Friday, December 01, 2006

Big Mac in the Hall?

One question I can’t get out of my head, “Do we want Mark McGwire to be innocent of steroid use, or do we want him to lie about it?” I can’t help but think we want him to lie about it…so we can all look the other way. But haven’t we done that once already with him? And look where it’s gotten us…

There seem to be a few people left who think he should get in…but most seem to fall into one of two categories; A: Don’t elect him…he cheated and is highly tainted B: Don’t elect him…his numbers don’t warrant it and the Hall is too watered down already.

Let me clarify my own personal “definition” of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I believe it is a wonderful concept that celebrates the history of the game and, perhaps more importantly, gives its fans something to perpetually argue about. You can argue all day long the merits of this player or that one…all the while completely biased by your own personal experiences. (I think Jack Morris should be in the Hall…but I realize it’s because of one game that means more to me than any other) But, at the end of the day, I find it ludicrous to argue that the inclusion of a borderline player somehow lessens the achievements or historical placement of the all-time greats. Don Sutton being elected does absolutely nothing to the legacy of Walter Johnson.

Mark McGwire was an important player in the history of baseball, inarguably. Regardless of your opinion of how his overall (non-slugging) stats stack-up against time and memory, his inclusion into the Hall of Fame would NOT water-down the institution.

That leaves us with the peskier side of the “don’t elect him” coin…steroids. Allow me to revisit a concept I introduced way back at the beginning…are we bothered that he used steroids, or that he wasn’t willing to lie about it? For me, it is clearly the latter. The Baseball Hall of Fame is ripe with players of questionable character and tactics, but the list we’ve actually excluded for similar reasons is much smaller. (Pete Rose and Joe Jackson?)

Baseball has always lived on it’s own terms. The rules of everyday life don’t apply…and the fans wouldn’t be nearly as enthralled if they did. It can be alternately more forgiving (Steve Sax) and infinitely harsher (Bill Buckner) than real life.

It is therefore my very strongly held opinion that you cannot punish the players for living in the world MLB has created. Mark McGwire almost certainly used steroids. We knew it then, and we know it now. Why is it okay for everyone involved (fans, media, Bud Selig) to relish in the activities of 1998 while using those very circumstances to exclude a player from the game's history?
It is NOT okay.

Major League Baseball (players and owners) has long lived and died by its own agenda…why change that now? The institution looked the other way (again, this is fans, media, AND officials) for an entire era…how can we possibly ignore that era in the game’s historical depot?
We cannot.

With the exception of discussing the true all-time greats, players are always judged by their performance within their own era. Mark McGwire was inarguably one of the top three sluggers during his era. The fact that the rules were not the same as today should have no bearing on the judgement of his numbers.

Nor should his inclusion into the Hall of Fame somehow protect him from scrutiny. We continue to correctly question the statistics from before baseball was integrated. We continue to refer to the “dead ball” era. There have been careers interrupted by war…by injury…by stupidity. His election would neither exempt him from ongoing criticism nor would it excuse his actions. It’s not about reward, at least for me, it’s about historical context.

The idealized purity of baseball lies within it’s complexity; the feeling of anticipation before the pitcher releases the ball, the appreciation of taking an extra base, and the feeling of sunshine mixing with the smell of leather.

There is no purity in statistics, no matter how complex we manage to make them.

Mark McGwire was a generation defining ballplayer. He should be rememebered as such…for every reason you can think of.


Hops said...

Two more quick thoughts:

I never mentioned, but should have, that Mark McGuire has never actually been CAUGHT using a substance that was illegal at the time he used it. We seem to overlook that pesky thought in the court of public opinion.

Also, this article sits on a very slippery slope. I don't like the idea that you don't elect McGuire because he's gaudy stats were achieved through steriod use...but you can elect Bonds because his stats were well on their way to being gaudy before he began using? That's messy.

Pooh said...

Mac is a no-brainer HOF-er if the hall is to measure achievement rather than Rick Reilly's abilities as a moral scold.

(but then, I think Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe should be in as well...)

Hops said...

Pete Rose and Shoeless should absolutely be in...however, I do like Bart Giamatti as moral scold a hell of a lot more than Reiles.

crystal said...

I'm somewhat torn on this issue. I agree that we can't really go back in time and punish someone for something we're not entirely sure he did. There needs to be evidence, in the moment. So that makes me think further about people like Shoeless Joe and Barry Bonds. What burden of evidence is required? Do we actually need things proven in a court of law?

I don't think so, but I'm not convinced of it. It probably doesn't help that I really don't like any of these guys. If it were a player I actually felt an emotional connection to, like Shawon Dunston, I'd probably be singing a different tune. I LOVED that dude.