Tomorrow the doors to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown will open for the class of 2007.
Cal Ripken Jr.will certainly be voted in and so will Tony Gywnn; both men richly deserve the honor.
Borderline candidates like Harold Baines, Paul O’Neil, and Alan Trammell will get a few votes but stay home.
The annual debates about Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Jack Morris, and Jim Rice will rage again.
Oh, and the guy who ranks 7th in career home runs, who hit 49 home runs in his rookie season and 70 a decade later, the man who brought baseball back to front and center in the glorioussummer of 1998, will almost certainly be left sitting at home.
Choosing to keep Mark McGwire out of the Hall isn’t a tragedy. I’ll reserve that term for something that doesn’t involve getting paid millions to hit a baseball.
But it is hard to rationalize.
Months ago, if I had a vote, I too might have decided to leave him off the ballot, just to tweak my nose at the whole Steroid Era.
Instead, by golly, I got the chance to read voter after voter’s explanation for skipping over McGwire.
You can imagine how most of the articles go: Mark is suspected of doing steroids, he’s a symbol of the era, he wouldn’t talk to Congress, etc. Thus, leave him off the ballot.
Forget for a moment his true guilt or innocence and consider the hypocrisy of these writers. Most must have had some clue, some inkling of what was going on in the years they were busy making Mark a national hero, right?
Sure, I sat around in ’98 oblivious, believing that expansion and smaller ballparks alone were leading to more homers. So what?
I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the locker rooms, I wasn’t clued in to the rumor mill, and just to pound the fact home, I’m not the one paid to investigate and publish the news.
Don’t the writers share part of the blame? And yet here they are, the gatekeepers for entrance to the Hall.
How wonderfully ironic.
As far as McGwire’s appearance before Congress, that was a no-win situation. If he admits fault he is ostracized from baseball, and folks that say differently are fooling themselves. If he denies it, he’d be labeled a liar, especially after Palmerio’s perjury.
And apparently, if he just keeps his mouth shut, he’s out of the Hall.
You know the most duplicitous argument? That the decision to leave him off the ballot has nothing to do with steroids and everything to do with a one-dimensional career that isn’t Hall worthy.
If you think for even a second that those same writers weren’t drooling over his numbers at the turn of the century and booking tickets to watch his enshrinement, you’re as crazy as their argument.
Do I believe McGwire did steroids? Yes. Do I have proof? No.
Does he belong in the Hall? Honestly, I don’t know.
But I do know this is the opening bell for a decade or more of debate. Eventually Sosa, Palmerio, Giami, Sheffield, and Mr. Bonds will be up for enshrinement.
Can you legitimately keep an entire era of superstars out of the Hall?
Here’s an idea that’ll never happen, and one that even I’m not that keen on: keep the borderline (and certified cheaters) Palmerio, Giambi, and Sheffield out, even if their final numbers warrant inclusion.
Then put Sosa, Big Mac, and Bonds on a single plaque, extolling them as the dominant sluggers of the era but mentioning the controversy surrounding their accomplishments.
Would it mean rewarding cheaters? Probably.
But it would acknowledge an important era in the sport, and give the (officially) innocent the benefit of the doubt.
Five years ago McGwire was a guaranteed lock for the Hall. Now he’s a pariah.
That in itself might be punishment enough.