Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Return of Mark McGwire

Before I start on this post, let me state that Mark McGwire is NOT a Hall of Famer. Ok, now that I clarified that, I'll get back to it later.

I recently read that on the Mercury News website that the St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa states that it would be his "dream" to have McGwire return to active duty by pinch-hitting if the Cardinals were in the midst of a pennant race. As it is, McGwire will return to the Cardinals as hitting coach after retiring in 2001. Let say the Cardinals are a game or two behind the Cubs on August 31, 2010 and La Russa does put McGwire on the active roster and he does have an at-bat. Let's even say for sake of drama, he hits a game winning homer (I can dig the drama that baseball can generate like the next sports fan). To read the Cam Inman article on Tony La Russa from the Contra Costa Times, click here. In the end, what does that do for McGwire's standing with the Hall of Fame. Photo Credit Roberto Borea/AP.

Before I state what the official position of the Hall of Fame will be, let me state what I think will happen. Basically it can only help McGwire. By taking the at-bat, McGwire will no longer be eligible for the Hall of Fame since a player needs to be retired for 5 consecutive years to be eligible. In doing so, McGwire will have 5 more years in order to garner positive public opinion not only from the fans but also the baseball writers. This situation of retiring for 5 years or more, being eligible for the Hall of Fame then unretiring is not uncommon. The precedent has been set before. Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, told that:

If McGwire were to appear in a game in 2010, he would have to wait five years before going back on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Ok, that's the good news. The bad news is that he won't get a new set of 15 years on the ballot (assuming that he would get 5% of the vote the next year he would be eligible for election to the Hall of Fame). Since McGwire has been on the ballot four times, his candidacy would resume with his fifth appearance. Players can only be voted on for a total of 15 years (not necessarily consecutively) before being elected to the Hall of Fame or being removed from the ballot.

According to O'Connell, the players that set the earlier precedent were Minnie Minoso and Jose Rijo. To read the article which states this, click here. Now that we cleared that up, let me re-address my first sentence about McGwire not being a Hall of Famer.

Sure McGwire passed the magic homerun threshold of 500 (583 to be exact) but I have to ask you all: Does 1,626 hits a Hall of Famer make? That's how many hits McGwire has. So if you remove his homeruns, he only 1,043 hits. In my view that's not very impressive. Compare him with Hall of Famers with the similar homerun totals:

Harmon Killebrew has 2,086 hits, of which 573 are homeruns, which leaves him with 1,513 non-homer hits. Reggie Jackson has 2,584 hits, of which 563 homeruns, which leaves him with 2,021 non-homer hits. Mike Schmidt has 2,234 hits, of which 548 are homeruns, which leaves him with 1,686 non-homer hits. See my point. These players not only hit homers but also made contact for singles, doubles and even triples. Even with McGwire being the player with the best homer to at-bat ratio in the history of the game, I can't get the past the fact that he was a homerun machine, and nothing else.

I would even disregard that if his defense balanced the offense out, which it does not. McGwire won only 1 Gold Glove (1990) and even his best year of 1998 when he broke Maris' single season homerun record, he came in second in the MVP race to Sammy Sosa. I can't even say that I ever heard of McGwire being considered as either the best player at his position or in the entire game of Baseball.

It's not like I have a personal issue with Big Mac. On the contrary, I like the guy. I'd be the first to admit that I sat at pins and needles watching him chase Maris' ghost and was happy when he finally got the record and helped Maris get the recognition that he and his family needed. McGwire was a big part in helping bring baseball back from the disaster of the 1994 strike. But I don't think that this (along with his statistics) should guarantee him enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. Sorry.

I had posted a blog entry on this exact argument in 2006. Click here for more details.

January 11, 2010: Mark McGwire has finally come clean about his steroid usage and has given an apology in a written statement with a follow up interview with Bob Costas on the MLB network tonight. I have to say after watching A-Rod's interview from Spring training and the look of relief of finally shedding the possible guilt that he felt for having taken the steroids, it seems to me that finally McGwire has reached that same point. I'm glad to see that he has come clean about his steroid usage. Whether or not he has hurt or helped his Hall of Fame chances remains to be seen. Some voters will not vote for him now under any circumstance, and that's understandable. But I think that many voters will now vote for him since he did come clean. We'll see how this unfolds this time next year. Maybe McGwire should take the at-bat this year and take the heat off of his Hall of Fame chances for 5 years. It can't hurt.

Click here for the official article on the McGwire admission by Matthew Leach from

Let me know what you think.

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