Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hall of Shame: McGwire left off of more than 75% of ballots

The Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2006 has been selected and the biggest name on the list, both literally and figuratively, was left on the outside looking in.

Although sweet-swinging outfielder Tony Gwynn (97.6%) and rock steady infielder Cal Ripken, Jr. (98.5%) were named on nearly every ballot cast, dethroned home run king Mark McGwire's name was written only only 23.5% of the 545 votes cast this year.

Heading into the voting, conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America there were three things considered locks this year: Gwynn & Ripken would breeze in and Big Mac would be iced out. The selections of Gwynn and Ripken were no-brainers; both exemplified what the Hall and the sport in general is supposed to be about: honor, integrity, work ethic, excellence in the sport, longevity, and contributions to the game on & off the field.

Nobody exuded these characteristics more than the Iron Horse, Cal Ripken, Jr. The son of a baseball lifer Ripken gave every ounce he could on the field, honing his abilities as a hitter and a fielder until he was unparalleled at his position in both areas. Ripken batted .267 for his 21-year career, was named to 19 All Star games, won the Rookie of the Year award in 1982, the MVP in 1983 & 1991 and won 2 Gold Gloves at shortstop. He finished his career with 3,184 hits and 431 home runs, a record 345 of them as a shortstop. His '91 campaign, in which he batted .323 with 34 home runs and 114 RBIs and won the league MVP, All Star Game MVP and the All Star Game Home Run Derby is considered to be one of the greatest seasons by a shortstop in the history of the game.

But Ripken was best known for his incredible streak of durability: in 1995 he broke Lou Gehrig's mark of 2,130 consecutive games played, a record that had stood for 56 years. He would go on to extend the streak to 2,632 games, ensuring that in this age of specialization, trades, free agency & "what have you done for me lately" attitudes it is a record that will never again be broken.

Gwynn was one of those players that when you looked at him, with his barrel-like body and stubby legs, you said "this guy can't be a productive major league player." Not only was the always-affable Gwynn a productive player, his poetic swing and all-out hustle made him one of the greatest hitters of all time. He played 20 years with the same team, the San Diego Padres, and during that time he led the league in batting a National League record-tying 8 times. Gwynn was a career .338 hitter and batted over .350 an astounding 7 times. He finished his career with 3,141 hits.

As I said the Hall-worthiness of these two phenomenal players was never in doubt; the only question was would they garner 100% of the vote. Both had to settle for slightly less than perfection, but still received the 3rd (Cal) and 7th (Tony) highest voting percentage of all time.

Unfortunately for Big Mac the stroy was the exact opposite. Not only did he not reach the 75% of ballots needed for enshrinement, he did not even get a third of that amount. It's clear that the same writers who delightfully covered his every move in that magical Summer of '98, when McGwire & Sammy Sosa dueled for the single-season home run record, decided to send a message regarding the so-called "steroid era" players by not electing a player who under normal circumstances would have been an immediate electee.

Some writers and analysts are now saying that they wouldn't have voted for McGwire anyway based on his paltry numbers, minus the 538 homers and 1,414 RBIs. Other than the fact that that argument is total bullshit because every other player who is eligible and hit over 500 home runs is in the Hall, it brings up a major question regarding the rest of the players from the so-called "steroid era." How will those players be viewed when its their time for enshrinement? Players like Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Randy Johnson, etc...guys who might or might not have used the 'roids, but much like McGwire, we may never really know for sure.

Will the high & mighty writers just not elect any players who played between the late 80's - early 2000's for fear that their numbers might be tainted? Or are they just making an example of Big Mac, a revenge snub because these same writers turned the other cheek when it came to exposing the users at the time, when everyone associated with the game knew what was going on?

Only time will tell. But one thing's for sure, in baseball, unlike the rest of society, you are not innocent until proven guilty, you are innocent until the people in charge of your legacy decide that you are guilty.

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