Mark McGwire is a Cheater and a Hall of Famer

We all loved him, let's stop pretending we didn't.

Now that the chatter about the 2011 Hall of Fame class has died down, I finally feel compelled to write about it. There were many opinions about who belongs, who doesn’t, and why. The steroid issue has obviously muddied the water, and it’s only going to get worse.  It is starting to seem like Mark McGwire will never get the call to Cooperstown.  But as more and more players from the “Steroids Era” become eligible for the Hall of Fame the debate will rage on.

After digesting all that’s been said, I’ve decided that Mark McGwire and the rest of his contemporaries should be considered Hall of Famers.  We need to let them all in.

Back in the day, I would rush to the stadium early to see Mark McGwire take batting practice. Like so many other fans, I wanted to see just how far Paul Bunyon could hit a baseball. When he hit a ball (the other way!) that broke a light 3/4 of the way up the scoreboard at Shea Stadium, I high-fived Mets fans. There didn’t seem to be a fan alive that had anything but love and admiration for what he was doing out there.

Rick Reilly wrote in a 1998 Sport Illustrated article that, as Americans, we shouldn’t feel guilty for rooting for McGwire over Sammy Sosa. We were all in on that chase.  But now we are shocked…SHOCKED…that our cartoon heroes were taking steroids.

We, as fans, loved every minute of the home run barrage that took place in the 1990s.  Let stop pretending we didn’t.  Let steroid users in.

Either we let them all in or we don’t let any player from the 90s in. If the voters are going to take it upon themselves to indict Jeff Bagwell without any real proof other than that “he has big muscles,” then we can’t allow any player from the Steroid Era into the Hall of Fame.

Sorry Greg Maddux.  Sorry Ken Griffey Jr.  Frank Thomas?  No way.

How do we know Greg Maddux didn’t use HGH?  Rick Ankiel’s name was linked to HGH.  He doesn’t look like Big Mac.  He doesn’t have a Barry Bonds head.  Maybe Maddux is a cheater too.

I would be shocked if that was the case, but it can’t be both ways.  It is an extremely dangerous path we are heading down.  So either the players from the 90s are all in, or all out.

The best criteria I’ve heard for evaluating Hall of Fame worthiness are always centered around comparing a given player to his peers – Was he the best player of his era?

If we exclude the guys linked to steroids—or the guys we think took steroids—how can we truly measure that era?  Were the “clean” players 50% better because they succeeded against the “dirty” ones?  How do we really know who the “clean” players were?

This year, much was made of the Hall of Fame’s “Character Clause” in their voting criteria. Voters are told to judge based on “…the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” The “character” part seems like a built-in cop out for voters. If you can’t figure out how to deal with the Steroids Era, just hide behind the character clause.

Character.  It is widely accepted that there are racists, wife beaters, and substance abusers in the Hall of Fame. While many have tried to refute it, Ty Cobb is often remembered as a racist. Should we consider him a Hall of Famer? And there’s the famous story about Joe DiMaggio beating Marilyn Monroe. Where’s the integrity and character there? Perhaps we should remove Joltin’ Joe from Cooperstown.

Not to pick on Yankee greats, but the stories about Mickey Mantle’s alcohol abuse are well known. It is quite possible that he played drunk or hung over.  What does it say about a player’s character when he shows up to the stadium drunk or hung over?

I do not mean to disparage the legends of the game. I simply wish to show that every era has its issues, and we need to keep that in mind.

Fans loved the Mick just like fans loved Big Mac. They both made their lasting mark on baseball history. So I say they both deserve their places in Cooperstown.

I know there will be outcry from those who think we shouldn’t celebrate players that put illegal drugs into their bodies. They will say that it sets the wrong example for kids. These people are not wrong. So, if a player from that era is linked to performance enhancing drugs, say so on their plaque. Let people learn from what happened. When parents take their kids to Cooperstown, let them talk about what happened -

“There’s Mark McGwire.  Back in 1998, he was part of an amazing race where we all stopped what we were doing to see if he was going to hit a home run.  He broke a long-standing record for most home runs in a season.  But then it came out that he took a drug that makes people stronger.  So some people think he cheated.  People were really mad at him and it took him a long time to get inducted into the Hall of Fame.  So while he was one of the best during his time, people will always think less of him for what he did.  It’s sad.”

Baseball shouldn’t run from its history. The 1990s happened, and we all loved it. Let’s embrace it so that we can learn from it.

And while we’re at it, let’s put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame already!

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Follow me on twitter @RuggerRex



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