 1989-91. However, the claim that McGwire has "borderline" numbers is non-sensical. McGwire's OPS+, a rough measure of his hitting relative to the parks and era in which he played, is 163 ranks him as the eleventh-greatest hitter of all time. His career OPS of .982 is 13th all-time. Perhaps most impressive of all is the fact that for every 162 games he played, McGwire averaged 50 home runs and 122 RBI. He was certainly no slouch with the bat.

Perkins writes that voting for the Hall of Fame is "based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which he played." When Perkins opts to ignore integrity, sportsmanship and character, he has no choice but to admit McGwire into the Hall of Fame. McGwire's record speaks for itself, as I have shown earlier. No one can seriously deny that, though he wasn't a great all-round athlete (a poor fielder and baserunner), McGwire is one of the most physically gifted players in baseball history. He is, after all, a man who hit 49 home runs in his rookie season. Contribution to a team is nebulous to measure in a game like baseball. A power hitter isn't the best team player, granted, and I am not here to advance a view that McGwire is the greatest player in baseball history. At the same time, a team that wouldn't want a player who averages 50 home runs a season and has a career OBP of .394 (close to .500 at his peak) does not exist.

On the whole, however, Mark McGwire does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because he is, in all likelihood, a cheater. Steroids weren't banned in Major League Baseball at the time, I am aware, but it would be a colossal mistake on the part of baseball to enshrine a blatant cheater like McGwire. McGwire isn't simply a racist jerk like Ty Cobb or a gambler like Pete Rose, he took genuine shortcuts in the game and arguably has done more to tarnish the sport than anyone who isn't Barry Bonds. Major League Baseball continues to be soft on the matter of steroids. That androstenedione was not banned in 1998 is the fault of baseball. It would be doubly wrong to enter McGwire into the Hall of Fame on that basis. The right thing to do, after reaching certitude with respect to the matter (what I have said is merely probabilistic), is for the Baseball Writers' Association of America to vote against McGwire, if not coyly like Perkins. I may not follow baseball as passionately as I did when I was 12, the summer when McGwire could do no wrong inside and outside the batter's box, but I still care enough to not let baseball bean itself.

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