Unless they pay the same entry fee as other adults, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro will be locked out of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, not only this year when the balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America voting concludes Saturday, but for the foreseeable future and perhaps forever.
When the results of this year’s voting are announced Jan. 9 you will not hear McGwire’s name mentioned, nor Palmeiro’s, because while their achievements on the baseball field were grand, they are now perceived as outlaws of the game whose partaking of performance-enhancing drugs tainted their accomplishments and ruined their reputations.
Palmeiro failed a drug test and McGwire confessed. While McGwire is back in the sport as a hitting coach with the St. Louis Cardinals, Palmeiro has virtually gone underground, never seen at ballparks. No one has made a move to alter their final lifetime statistics with asterisks, but the one retaliatory weapon angry baseball writers have at their disposal is their valued ballot as to who belongs in the Hall of Fame.
McGwire was the American League rookie of the year with the Oakland A’s in 1987 when he hit a rookie record 49 home runs, and he was a 12-time All-Star. He blasted 583 home runs and broke Roger Maris’ long-cherished record of 61 homers in a season set in 1961 when he and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa embarked on a season-long chase in 1998. McGwire smashed 70 home runs that year and the country was captivated by the McGwire-Sosa pursuit of the record.
McGwire’s record was soon broken by Barry Bonds, also under suspicion for using performance-enhancing substances. When McGwire retired in 2001, he carried a wheelbarrow full of goodwill into his next life. Although his lifetime average was a mere .263, several points about McGwire’s career seemed certain to elevate him to the Hall of Fame. His career home run total, the 70, the chase itself, the rookie homer mark, his 1,414 RBIs, and the number of All-Star appearances. Plus, McGwire owns a .588 lifetime slugging percentage and a .394 on-base percentage. He won two American League home-run titles and two National League home-run titles.
But McGwire’s credibility took a major hit in an uncomfortable accounting of himself in a witness chair before Congress. Ultimately he confessed to taking steroids. The sentiment among true believers about putting McGwire into the Hall has shrunk considerably since he took his last at-bat in 2001. McGwire’s support has hovered in the 20 percent range with 75 percent needed for election, so it seems as if his candidacy, like a car in need of four-wheel drive, is stuck in the sand.
Palmeiro was never as flashy as McGwire, but he hit nearly as many home runs and also broke the 3,000-hit barrier. Generally, anyone who hit 569 homers and gather 3,020 hits would be a no-brainer Hall of Famer. Palmeiro somehow accumulated all of those homers without leading a league even once or ever hitting more than 47 in a season. However, 14 times he hit at least 22 homers in a season while playing 2o years and appearing in 2,831 games. Ten times Palmeiro drove in at least 100 runs in a season and his career total of 1,835 is 16th all-time.
After being an All-American college player at Mississippi State, Palmeiro played first base and outfield for the Chicago Cubs, the Rangers and Orioles. He was suspended for a positive drug test shortly after he recorded his 3,000th hit. A four-time All-Star, Palmeiro won three Gold Gloves.
Last year was the first time Palmeiro was on the Hall of Fame ballot and he polled only 11 percent of the vote. McGwire has been on the ballot since 2007 and usually has collected about 23.5 percent of the vote. In 2011, the total dipped to 19.8 percent. The question is whether either man will ever be forgiven and be selected for the Hall.
Tags: Baltimore Orioles Barry Bonds Chicago Cubs Hall Of Fame Mark McGwire Mississippi State Oakland A's Performance Enhancing Drugs Rafael Palmeiro Roger Maris Sammy Sosa St Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers