Well, let the controversy begin. Or, at least let the members of the BBWAA create some controversy. Yes, Hall of Fame ballots are now in most member’s hands, and with that comes the first votes—or non-votes—for those that played during the steroid era.
So, let’s pass right over Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, since barring some kind of mental breakdown (something not out of the realm of possibility for the BBWAA), both players should scoot in with nary a hiccup.
No, the big talk will be Mark McGwire and his alleged steroid use.
Let’s take a look at some comments by baseball writers around the US…
Pat Borzi (The NY Times):
I'm seriously considering not voting for McGwire this year. He admitted using andro, and if he doesn't use it, he doesn't stay healthy enough to hit 70 or go over 500.Here’s the problem with Borzi’s thinking: McGwire wasn’t doing anything wrong at the time. Androstenedione wasn’t banned until after McGwire hit the numbers. Can’t blame McGwire for that one. If that’s the case, are we going to go retroactive when some other yet to be discovered supplement is found to have some adverse performance enhancing side effects? Still, Borzi has a point: legal or illegal, would McGwire’s power numbers have been as high as they were? Without the HR numbers, McGwire is not HOF worthy. Now, when Borzi can tell me how much the numbers were skewed due to andro, maybe we’d be getting somewhere.
Ken Davidoff (NY Newsday):
While I reserve the right to change my mind, I don't anticipate ever voting for him. His conduct during the House Government Reform [Committee] hearing, on March 17, 2006, as well as the revelations of his backroom dealings prior to the hearing, are all the evidence I need to believe that he was a steroid user.
Well, this is a slippery slope. What about others that we all may believe used steroids (but have yet to prove it, or there isn’t the willingness to prove it). Do we start to look at any players that have jacked more than 50 HRs in a season during the era and start excluding them from your vote? Maybe Davidoff won’t vote for Luis Gonzalez if he ever approaches the HOF.
Murray Chass (NY Times):
A difficult deliberation. Although the Times does not allow us to vote, I would probably not vote for McGwire... . He never tested positive, and he has never said, "I used steroids," but his congressional refrain - "I'm not here to talk about the past" - made him look guilty as hell.Note to Murray Chass: Pitchers have been found to use performance enhancing drugs more than position players. I assume that Chass won’t be voting (if he could) for Roger Clemens either.
The home-run achievements in the steroids era by McGwire, [Sammy] Sosa and Bonds were too far out there to think something underhanded didn't have an effect on their numbers. If they were in the Hall of Fame, they would unfairly skew the measurement of players in future years as well as dwarf the accomplishments of Hall of Famers from the past.
Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch):
McGwire has no chance to get into the Hall this year, not just because of his link to the steroids issue, but the appearance of two clearly better candidates in Gwynn and Ripken.
There is nothing McGwire needs to do - at least not now.
He doesn't have a chance anyway this year, although that is not to say I wouldn't vote for him because I probably will. Next year, however, is different with no standout candidate ahead of McGwire, and we'll have a better barometer of how much the steroids thing has hurt him.
Hummel neatly speaks the truth and sidesteps the matter at the same time. It’s true that Gwynn and Ripken will be slam dunks. But, don’t think for a second that there won’t be a mountain of columns talking about how McGwire’s alleged steroid use was the catalyst for not getting the votes, this point by Hummel aside.
Jayson Stark (ESPN):
I'm going to vote for him. I can't say I feel good about voting for him. But here's why: People have oversimplified this issue, to the point where, if you listened to the way most people talk about it, you'd think there were only 10 players taking any kind of performance-enhancing drugs in the '90s. But we know that, in truth, there were hundreds.
So should I only cast votes against players who happened to get mentioned in Jose Canseco's book or subpoenaed by Congress? What about all the other players who I might suspect were doing something but have never come up in this conversation?
Should I vote only against players who hit home runs or broke home run records or challenged home run records? What about all the pitchers we know were taking something?
I don't see how I can start picking and choosing when, in fact, baseball allowed all of this to happen. So that was the culture inside the game at the time, just as amphetamines were part of the culture in the '60s and '70s and '80s (and beyond).
If more evidence emerges, I always reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, I'm going to cast a very uncomfortable vote for McGwire and, for the most part, every great player of an obviously tainted generation.
Stark may have the comments closest to the truth. Where do you draw the line? How does one, as he says, “pick and choose” if you are basing your vote on something alleged, as opposed to proven.
Here’s my take…
When Palmeiro’s name comes up on the ballot, it’s a no-brainer to vote no. He was caught using steroids, and pays the price. If the Mitchell investigation ever releases its findings, or somehow Greg Anderson snaps and decides to provide direct proof that Barry Bonds used steroids, then there’s your second “no-brainer” criteria. After that, it’s basing a vote on speculation, and as mentioned prior, that’s a slippery slope.
For those that are contending that legal PEDs were used by McGwire and therefore his HR numbers would not be nearly as high without them, you have a point. But, how much did his use of andro impact his numbers? 10%? 20%? 30%? What’s the measure? When there is a way to do more than stick your finger in the wind to see which way the wind blows, then we may have something.
The big question for McGwire may be, does he have enough votes to stay on the ballot next year? Since I’ve given up on trying to figure out any good rationale in how the BBWAA votes for anything these days, I’ll go the finger in the wind route and say, yes.
Maury Brown is the editor of The Biz of Baseball and an author for Baseball Prospectus. He can be contacted here.