Pete Rose, upon being honored by – but not inducted into – the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, said yesterday that Mark McGwire should be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer here). That’s kinda like getting a political endorsement from Richard Nixon.
I would not vote for Mark McGwire if I had a vote for the Hall. Sportswriters are polarized and wringing their hands over this decision. But voting for the Hall is not an objective exercise – no clear criteria exists for what constitutes a Hall of Fame player. McGwire only led the league in home runs twice, never won the MVP award, hit only .217 in the post season (.188 in World Series games) (some stats via Baseball Hall of Fame website here). He had more strikeouts than RBI. He was a one-dimensional player.
But that one dimension is what most baseball fans crave – home runs. Of course, winning teams do more than just hit home runs. Note that McGwire’s 1998 Cardinals finished 19 games out of first place, despite his 70 home runs. True, those 70 home runs did much to bring Major League Baseball out of its post-strike slump. That is notable, but not Hall-worthy.
And of course there are the steroids. Surely there are many cheaters in the Hall of Fame, and perhaps the cloud of steroid suspicion surrounding McGwire will keep him out of the Hall. I do not think that his (indisputable) use of steroids should be the primary reason that he gets locked out of the Hall, but it should be the deciding reason. He was a good, but not great, baseball player. He hit home runs, but did not do much else. He broke the single-season home run record. Very notable. Very commendable. For me, his stats and career achievements teeter on the border of Hall-worthiness. The steroids push him off that border and keep him out of the Hall. Without the steroids, maybe he gets in. With the steroids, he’s out.
The only way McGwire gets into the Hall of Fame is with a $14.50 admission ticket, just like you and me.