As a baseball blogger, I am eligible to join the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. The IBWAA was founded to unite the hundreds of men and women that write about the greatest sport of them all for “new media” outlets that aren’t represented in the BBWAA. I am a life member of the IBWAA and, as such, am given the opportunity to submit a ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
This vote is strictly symbolic and serves as an illustration of the qualifications that internet writers share with their traditional media counterparts. My ballot includes five players that I believe deserve to be enshrined in the halls of Cooperstown. In no particular order, my list includes Randy Johnson, Barry Larkin (who was elected for realsies in 2012 but has yet to be elected by the IBWAA), Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, and Curt Schilling. I guess I lied about the no particular order thing, it’s alphabetical.
You’ll notice that I include Oakland A’s legend Mark McGwire on my ballot. Maybe it’s a little bit of homerism because he was one of my favorites growing up but, in large part, I think he has been punished in the court of public opinion and has come out on the other side in a positive light. Since his initial denial, McGwire has come clean and offered a reasonable and believeable excuse for his “occasional” use of steroids.
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According to McGwire, he used steroids sporadically through his career and primarily while on the disabled list to facilitate a quicker recovery. He makes the argument that he hit a ton of home runs when he was clean and he hit a ton when he was using and while the steroids did help him recover from injury quicker and helped him bulk up to He-Man levels, it didn’t enhance his timing or hand/eye coordination. The fact of the matter is the difference between using and not using, for McGwire, was 450 foot homers and 400 foot homers.
Would McGwire have hit 70 home runs in 1998 had he been clean? Maybe not. Heck, probably not but if juicing gets you to 70 home runs than playing clean probably would have still earned him 30+. Of course, I didn’t put him on my ballot based on what-ifs and, as much as I liked McGwire, it was the player I struggled with the most. The question that voters must answer is whether or not McGwire was cheating.
If Major League Baseball issued a statement saying that players could not spend more than two hours a day in the gym, would that mean that everyone that spent four hours a day in the gym last year are cheaters? The guys that spent four hours a day in the gym last year were doing so to enhance their strength and give them a competitive edge over those who only work out for two hours a day. This argument, on the surface, doesn’t seem to be equal but it truly is. When McGwire was using steroids it was not considered cheating by MLB and, like vitamin supplements and greenies, was being used as a means to be more competitive on gameday.
To be honest, I’m still on the fence regarding this topic and can make the argument either way but here’s why I put him on my IBWAA hall of fame ballot. In 1998 and 1999, the BBWAA voted McGwire second and fifth in MVP voting. By the late nineties there were plenty of rumors that baseball players were using steroids. It was no secret and yet the Association was enamored enough to rank him in the top five in MVP voting two times. During his career, McGwire placed in the top 20 for MVP votes nine times. Giving the baseball writers the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t suspect steroid use in the early years, they still came close to crowning him five consecutive times from 1995 to 1999.
The fact of the situation is that Bud Selig turned a blind eye to PED’s because it revived baseball after the strike, the BBWAA turned a blind eye because there were no formal charges or allegations and because the McGwire/Sosa home run race was selling papers (we still had those in the ’90’s) and the fans were turning a blind eye and made it clear with six straight All Star games in the late ’90’s.
There have long been allegations that Willie Mays used amphetamines when he was in the big leagues and there’s not a soul in baseball that would take a single hall of fame vote away from Mays. If we aren’t going to hold every baseball player to today’s standards for Hall entry, than we shouldn’t hold any player to today’s standards. Each player should be evaluated by the standards of their era and not by current convention and public opinion. At the time, McGwire was breaking no rules or policy and everybody associated with baseball, including the fans, were willingly turning a blind eye to the possibility that there were drugs in use. If you have to put an asterisk next to his name, fine, but put him in the hall.