McGwire, Hall of Famer?

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Today a special mailing goes out to the baseball writers of America. Postal workers around the country will be delivering the ballots for the 2006 induction into the prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame. Once a player's career is deemed Hall of Fame worthy, he's achieved ultimate recognition. From that day on, his autograph on bats and balls and jerseys no longer reads "Jim Palmer, 4 World Series". It reads "Jim Palmer, H o F, 1990." It's a short list of criteria to be considered for the Hall, including playing ability, career record, and contribution to a team, of course. But there are also the words integrity, character, and sportsmanship. So let's say you're a member of the Baseball Writers Association and you're out at the mail box over the next couple of days, in anticipation of your 2006 Hall of Fame ballot. It's up to you to decide whose careers move up onto a pedestal of greatness, whose don't. You open up the ballot and probably nod your head when you see Cal Ripken, Jr and Tony Gwynn. Superstars on the field, statesmen of the sport off the field. You scroll down to find Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Awesome power on the field, both of them. Nebulous character off the field, both of them. Canseco's book Juiced is a self-portrait of a steroid junkie, a talented player with flagrant disregard for the ethics of the game. McGwire may well have been juiced when he popped those record 70 whopping homers in '98, but he's never been found guilty of or admitted to doping. He's in the Barry Bonds category. We use common sense to interpret what we see, but we can't prove what we believe we know.

If we were to conduct investigations on all the baseball players already enshrined in Cooperstown, and we held up those words integrity and character and sportsmanship to all of them, we'd have to knock a good handful of them out of the Hall. Ty Cobb's unsportsmanlike behavior was legendary, along with his racism and habitual wife-beating. Roger Hornsby was a card-carrying member of the Klu Klux Klan. Leo Durocher had a gambling addiction. Gaylord Perry cheated with spitballs.

If character and integrity are truly to be the standards, Canseco and McGwire probably won't get many nods. Seventy-five percent of the voters must agree on a player before he goes into the Hall. If at least 5% cast a vote for a player, that player may come up for consideration the next year. There's been a hint that the writers will keep McGwire out of the Hall this year and maybe even a few years to come, just to punish him. And they'll eventually vote him in, after he's suffered some further indignity. Then what happens when Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi become eligible? Where will the steroid parameters fall?

The personal criteria seem to me too abstract, too ill-defined, and should be eliminated from the Hall of Fame language. If baseball has banned a player from the sport, such as the cases of Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, ineligibility for the Hall of Fame is cut and dry... although I fail to see what Pete Rose's gambling indiscretions as a manager have to do with keeping him out of the Hall as a player. In any case, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire and Ty Cobb and Roger Hornsby have not been banned from Major League Baseball. Whatever lack of integrity they have demonstrated has evidently not been egregious enough for their respective Commissioners to banish them from the game. So why is it up to baseball writers to deem the nobility of their character when it comes to Hall-of-Fame voting?

As little as I admire Jose Canseco, as much as I distrust Mark McGwire, I can't see any other fair system, other than considering only what they accomplished on the field when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad