McGwire Should Be In HOF

Among the baseball players newly eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is Mark McGwire, the home-run-slugging first baseman who played for the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals from 1986 to 2001.  McGwire is seventh on the all-time home run list, with 583.  He was Rookie of the Year in 1987.  He was a twelve-time all-star.  Most memorably, he hit 70 home runs in 1998, as he and Chicago Cubs' slugger Sammy Sosa  raced each other to break Roger Maris' single-season home-run record of 61.  (McGwire's record was later broken by Barry Bonds, who hit 73 home runs in 2001.)  McGwire also was an all-around nice guy and a fan and media favorite.

That is, until he refused to answer questions about his alleged steroid use during last year's hearings before Congress.  McGwire's perceived failure to "come clean" about the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs has tarnished, indeed blackened, his reputation.  Now, according to news reports, McGwire is likely to fall "far short" of the 75% of votes needed to be elected to the Hall of Fame (HOF).  If this should happen, I think it will be a real travesty.

Interestingly, in a recent column, Thomas Sowell sees the backlash against McGwire as one of the "flickering signs of hope" that our society still has a working moral compass.  Although I usually agree with Sowell's positions, I strongly disagree with him here.

To begin with, I think the backlash against McGwire is rooted in his failure to play the role of penitent sinner.  It is not his supposed crime (using steroids or undermining the "integrity" of Major League Baseball) that the media, the HOF voters, and many in the public truly object to.  It's his refusal to admit his crime, to ask forgiveness for his crime, even to accept the mantle of "victim" by blaming his crime on someone or something else (his abusive childhood, the pressure to excel in professional sports, unscrupulous "trainers," etc.).

In other words, we are upset with McGwire because he wouldn't prostrate himself before the public.  Not because he transgressed some clear moral boundary.  Thus, I hardly consider the backlash against McGwire to be a sign of the moral seriousness of our society.  It's more a sign of how influential Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, Maury Povich, and the other daytime talk show hosts have been in shaping the attitudes and expectations of the American public.  Too many Americans today are willing to excuse "bad" behavior by our leaders (especially politicians and celebrities) so long as they offer maudlin public apologies once their behavior is exposed.  Contrary to Sowell, I think this has much more to do with wanting to see "the mighty brought low" than believing in a strict moral code.

I have little doubt that if Mark McGwire had broken down while testifying before Congress, had tearfully confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness, he almost surely would have been treated as some sort of "hero" -- and his path to Cooperstown would have been straight and smooth.  So much for the "integrity" of the game.

The steroids question raised by McGwire's candidacy for the HOF, however, ultimately turns, I think, on our assessment of Barry Bonds.  It is well-established that Bonds has used performance-enhancing drugs.  He claims he did so unknowingly, but that is not credible. 

So should Barry Bonds not be elected to the Hall of Fame?  The question is ridiculous.  Bonds is clearly one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  His accomplishments dwarf those of McGwire and every other star player (non-pitcher) of his generation.  Only a handful of "pantheon" performers -- Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc. -- can be mentioned in the same breath as Bonds.  Of course Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame.

Unless Major League Baseball (MLB) bans Bonds (as it did Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, who also had Hall of Fame careers), his accomplishments on the field cannot, and should not, be "discounted" by the HOF voters based on his use of performance-enhancing drugs.  After all, lots of professional baseball players over the years have used illegal drugs of one type or another.  Arguably, the rampant use of amphetamines ("greenies") has had a larger impact on the game than steroids.  And other forms of cheating (for example, spit balls) have not been uncommon. 

My position is that unless Major League Baseball itself takes the momentous step of banning a player for illegal drug use (or another violation of the rules), then the HOF voters should evaluate that player solely on the basis of his on-field accomplishments.  This is the only principled way out of the steroid quandary.   

Clearly, MLB is not going to ban Bonds from HOF consideration, and the HOF voters in any event will not withhold their votes for Bonds, as they apparently are going to do for McGwire.  Among other reasons, there would be a huge public outcry if the preeminent black baseball player of his generation -- who has broken Babe Ruth's home run mark and probably will break Hank Aaron's all-time record next season -- is not admitted into the Hall of Fame.  No such public outcry will accompany the HOF voter's hypocritical rejection of McGwire.

The bottom line is that if Bonds' known steroid use is not enough to prevent him from being considered "on the merits" for the HOF, than McGwire's suspected steroid use should not prevent him from being equally considered for the HOF.  Both Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Contact Steven M. Warshawsky, a frequent contributor to American Thinker.
Among the baseball players newly eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is Mark McGwire, the home-run-slugging first baseman who played for the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals from 1986 to 2001.  McGwire is seventh on the all-time home run list, with 583.  He was Rookie of the Year in 1987.  He was a twelve-time all-star.  Most memorably, he hit 70 home runs in 1998, as he and Chicago Cubs' slugger Sammy Sosa  raced each other to break Roger Maris' single-season home-run record of 61.  (McGwire's record was later broken by Barry Bonds, who hit 73 home runs in 2001.)  McGwire also was an all-around nice guy and a fan and media favorite.

That is, until he refused to answer questions about his alleged steroid use during last year's hearings before Congress.  McGwire's perceived failure to "come clean" about the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs has tarnished, indeed blackened, his reputation.  Now, according to news reports, McGwire is likely to fall "far short" of the 75% of votes needed to be elected to the Hall of Fame (HOF).  If this should happen, I think it will be a real travesty.

Interestingly, in a recent column, Thomas Sowell sees the backlash against McGwire as one of the "flickering signs of hope" that our society still has a working moral compass.  Although I usually agree with Sowell's positions, I strongly disagree with him here.

To begin with, I think the backlash against McGwire is rooted in his failure to play the role of penitent sinner.  It is not his supposed crime (using steroids or undermining the "integrity" of Major League Baseball) that the media, the HOF voters, and many in the public truly object to.  It's his refusal to admit his crime, to ask forgiveness for his crime, even to accept the mantle of "victim" by blaming his crime on someone or something else (his abusive childhood, the pressure to excel in professional sports, unscrupulous "trainers," etc.).

In other words, we are upset with McGwire because he wouldn't prostrate himself before the public.  Not because he transgressed some clear moral boundary.  Thus, I hardly consider the backlash against McGwire to be a sign of the moral seriousness of our society.  It's more a sign of how influential Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, Maury Povich, and the other daytime talk show hosts have been in shaping the attitudes and expectations of the American public.  Too many Americans today are willing to excuse "bad" behavior by our leaders (especially politicians and celebrities) so long as they offer maudlin public apologies once their behavior is exposed.  Contrary to Sowell, I think this has much more to do with wanting to see "the mighty brought low" than believing in a strict moral code.

I have little doubt that if Mark McGwire had broken down while testifying before Congress, had tearfully confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness, he almost surely would have been treated as some sort of "hero" -- and his path to Cooperstown would have been straight and smooth.  So much for the "integrity" of the game.

The steroids question raised by McGwire's candidacy for the HOF, however, ultimately turns, I think, on our assessment of Barry Bonds.  It is well-established that Bonds has used performance-enhancing drugs.  He claims he did so unknowingly, but that is not credible. 

So should Barry Bonds not be elected to the Hall of Fame?  The question is ridiculous.  Bonds is clearly one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  His accomplishments dwarf those of McGwire and every other star player (non-pitcher) of his generation.  Only a handful of "pantheon" performers -- Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc. -- can be mentioned in the same breath as Bonds.  Of course Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame.

Unless Major League Baseball (MLB) bans Bonds (as it did Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, who also had Hall of Fame careers), his accomplishments on the field cannot, and should not, be "discounted" by the HOF voters based on his use of performance-enhancing drugs.  After all, lots of professional baseball players over the years have used illegal drugs of one type or another.  Arguably, the rampant use of amphetamines ("greenies") has had a larger impact on the game than steroids.  And other forms of cheating (for example, spit balls) have not been uncommon. 

My position is that unless Major League Baseball itself takes the momentous step of banning a player for illegal drug use (or another violation of the rules), then the HOF voters should evaluate that player solely on the basis of his on-field accomplishments.  This is the only principled way out of the steroid quandary.   

Clearly, MLB is not going to ban Bonds from HOF consideration, and the HOF voters in any event will not withhold their votes for Bonds, as they apparently are going to do for McGwire.  Among other reasons, there would be a huge public outcry if the preeminent black baseball player of his generation -- who has broken Babe Ruth's home run mark and probably will break Hank Aaron's all-time record next season -- is not admitted into the Hall of Fame.  No such public outcry will accompany the HOF voter's hypocritical rejection of McGwire.

The bottom line is that if Bonds' known steroid use is not enough to prevent him from being considered "on the merits" for the HOF, than McGwire's suspected steroid use should not prevent him from being equally considered for the HOF.  Both Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Contact Steven M. Warshawsky, a frequent contributor to American Thinker.