thanks to ev'yone who got in on the mcgwire HOF discussion over the weekend. i would guess that the same range of opinions is represented within the HOF electorate, which probably doesn't augur well for mcgwire's chances next year. he has a lot of supporters, but it's hard to see him mustering the 75 percent share necessary for admission. even the two fan bases you'd expect to support mcgwire most heavily -- st louis and oakland -- are ambivalent. in erik's poll here at VEB, only 48 percent would vote him in next year; he's polling a similar proportion (49 percent) over at Athletics Nation. clearly big mac has let down a lot of folks who once rooted hard for him.
i was living in berkeley, just north of the oakland city limit, when mcgwire came up with the athletics in the mid-1980s. i remember well his rookie year, when he carried a home-run total of 49 into the last day of the season. in that innocent day and age, hitting 50 homers was a real feat; less than a dozen guys in the history of the game had ever done it up to that point. (this used to be a popular trivia question: can you name them -- the only players with at least one 50 HR season through 1987?) moreover, no rookie had ever hit 50 before; mcgwire had a chance to be the first. the athletics were facing the white sox and left-hander floyd banister in the old comiskey park, in a game with no playoff implications -- mcgwire's last chance to clout the historic 50th. but for reasons that now elude me -- some personal matter he had to attend, if memory serves -- mcgwire did not play that day. wasn't even with the team, and hence forfeited his chance at this piece of baseball immortality. it was a striking statement for a 23-year-old kid to make -- viz., there are more important things in life than baseball, more important things than the record books. it suggested a quality not always seen among our athletic heroes: sportsmanship.
i think that spirit still lives within mcgwire, and i'd love to see him honor it again by telling the truth. i find it far-fetched that any admission on his part would trigger criminal proceedings against him; if prosecutors aren't going after jose canseco -- an admitted and unrepentant user with a criminal record and a terrible public image -- they sure as hell aren't gonna go after a player who still has an enormous popular following and all the courtesy of a boy scout. now that baseball has a strict steroid policy in place, the "witch-hunt" phase of this thing is over; we need to move into the "healing" phase. and mcgwire has the decency and the broad shoulders to help get us there. if he would just follow his instincts instead of the advice of his lawyers and pr men, he could become big mac again. here's hoping.
there's a long thread on mcgwire and the hall at baseball think factory, btw.
in the mood for some less fraught hall of fame reading? i recommend Beyond the Boxscore's post about the ray lankford wing of the hall of fame, improved and updated last week. the RLW is reserved for those players who had outstanding careers -- made all-star teams, won batting titles and hr crowns, maybe even have some cy young or mvp hardware sitting on the mantle -- but still don't have serious hall of fame qualifications.
BtB's marc normandin named his creation after lankford because ray excelled in all the facets of the game -- on-base ability, extra-base power, baserunning, fielding -- that tend to get short shrift in the hall of fame proper. the lankford wing is full of players with cardinal ties -- fittingly so, i guess, insofar as it's named for a cardinal player. three of the five top-ranked catchers (joe torre, ted simmons, and darrell porter) spent significant years with the cardinals; the #1 guy at 1st base is keith hernandez, the #2 short-but-sweet-redbird will clark. ken boyer rates high among the lankford wing's 3d basemen, and the outfield includes sometime stlers jose cruz, andy van slyke, jack clark, george hendrick, and reggie smith. and lankford himself, of course.
i'll leave it to others to wrestle with the issue of how and whether we consider steroid use when evaluating players for inclusion in the lankford wing.