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weekend discussion: mcgwire and the hall of fame

i'm with erik at play a hard 9 -- i'd rather talk baseball than steroids. but the mcgwire / steroids / HOF discussion has been too hot this week to ignore. bernie miklasz thinks the BBWAA should send mcgwire a message by keeping him out of the hall for one ballot. gene wojciechowski of espn seems to think they should keep him out altogether. wojo's column prompted a scathing rebuttal from danup, who boils the case against mac down to this: "Might have taken something that wasn't illegal."

that does, in fact, seem to be wojo's brief, and it's a weak one. weaker still is the implication that a single player should be held responsible for the sins of the whole game -- players, owners, the media, and yes the fans. we got off on the moon shots and the gaudy home-run totals; we wanted to see them. and so the game delivered, and thereby enriched itself immeasurably -- players, owners, and networks alike. mcgwire did exactly what his union, his bosses, and their partners wanted him to do; so why should he now be punished?

in my mind, the case against mcgwire doesn't begin with what he did or didn't do as a player, but rather with what he did last march before congress. his display of cowardice that day was so stark that it has come to define him more than any of his heroic displays on the diamond. i realize the guy was in an extremely uncomfortable spot; the esteemed men and women of the congress (you wanna talk about cowards?) were out for blood, using the players to put pressure on selig and poised to make an example out of somebody. the threat of prosecution hung over his head if he admitted using steroids -- which, while not banned from baseball during mac's career, were and are illegal without a proper Rx. but presumably he couldn't deny using them either because -- being under oath -- he would be perjuring himself. (his refusal to deny steroid use under oath is a more failsafe "proof" that he used them than a positive test result would be.)

so is that why there's this thirst to punish mcgwire -- because he chickened out? i think that's part of the reason: the hall of fame is for heroes, not cowards. but beyond that, i think a lot of people -- and put me into this category -- feel big mac owes us something. his request that we just accept his career at face value and forget about steroids is an affront. now that the lid has been blown on the juice era, we -- fans, the media -- feel entitled to know how heavily steroids influenced the game and the record book. mcgwire's stonewalling casts him in the role of a rich, privileged, powerful person seeking to avoid accountability, and there's already enough of that in our society. usually we can't do anything about it. here's a rare instance where we can actually impose some rough justice. it's only human nature that some would seek to do so -- just as it's human nature for mcgwire to try to cover his ass.

but the hall of fame doesn't exist to celebrate ordinary human nature; it's there to celebrate greatness. and mcgwire could -- perhaps must -- display greatness anew by helping us confront the steroid era head-on. we can't put this issue to rest until we have a clearer understanding of the extent to which steroids affected the game. you could argue that mcgwire bears a special responsibility to help us do that -- he, more than anyone except barry bonds, reaped the rewards of the steroid era. and now the dude has to pay his bill. is it unfair to charge mcgwire a higher admission price than usual for cooperstown? maybe not, if steroids cheapened his accomplishments in the first place.

erik's diary on this subject includes a poll about mcgwire and the HOF, which i invite everybody to cast votes in. one of the choices in the poll is: "i wouldn't vote for him until he talks." put me down for that. at the very least, i want to know how many years he juiced, and how widely known his steroid use was within his teams' clubhouses, front offices, and training staffs. if mcgwire can also shed light on steroids' proliferation arc -- how the breadth of their use ebbed and flowed over the course of his career -- so much the better. he doesn't have to name names; i just want a sense of how widespread these drugs really were, and how big an impact they had. our only source on this info to date has been jose canseco; mcgwire would be a much more credible witness.

i don't think big mac owes us any apologies for what he did. i do think he owes us the truth.

further reading at the hardball times and Athletics Nation.