St.Louis Before I vote for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. and a few others and ignore Mark McGwire's name on the 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, I want to run a few questions through my tormented conscience:
¢ We have strong suspicions that McGwire used illegal steroids, and we have the damning testimony of McGwire's former teammate Jose Canseco. But has there been a direct finding or irrefutable, hardcore evidence that McGwire used illegal steroids during his baseball career?
¢ In 1991, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to all teams and declared: "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited." But did Vincent's ban carry any real clout? It was never part of an agreement between the owners and the MLB Players Association through the collective bargaining process.
¢ If we deem it cheating or just plain wrong for a player to gain a competitive advantage by using illegal steroids before 'roids were officially banned by MLB, then where do we set the boundaries? What about the generations of players who pumped themselves with illegal amphetamines to maintain energy through a long season? What about a Hall of Fame pitcher such as Gaylord Perry (and he wasn't alone) who broke the rules by doctoring the ball? Or are we being unfairly arbitrary when we choose to pin the scarlet letter "S" on McGwire while ignoring the brazen flouting of the rules by others?
¢ McGwire certainly embarrassed himself with his nervous, lawyered-up, stonewalling testimony during the congressional hearing on steroids on March 17, 2005. But McGwire and a few others named in Canseco's tell-all book represented a mere fraction of the suspected steroid users of the era. And only McGwire and a select few were slapped with subpoenas and ordered to appear in Washington D.C. If all suspected juicers were summoned, McGwire wouldn't have been alone in freaking out. But just because McGwire was a lousy witness, should we single him out and condemn him forever? And in the future, will all steroids-era players receive the harsh scrutiny that's being applied to McGwire?
¢ When McGwire hit 70 homers in 1998, how many did he hit against steroid-fueled, or HGH-aided pitchers?
¢ Major League Baseball enjoyed the spectacular show and the increase in business that McGwire and Sosa provided in 1998, when the sluggers pursued the single-season home-run record. Normally empty stadiums were filled when the circus came to town. Are we to pretend that this never happened?
¢ Upstairs in the press box in 1998, I was happily writing columns in praise of McGwire and his prodigious, strong-man homers. I didn't ask the tough questions about what McGwire was putting into his body to enhance that strength. But is it fair to punish McGwire with my retroactive guilt?
I remember the years when it felt like Christmas morning on the day when the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot arrived in the mail. It was an exciting time.
Not this year.
I dread the assignment.