Jim Souhan: Rejection on election day

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2007 - 10:38 PM

The facts aren't all in about baseball's suspected steroid users, but Hall of Fame voters chose to find Mark McGwire guilty.

Perhaps like many of you, I've grown weary of the debate over Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, and whether their accomplishments should be viewed through the wrong end of a telescope because of their apparent abuse of power-enhancing drugs.

Relief from this relentless topic arrived Tuesday, when baseball writers informed us that the debate is over -- players suspected of steroid use will be effectively banned from the Hall of Fame.

McGwire, he of the 583 career home runs, was named on 25.3 percent of ballots cast in this year's election.

That isn't a rebuke or a reprimand, a warning or a suspension.

That -- 25.3 percent of the votes for the seventh-most prolific home-run hitter in baseball history -- is a conviction to a life sentence, without possibility of parole.

This is a class-action snub. If McGwire won't make it with 583 home runs, then 1,000 home runs won't get Barry Bonds into Cooperstown without a ticket, and Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro might as well appear on "Dancing with the Steroid Stars" if they want to win any honors in their hermetic retirements.

Tuesday, two divergent icons were elected to the Hall -- Cal Ripken, the perpetual playing machine, and Tony Gwynn, the oval hitting artist.

Both were aided by pristine reputations. Ripken is thought to have ingested nothing more illicit than beer, Gwynn nothing more form-altering than sugar donuts.

The fact that our perceptions of Ripken, Gwynn and McGwire are nothing more than assumptions based on anecdotal evidence did not seem to matter to voters.

I voted for McGwire because I don't trust baseball writers (myself included) to be moralists or scorecard-toting CSI units. Few of us have even worked as investigative journalists.

I don't think we (I) know enough about this generation of players to separate presumptive cheaters from the hundreds who cheated more subtly or intelligently, or who have otherwise avoided scrutiny.

Like, oh, aging power pitchers who display tremendous resilience and longevity, not that I'm thinking of anyone in particular, Roger.

Ah, but my views have been marginalized by my peers. We, the tenured members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, have spoken, and our vote can be translated thusly:

If you had BALCO on your speed dial, were unveiled by excellent investigative reporting, failed a drug test, stammered in front of a Congressional hearing or walked around the clubhouse flexing your biceps and selling tickets to your "Gun Show," you've got about as much of a chance in this election as Saints manager George Tsamis.

McGwire, at 25.3 percent, found himself closer to Bash (and butt-injection) Brother Jose Canseco (1.1 percent of the votes) than less-accomplished but untainted slugger Jim Rice (63.5).

Rice was a righthanded power hitter of limited versatility who played in a hitter's park. He hit 382 home runs.

McGwire was a righthanded power hitter of limited versatility who played in pitchers' parks.

McGwire hit 201 more homers than Rice. Rice got 218 more votes Tuesday.

This election was our first referendum on steroids, and McGwire was the first available whipping boy. Although cheating always has been a part of baseball, we have identified McGwire as our latter-day Adam, as if his were the original sin.

Don't listen to anyone who justifies a snub of McGwire by downplaying his accomplishments. McGwire was the first player to hit 70 home runs in a season. He is seventh on the career homers list, and every other eligible player with 500 or more home runs is in the Hall of Fame.

McGwire's career slugging percentage was .588; his career on-base percentage was .394. His 162-game averages were 50 home runs and 122 RBI.

He was this era's Harmon Killebrew, a prolific power hitter who transcended our Hall-worthy milestones, and yet McGwire received only 13 more votes than Steve Garvey, another righthanded hitting first baseman.

Garvey hit 272 homers, had a .329 on-base percentage and a .446 slugging percentage. Only the assumption of McGwire's steroid use could place McGwire in Garvey's voting bracket instead of Ripken's.

Yes, the BBWAA used the Hall of Fame voting to send a message to McGwire, Bonds and the BALCO Brethren on Tuesday. The message: Don't even bother.

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