[MLB] Big Mac won't get my vote for hall

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Big Mac won't get my vote for hall

His numbers, not steroids, the issue

Nov. 28, 2006. 06:26 AM


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. Hitting it over the fence was his strength. Period. From 1988 to 1992, he batted, in order, .260, .231, .235, .201 and .226. You could certainly pitch to him. His on-base percentage those years was .352, .339, .370, .330 and .385, or somewhere between Reed Johnson and Alex Rios. Those pedestrian numbers, in addition to the Roger Maris-breaking home runs, are all part of it.

Overall, McGwire's statistics are good, but not great. That's the way these eyes remembered him at first base, too: good, not great. He won a Gold Glove one year after Tony La Russa campaigned for him, loudly, to the post-season press, but it didn't seem right then, or now.

He couldn't run and both struck out and walked a lot, which fits the profile even closer of a big, strong right-handed hitter who does one thing very well: slugs the ball great distances ? when he makes contact. He won rookie of the year in the great freshman class of 1987, but won no MVPs. In the post-season, he was pretty much an out, hitting five home runs, batting .217 (with a mewly .349 slugging percentage) in 42 games. He was a little more than the Dave Kingman of his era ? before he began juicing.

His great numbers while on the needle with the Cardinals lifted him to a career .588 slugging percentage, which is outstanding, and his walks lifted his career on-base mark to .390, which dwarfs his lowly .263 career batting mark. Both SP and OBA are impressive, but there still are enough holes in McGwire's r?sum? ? without getting into his pathetic performance at the U.S. Congressional hearings into steroid abuse in sports ? to make this voter holster his McGwire ballot.

Voter instructions direct voting "is based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which he played."

Where hugging the Maris family while juiced up, or insulting everyone, fans included, before Congress fits on the integrity and character scale is open to debate. Cooperstown already has a number of honourees whose behaviour would make decent people hold their noses; whether this helps or hurts McGwire in the long run remains to be seen. In the meantime, with such solid citizens as Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. also ballot first-timers, McGwire isn't getting this vote.

Nothing is forever, though. The context of history, over time, may or may not change the way we feel about baseball's steroids era. McGwire himself still has some explaining to do about his time and his role in his era. Plus, his ultimate election may be leveraged, either way, by what happens to Sammy Sosa when his time comes, then Rafael Palmeiro, then Barry Bonds. (In Bonds's case, he was a slam-dunk hall-of-famer before he ever began juicing.)

If McGwire can't persuade enough writers of his worthiness, he has a fallback position: he will eventually by considered by the veterans committee, largely made up of hall members. Although to hear them tell it, he'd stand less of a chance there.


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