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Friday, January 15, 2010

Does Mark McGwire belong in the Hall of Fame?

Major League Baseball's announcement of its 2010 Hall of Fame class did not pass without controversy. Very few fans of the sport would argue with the Hall's selection of former outfielder Andre Dawson, who made a name for himself with the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs. There are those who would argue that second baseman Roberto Alomar(who was most known for his days with the Baltimore Orioles) should have been a first ballot member, though. However, neither of those storylines seemed as compelling as the other annoucement that would follow Cooperstown's only a few days later: the admission by former Oakland Athletics' and St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman Mark McGwire that he used steroids for a majority of his playing career. His admission not only brings into question his worthiness for induction to MLB's Hall of Fame, but it also has serious repercussions for current players who might be thinking that they are worthy enough to get into Cooperstown. In order to examine McGwire's merits (or lack thereof) for the Hall of Fame, we must look at several factors: his body of work as a first baseman for the A's and Cardinals, his steroid use and how it affected his performance, and how he stacks up amongst his peers in light of his current admission and what that might mean for future HOF candidates.

One could certainly make the case that Mark McGwire's record as a member of both the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals makes him Hall of Fame worthy. His 70 home runs in a season have only been bettered by one individual, outfielder Barry Bonds, who hit 73. I am a person, however, who believes that no one season or no one record should make a Hall of Famer. Nonetheless, there are other stats fans and media alike would point to and say that those make him Hall of Fame material. His career stats include 583 total home runs, over 1600 hits and over 1400 RBI (runs batted in). He was selected to Major League Baseball's All-Star game 12 times, and he won American League Rookie of the year honors in 1987 and a Gold Glove award for the American League in 1990. Taking these factors into account it would be hard to deny him entry into Cooperstown.

McGwire's recent admission of steroid use as early as 1993 not only calls into question the validity of these records, but also the validity of his career in general. McGwire himself denies that taking steroids helped him hit a single home run; I myself, with little knowledge or expertise in this area, would have to defer to McGwire on this issue. Others, such as McGwire's former teammate David Howard(a shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals during the the 1998 and 1999 seasons), disagree. Howard contends that using steroids could make the bat feel lighter, and thus help the batter wait longer for the right pitch to hit the home run. Even if steroids were not directly responsible for an increase in McGwire's home run production, McGwire's use might still have given him an unfair advantage over other Major League Baseball players. McGwire claims that he used steroids in part to stay on the field; we will never know how long his career would have been had he not used them. Everyone is well aware that taking certain steroids can aid in muscle recovery; in McGwire's interview with ESPN's Bob Ley( he not only hints at but flat out says he took steroids because his body began to break down. I would argue this gave him an unfair advantage over players such as pitcher Randy Johnson(who won over 300 games in his own right) and the oft-injured outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. (who has still managed to hit 630 home runs), neither of whom have ever tested positive for nor admitted steroid use. You have to wonder how many more games these two would have been able to play(and Griffey is still not done playing) had they taken steroids. And even if it comes out that Griffey and Johnson did take steroids, does mean we should include McGwire among indviduals such as Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, etc. Hall of Famers who played well before performance enhancing drugs were available? In my opinion, if Mark McGwire used steroids in order to obtain any type of competitive advantage his peers did not have, and it appears he did, he should never be allowed in the Hall of Fame.

Finally, we must examine the impact McGwire's admission will have on baseball's future hall of fame candidates. Many of today's top players, such as New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Boston RedSox outfielder David Ortiz, and Los Angeles Dodgers' outfielder Manny Ramirez have either admitted to or tested positive for steroids. The question then becomes, if McGwire is not allowed into the HOF because of steroid use, where do we draw the line? Are all baseball players who used steroids banned from the Hall? Or just the ones who did not admit to using them while playing? In the end, I think the only way we can determine who is and who is not Hall of Fame worthy is to look at their career on a case by case basis. In Mark McGwire's case, he used steroids as a recovery aid and covered it up because by doing so he knew he would be able to get away with it, by his own admission in the aforementioned interview. That admission alone I believe should eliminate him from HOF consideration.

Mark McGwire's admission to using steroids has certainly changed the discourse on whether he should be admitted into Major League Baseball's hall of fame. For me, I believe that, based on his own admissions regarding steroid use, Mark McGwire should never be voted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.

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