Mark McGwire never took an at-bat for the Mets. He played on an old Mets rival, though while he was on that team, they weren’t really a rival at that point. He played for a team I don’t have a whole lot of love for at the moment, so it pains me to stick up for one of their icons. But fair is fair, and keeping Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame is ridiculous; receiving 23.5% of the vote, an astonishingly low vote percentage, below guys who were clearly inferior ballplayers such as Andre Dawson and Lee Smith, is downright stupid.
Let’s look at the numbers: 583 career home runs (7th all time), .588 career slugging percentage (10th all-time), first player to hit 70 home runs in a season. Most of his case-building numbers are power-based, but he also has a career OBP of .394, which is pretty impressive. His career batting average is .263, which isn’t spectacular, but his job wasn’t to hit for a high average (though he did have five seasons of hitting over .285), but to pound the hell out of the ball, and he did just that.
Nobody questions McGwire’s Hall candidacy based on his numbers, though. It’s based on the assumption (and that’s exactly what it is; an assumption) that McGwire used steroids. The thing is, McGwire has never been tested for steroids, and has never been arrested by the federal government for using steroids. There is absolutely no strong evidence that Mark McGwire has used steroids. If he was arrested for using steroids, and all the evidence that the prosecution has is the same that the media and the public has for saying Mark McGwire used steroids, the case wouldn’t even go to trial.
Do I think Mark McGwire used steroids? Probably – but I don’t know for 100% certain that he did. I can’t say “Yes, Mark McGwire defininitely used steroids, so he does not belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame.” In truth, I don’t think that there are many people outside of McGwire’s inner circle who can make that claim. To me, it is unfair to punish McGwire, to keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame, when he clearly belongs based on his performance on the field, because he may have, or even probably used steroids, but without cold hard facts to support it.
Ultimately, I don’t think it matters, because in the end, McGwire will be elected to the Hall of Fame. Whether people like it or not, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa will both probably make it as well. Steroids will always be a sore subject around baseball, but blame the Commissioner’s Office for that. They chose to look the other way, implicitly allowing the players to juice up, knowing that the home run chases around baseball were bringing baseball back to life after the strike. They knew, didn’t care, and when the public backlash against the steroid monsters they created began, baseball quickly reversed course.
If baseball had instituted steroid testing in 1995, following the strike, maybe Maris’ record would not have fallen, and maybe Hank Aaron’s record would be a little safer. But we would also know for certain that there were no “cheaters” in baseball (even though using steroids was not against baseball by-laws, and was only a federal offense committed by players who did not fear the long-term repurcussions of steroid use). Because the owners and the commissioner chose to waffle and reap in the profits instead of policing their game, there is now mass confusion as to whether or not players really broke the records that they hold today.
For some, like Barry Bonds, we may one day find the truth as to whether or not he was clean during that time, because apparently there was a paper trail. For others, all we will ever have is a strong suspicion. As far as I’m concerned, unless we ever find out for certain one way or another, you have to induct everybody whose numbers warrant induction. That includes Sosa, McGwire, and everybody else. To do otherwise is to condemn players with your own moral judgment, and that is not a criteria for the Hall of Fame. If we’re going to put Ty Cobb, who by all accounts was an absolutely nasty human being, in the Hall of Fame because he was a great hitter, then we have to do the same for McGwire and Sosa as well.