Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Time to vote “Big Mac” Mark McGwire into the Baseball Hall of Fame

The Baseball Writers Association of America released the nominees for the 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame Monday. "Iron Man" Cal Ripken Jr., and eight-time National League batting champion Tony Gwynn are certain to appear on 75 percent of the ballots in their first time they’ll appear. A player needs to appear on 75 percent of the ballots if they are going to be enshrined in Cooperstown. There are 15 other former Major League Baseball players appearing for the first time – none that has captured more attention than Mark McGwire, the first player in history to hit 70 homers during a single season and a member of baseball’s 500 home run club.

Ripken played his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles, Gwynn with the San Diego Padres. As retired players both men are furthering their roles as statesmen, giving back to the sport. Ripken is building youth baseball facilities, Gwynn the head baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State University. Both men are what the Baseball Hall of Fame is all about – each having made outstanding contributions to the sport both on and off the diamond.

McGwire is an entirely different case. Statistically Mark McGwire deserves to be recognized with induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not in his first year, but in the not too distant future.

On Tuesday, January 9 McGwire will finally understand the full affect of his testimony before his March 2005 Congressional Steroid Hearings. McGwire ruined a reputation he took a lifetime to build by not admitting he ever used steroids (as Jose Canseco has suggested McGwire had done in the book he had written). McGwire not only refused to acknowledge (or refute them) the allegations Canseco made about him, he broke down and cried at the hearing. Because McGwire is eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in January, this will be one of the most anticipated Hall of Fame voting results in baseball history.

Will the members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote McGwire into the Baseball Hall of Fame when he first appears on the ballot. Every member of baseball’s 500 career home run record was elected in his first year of eligibility. Will McGwire’s 583 home runs, seventh highest total in baseball history be enough for enshrinement into Cooperstown, or will McGwire be banned because he refused to answer questions and cried?

It’s not a question with an easy answer, but if baseball writers are prepared to reject McGwire’s Hall of Fame candidacy they’ll be forced to treat each and every member of the so called steroid generation the same way. And if baseball writers keep McGwire from the Baseball Hall of Fame will innuendos concerning Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds block their entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa and Bonds have all hit at least 500 homes runs in their careers.

Only one of the four (Palmeiro) has tested for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Do the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have the right to judge anyone when they haven’t been proven guilty of anything? And does anyone really believe only McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa and Bonds allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs?

"I turned in my Baseball Writers' card this year, specifically so I wouldn't have to vote on cheaters after possibly already having voted in cheaters without knowing so, because there was no steroids testing at the time.", Dave Newhouse, The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune.

Why was Newhouse ever a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America? It takes courage and conviction and principals to stand by your beliefs. Steroids, performance-enchacing drugs are a part of this era in baseball. Choose not to vote for McGwire, choose to vote for McGwire but by choosing to run and hide Mr. Newhouse is a coward – nothing more and a great deal less.

"I'm going to vote for him. I can't say I feel good about voting for him. ... Just as baseball allowed Gaylord Perry to go out and cheat his way to 300 wins - which got him to the Hall of Fame - it allowed McGwire and all of these players to compile their stats and break their records and earn their money and accolades based on those feats. So I think I'm stuck with evaluating what the sport allowed to happen on the field. Either the '90s happened or they didn't. Since they happened, and the hundreds of players using whatever they used leveled the playing field to some extent, I feel more comfortable voting for players like McGwire than I do trying to pick and choose who did what, and when, and why." - Jayson Stark, ESPN.

Exactly the point Mr. Stark.

Monday the Associated Press announced the results of a poll of Hall of Fame voters regarding McGwire that followed up a recent New York Times poll. The results of both polls where predictable – overwhelmingly against McGwire.

The Associated Press, like the New York Times offered no information as to who they polled and how they collected their data. According to the Associated Press, they surveyed about 20 percent of eligible voters, and only one in four who gave an opinion plan to vote for McGwire this year. That's far short of the 75 percent necessary to gain induction. In fact, the ‘anger’ Hall of Fame voters have towards McGwire is so intense; McGwire might fall short of 5 percent needed to stay on future ballots. If that were to take place, the Baseball Writers Association of America would lose any respect, any credibility they’d like to believe they have.

"There is a clause on the ballot indicating that character should be considered and after his nonperformance at the congressional hearings his character certainly comes into play," Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy told The Associated Press.

Other voters believe that once you’re elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, you can’t be thrown out of the Hall of Fame. The pages of Sports Business News rarely offer much support for the ‘activities’ associated with hockey, but give the Hockey Hall of Fame all the credit they deserve for tossing convicted embezzler Alan Eagleson out of the Hockey Hall of Fame. On March 25, 1998, Eagleson was faced with two options either resign or face a vote the following week by the Hockey Hall of Fame directors on whether or not Eagleson would be forcibly removed. Eagleson choose to leave. If McCoy is as he is suggesting using character as a factor in voting, it’s time McCoy stood by his convictions and began the removal of Ty Cobb, and others of ‘questionable’ character already in the Hall of Fame.

The AP contacted 125 of the approximately 575 present or former members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who are eligible to cast ballots.

And the breakdown was:

• 74 will not vote for McGwire.

• 23 will vote for him.

• 16 are undecided.

• 5 refused to say.

• 5 aren't allowed to vote by their employers.

• 2 will abstain from voting.

The New York Times poll was conducted in late July, around the time of the 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame weekend. A sample of 50 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America indicated like the Associated Press poll there is little if any chance Mark McGwire, the first of the ‘infamous four’ eligible for election in January, will receive approval of 75% of the ballots.

In a poll of 50 writers who are eligible to vote for the Hall as 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, only eight said they would vote for McGwire, a former first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Oakland Athletics. Twenty-six said they would not vote for McGwire, and the other 16 were undecided. The Times acknowledged 50 represents but a fraction of the total eligible voters (a record 520 ballots where filled out this year when Bruce Sutter was elected).

“This might sound overly simplistic, but if McGwire did not feel the need to defend his career while appearing before Congress, why should I certify his career with a Hall vote?” Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News told the New York Times.

Steve Buckley of The Boston Herald said the refusal to talk about steroids would cause him not to vote for McGwire. “Whenever someone asks me to expand on my answer, I simply say, ‘I’m not here to talk about the past,’ ” he said.

Jeff Blair of The Toronto Globe and Mail, who said he would vote for McGwire, said: “Please spare me the drivel about McGwire’s performance before Congress. Seems to me that stonewalling congressmen is an accepted fact of life on Capitol Hill.”

There are two very important issues that are paramount in anyone entrusted with the honor of voting for enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Before 2004 it was legal to use steroids in America. It was however illegal to distribute and sell steroids. It has been illegal to use steroids since 2004. The 1991 Drug Act permitted the use of steroids by prescription (schedule III drug), not otherwise. However, the 2004 Act reclassified steroids into a tougher classification and explicitly bans possession.

Baseball didn’t begin a comprehensive drug testing program until 2004. However it is worthwhile remembering then commissioner Fay Vincent issued a memo in 1991 stating: "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited ... [and those players involved] are subject to discipline by the Commissioner and risk permanent expulsion from the game.... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids…"

MLB had a “Paper Mache drug testing policy” before the 2005 season. It may have been illegal to use performance-enhancing drugs since Vincent’s 1991 memo, but without a drug testing program in place the policy was nothing more then words on a paper – meaningless.

Associated Press baseball columnist Ben Walker suggested in a column published Friday that “Sadly, Steroids Saved Baseball”. Walker like many who follow the business of baseball believes the 1998 single season home record chase between McGwire and Sosa captured the attention of a nation, and brought baseball back from the depth of the 1994 strike that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

MLB attendance for the 1995 season was 50,469,236, an average of 25,022 fans per game. Three years later in the “Summer of Baseball Love” with McGwire and Sosa hitting home runs on a daily basis, overall attendance increased by more then a remarkable 40 percent to 70,601,147, an average of 29,054. Since the 1998 season MLB attendance has surpassed at least 70 million fans each season with the exception of 2002 (67,944,389) and 2003 (67,630,052). For all anger, innuendos and observations made by the media in the aftermath of the March 2005 congressional steroid hearings, baseball fans reacted by filling ballparks to unprecedented numbers, establishing a single season attendance mark of 74,385,295. MLB officials expect the sport to post even higher overall attendance numbers this year. Baseball fans have spoken with one voice and made it loud and clear – they could care less about, and yes they ‘dig the long ball’.

McGwire would have been a long shot for first time election into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. Two of the games immortals – Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn are also appearing for the first time on a Hall of Fame ballot.

Ripken is the sports “Iron Man” having established the record for consecutive games played at 2,632 games surpassing the record of the immortal Lou Gehirg’s record of 2130. Ripken beat Gehrig’s mark on September 5, 1995. The game televised on ESPN still ranks as one of the network's highest watched non-football games ever. When the game became official in the bottom of the fifth inning, the numbers that had been keeping track of Ripken's streak on the wall of the B&O Warehouse outside the stadium's right field wall turned from 2130 to 2131. The standing ovation Cal received lasted 22 minutes and 16 seconds. Ripken went 2 for 4, hitting a home run and a double in the game. Mike Mussina recorded the win.

Gwynn’s credentials are nearly as impressive. In an era when professional athletes change uniforms, loyalties for what seems like a dollar or two, Gwynn like Ripen played his entire career for one organization. Ripken with the Baltimore Orioles and Gwynn with the San Diego Padres. Over 20 years with the Padres, Gwynn collected more then 3,000 hits (3,141) and has a career batting average of .338.

Jack O’Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association, and the man who handles the ballots, raised the issue of McGwire as a first time hall of fame selection on merit alone, not considering whether or not Mark McGwire has earned a first ballot selection into Cooperstown.

O’Connell pointed out that Harmon Killebrew, who had 573 homers during an era in which it was tougher to hit home runs, did not gain admittance to the Hall until his fourth year of eligibility. McGwire’s career mark stands at 583.

The real shame of the 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame voting, this should be a time of joy for Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. In an era when athletes change teams and uniforms as often as they change their underwear, both men played more than 20 years; their entire baseball careers for one team. That is unquestionably not the resume of today’s athlete. Ripken and Gwynn are athletes from a bygone era, a period when sports was more about children’s games being played by adults. Sports is a half trillion dollar business today, men like Ripken and Gwynn are no longer ‘local heroes’.

"I think he's a Hall of Famer, myself," Gwynn said of McGwire Hall of Fame credentials in an Associated Press report. "He hit 500 or so homers, almost 600. I think we have no proof whether he did or not. Canseco said he did. He didn't perform well at the congressional hearing, and I think that will stick with people more than anything else. He's on the ballot, too. I have no control over that."

It is likely McGwire would have not been a first ballot Hall of Famer given Ripken and Gwynn being certain first ballot selections. There isn’t anything stopping voters from selecting McGwire along with Ripken and Gwynn, however if history can serve as a barometer, McGwire like Killebrew would have to wait a few years. The facts are what they are – there is no direct proof Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds have ever used performance-enhancing drugs while they played (or in Bonds case still playing) Major League Baseball. Palmeiro tested positive a year ago. However he’s also one of only four players to hit more then 500 home runs and collect 3,000 hits in his career. It has been said before in the pages of Sports Business News, and it will be said again – Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and especially Barry Bonds each deserve their spot in Cooperstown.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The New York Times and The Associated Press

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