A Message To Steroid Users

The Baseball Writers Association of America has a message for today’s baseball players: steroids may keep them out of the Hall of Fame. Mark McGwire, whose home-run chase reignited fan support of the national pastime and whose lifetime total easily outstrips many other Hall members, only mustered less than a quarter of the ballots for his first year of eligibility:

Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame bid was met with a rejection as emphatic as his upper-deck home runs. While the door to Cooperstown swung open for Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn on Tuesday, McGwire was picked by less than a quarter of voters — a result that raises doubts about whether Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or other sluggers from baseball’s Steroids Era will ever gain entry.
McGwire, whose 583 home runs rank seventh on the career list, appeared on 128 of a record 545 ballots in voting released Tuesday by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“I hope that as time goes on, that number will increase,” Gwynn said. “I hope that one day he will get into the Hall of Fame, because I really believe he deserves it.”
The 23.5 percent vote McGwire received represented the first referendum on how history will judge an age when bulked-up players came under suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball didn’t ban steroids until after the 2002 season.

If any of the steroid-era players could have expected a pass from the BBWA, it would have been McGwire. After a disastrous lockout and the first cancellation of the World Series in ninety years, major-league baseball looked as though it had lost its fan base for good. McGwire and his smashing of Roger Maris’ 37-year-old single-season record captured the imagination of the nation, and his good-hearted inclusion of Maris’ family in the celebration as well as his friendly competition with Sammy Sosa created a lot of goodwill — and it showed at the turnstiles.
However, allegations of better living through chemicals had always followed McGwire during his career, and even during his record 1998 season people wondered aloud as to whether it should matter. When Barry Bonds broke his record three years later, fans grumbled that the record books should carry asterisks for steroid use. McGwire further alienated fans with an evasive performance at a Congressional hearing about steroid abuse in sports, convincing even more fans that McGwire had essentially cheated his way to the record.
In contrast, the BBWA focused their votes on two of the classier acts in baseball, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Both were assured a first-ballot selection, but in this case the writers may have intended to send a particular message. Neither player made their names through bulking up and setting power records; instead, both brought an unforgettable artistry to baseball. As a Dodger fan, I can attest to the fact that Gwynn always seemed to get on base through some magic in his bat. I hated seeing him coming to bat against us, but no one who loves the game could fail to appreciate his talent and the joy he took in playing the game. Ripken, of course, broke Lou Gehrig’s cherished consecutive-games streak and did it in a quiet, modest manner that gave us a refreshing break from the bulked-up egos of modern athletes.
McGwire, by the way, also comported himself with class during his career, and perhaps the BBWA just wants to sent a temporary message. (One might imagine that Barry Bonds will not get treated even this kindly by the writers he despised.) When baseball needed a hero, McGwire took the stage, and it should be recalled that baseball did not have a rule against using steroids at the time, although its unprescribed use was illegal. He may well have to pay for the refusal of baseball owners and players to recognize the damage steroids have done to fan loyalty and to the record books held sacred by those enthusiasts, particularly in this sport.

One thought on “A Message To Steroid Users”

  1. Got Juice? No Baseball Hall of Fame for Mark McGwire

    Mark McGwire has impressive numbers as a baseball player; hall of fame type numbers. So, why did he fall so short in his first bid for induction into baseball’s hall of fame?
    McGwire’s name was included on just 128 of the 545 ballots cast by ba…

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