Tuesday, January 09, 2007

McGwired in controversy

To no one's shock, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers of America Association. Ripken was the first true power shortstop, a two-time MVP (although Cecil Fielder should have won in '91), 8-time Silver Slugger and two-time Gold Glove winner. He eclipsed the 3,000 hit mark and topped Lou Gehrig's incredible games played streak of 2130 by 502, or more than three full seasons.

Gwynn was another no-brainer: 3141 hits, seven batting titles, seven Silver Sluggers, five Gold Gloves (before he fattened up, he was a top-notch rightfielder), five 200-hit seasons, and he had SEVEN seasons of hitting better than .350. That's amazing. He also was in the middle of a possible .400 season when the players walked out in 1994 (Gwynn won the batting title at .394). Gwynn is also one of the most notable "good guys" in baseball -- he's a paragon of the San Diego community. Ripken may be a bit of a churl, but Gwynn is sunnier than Kirby Puckett and never had the post-retirement issues Puck had.

Goose Gossage missed by 21 votes. Pick any 21 dingdongs of the 157 that screwed up and failed to vote for him and Goose would be enshrined as he should be. The Monk questioned the lunacy of Bruce Sutter's election without Gossage too last year. Goose is no less deserving this time around.

Conspicuous by his absence from the inductee list is Mark McGuire. This is simply stupid. McGwire's credentials are unquestionable: he's the Ruth of this generation. From 1996-1999 he hit 52, 58, 70 and 65 homeruns. He hit 583 in an injury-scarred career, 7th on the all-time list. His at-bat to homerun ratio is the best in baseball history, yes, even better than Ruth's.

But McGwire allegedly took steroids. He refused to answer a direct question on that issue during testimony before the US Senate; his former teammate Jose Canseco claims he saw McGwire juice himself. So what?

The notion that "everybody knows" McGwire juiced is irrelevant. The innuendos are not proof, and the word of Canseco is infamously untrustworthy. But aside from that, did McGwire do anything that the league did not allow? Even if he took massive steroids, no.

McGwire himself admits taking a pseudo-steroidal supplement, androstenedione, to help his muscles repair quicker after workouts. He did heavy weightlifting, which added muscle to the relatively thin frame he had as a rookie (who hit 49 homers). He hit 217 homers in his first six full seasons, years before his physique enlarged to the mid-to-late '90s size that McGwire's critics cite as proof of his steroid use. The "fact" of his steroid use is no fact at all -- it has never been established.

Ultimately, I don't care if McGwire juiced in the '90s. The same baseball writers association that voted Whitey Ford (who admitted doctoring the baseball) and Gaylord Perry (who unquestionably did -- you could see crud flying off the ball during the pitch, even on The Monk's 25-inch B&W TV in the '70s) into the Hall now seeks to uphold some sort of morality by claiming it will not vote for a cheater or that "there are questions". That's ludicrous. We now have confirmed cheaters in the Hall and an alleged cheater left out.

Take away McGwire's alleged steroids, and he was still a star. Just ask the pitchers of the 49 homers he hit in his rookie season. What were the alleged steroids worth -- 10% more homers? 15%? Fine. He's still a 500-homer man who people paid to watch because he could hit a baseball farther than anyone else. And considering the juiced ball of the early 1990s that's still in use today, how can you discern the effects of the steroids?

McGwire was the Ruth of the era. He helped lead baseball back from its post-strike doldrums in 1998. He performed better in a better pitcher's league. He hit 70 homers in a season, then 65 in the season after that. He made batting practice a standing room only event. He's dogged by questions and controversy despite the lawless and see-no-evil attitude that prevailed throughout baseball. Now he's being punished for "cheating" without proof of the cheats.

He should be in the Hall of Fame.

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