One Last Time: The Hall of Fame Case for Mark McGwire

Mark McGwire was one of the best hitters in baseball history. (via Keith Allison & Howell Media Solutions)

Mark McGwire was one of the best hitters in baseball history. (via Keith Allison & Howell Media Solutions)

Editor’s Note: This is the second post of “Hall of Fame Week!” For more info, click here.

I was in the old family room of my parents’ house sitting on the carpet between a classic 1990s box television and a rustic wooden coffee table my dad made. I refer to the room as “old” because in 1999 it was torn down to make way for an addition. From the time we moved into the house in 1990 through the room’s demise, it was my playroom. It was where my sister and I played silly childhood games and watched countless movies and TV shows. It was where I learned to play the piano and where I fell in love with the game of baseball. My last distinct memory of the space so central to my childhood was sitting on that carpet and hearing Joe Buck say, “You will always know where you were at 8:18 p.m. Central Time, Sept. 8, 1998.”

I’m relaying my personal story not because it’s particularly unique or special, but because it’s explicitly not. Buck was right. All of us who were lucky enough to be baseball fans during the magical summer of 1998 know exactly where we were the moment Mark McGwire sent a laser-beam line drive over the left field wall for his 62nd home run of the season to pass Roger Maris and become the single-season home run king. It was one of those precious few moments in baseball history that transcended the sport and reached American culture as a whole. And yet, somewhere along the way we reached a collective — if silent — agreement to shove that night into the deep recesses of our memories.

If you’ve watched baseball even casually over the last decade or three, or even longer, you can close your eyes and recall with clarity the images of Kirk Gibson pumping his fist around second base after his home run in the 1988 World Series or Carlton Fisk’s wave from 1975 or Willie Mays’ catch in a World Series played more than half a century ago. These moments are imprinted on our brains whether or not we lived through them, because major league baseball, for better and for worse, worships at the altar of its past. Iconic moments are aired on a loop at seemingly every possible opportunity, but for reasons both legitimate and manufactured, McGwire’s No. 62 is ignored.

The man who gave us this oft-overlooked moment of pure baseball joy is now on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 10th and final time. When the results are announced in the first week of January, McGwire’s name will not be included among the honorees. In last year’s balloting he received just 10 percent of the vote, his lowest total to date. Given that he effectively has no chance, his vote total may dip even further this year as his supporters find it challenging to continue voting for him when there are so many other extraordinarily qualified candidates on the ballot.

A year ago the Hall of Fame opted to decrease the number of years a player can remain on the ballot from 15 to 10. No candidates were on the ballot for the 10th time last year, and only McGwire is on his 10th this year, which makes him the first victims of a new rule functioning solely as a haphazard band-aid on the self-inflicted dilemma of overcrowded ballots. (Alan Trammell is also on his last year, but it is his 15th, as he was grandfathered in under the old rules.)

When McGwire’s name is unceremoniously dropped from the ballot, though, there will be little, if any, outrage. He is not the poster child for controversial candidates tainted by performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). That dubious honor is shared by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and for good reason. On stats alone, Bonds and Clemens are true inner-circle Hall of Famers — the elite of the elite. McGwire’s career was not in that stratosphere, but it was a Hall of Fame-caliber career nonetheless, and it’s worth reflecting on one last time before he is officially dismissed from the BBWAA ballot.

Before digging into the numbers, it’s necessary to acknowledge the obvious. The biggest factor working against McGwire has nothing to do with his on-field performance and everything to do with PEDs. As is likely clear by this point in the article, I am not opposed to enshrining admitted or suspected users from the Steroid Era. My rationale is rather simple: Blacklisting individuals for offenses that were a direct result of a permissive culture pervading every corner of major league baseball flies in the face of the mission of the Hall of Fame.

If you ever get Hall of Fame fatigue from the ceaseless and unproductive debates the voting season stokes each winter, take a moment to read through the Hall’s mission statement. It’s a worthwhile reminder of the importance of the institution whose goal is to preserve the history of our national pastime. As I see it, the relevant passage for the steroid debate is this: “The Hall of Fame’s mission is to preserve the sport’s history, honor excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball.” (emphasis mine)

The last part rings especially true because I was lucky enough to take my first trip to Cooperstown with my dad when I was a kid. He pointed out the plaques of his childhood heroes while he told me their stories. Denying enshrinement to a group of the greatest players of a single generation will diminish the rich tradition of oral history the museum fosters so beautifully.

For that reason, as well as a more general aversion to scapegoating, I believe the so-called character clause in the Hall of Fame’s official voting guidelines ought only to be invoked on players whose lack of “integrity, sportsmanship, or character” were offenses beyond baseball’s working societal norms of the time. Denying enshrinement to someone like Pete Rose — who displayed an atrocious lack of integrity, sportsmanship and character while committing baseball’s cardinal sin — is defensible at the very least and arguably prudent. But for league-wide generational crimes such as segregation, greenies, cocaine  or steroids, the museum’s responsibility is to provide context for those eras, not to disregard the achievements of those who played during it.

With that out of the way, let’s dig in to the significantly more fun portion of this piece: McGwire’s prolific power. His career home run total of 583 trails five of his contemporaries: Bonds (762), Alex Rodriguez (687 and counting), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Jim Thome (612) and Sammy Sosa (609) – but that is at least in part a function of lost playing time due to injuries both in his late 20s and at the end of his career. His home run rate as measured by plate appearances per home run (PA/HR) was the greatest in baseball history, and his career isolated power (ISO) is second only to Babe Ruth. Despite playing in the same era as the all-time home run king, McGwire was the greatest power hitter of a generation known for power.

PA/HR AND ISO CAREER LEADERS
Rank Name PA/HR Rank Name ISO
 1 Mark McGwire 13.14  1 Babe Ruth .348
 2 Babe Ruth 14.88  2 Mark McGwire .325
 3 Sammy Sosa 16.25  3 Barry Bonds .309
 4 Juan Gonzalez 16.49  4 Lou Gehrig .292
 5 Barry Bonds 16.54 5 Hank Greenberg .292
 6 Dave Kingman 16.81  6 Ted Williams .289
 7 Jim Thome 16.85  7 Jimmie Foxx .284
 8 Ralph Kiner 16.95  8 Jim Thome .278
 9 Ron Kittle 17.12  9 Manny Ramirez .273
10 Harmon Killebrew 17.16 10 Ralph Kiner .269
Minimum 3,000 plate appearances

Besting all other competition in one facet of the game, no matter how exciting and relevant that one facet is, does not automatically elevate a player to Hall of Fame status. One of the leaders in power metrics the generation before McGwire was Dave Kingman, a man who compiled just 20.4 fWAR in his career and unsurprisingly fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility. Being the greatest at one thing isn’t enough for induction, but McGwire was more than a one-trick pony.

Modern sabermetric analysis of production at the plate places emphasis on two key factors: power and on-base percentage. The first crude estimation of the fusion of these abilities was OPS, and now we’ve graduated to more refined metrics such as wOBA and the league-adjusted wRC+, which we will use here since it works well with comparisons across generations.

Of the 381 players with at least 1,500 plate appearances in the 1990s, no one, not even Barry Bonds, had a higher walk rate (BB%) than McGwire’s 18.8 percent. As a result of his elite power acting in combination with the ability to work walks and get on base, McGwire absolutely shines through the wRC+ lens.

After a brief late-season major league debut in 1986 that amounted to just 58 plate appearances, he went on to play 15 major league seasons. In those 15 seasons, McGwire never once failed to post a wRC+ above the league average mark of 100. In 13 of those 15 seasons, his wRC+ exceeded 130, and he crossed the 150 threshold nine times. His 157 career wRC+ is tied for 11th all time (minimum 3,000 plate appearances). You may recognize the names around him.

PA/HR AND ISO CAREER LEADERS
Rank Name PA wRC+
 1 Babe Ruth 10,616 197
 2 Ted Williams  9,791 188
 3 Barry Bonds 12,606 173
Lou Gehrig  9,660 173
Rogers Hornsby  9,475 173
 6 Mickey Mantle  9,909 170
 7 Ty Cobb 13,072 165
Joe Jackson  5,690 165
 9 Jimmie Foxx  9,670 158
Stan Musial 12,712 158
11 Mark McGwire  7,660 157
Johnny Mize  7,371 157
Tris Speaker 11,988 157
Joey Votto  4,757 157
15 Dan Brouthers  7,658 156
Mel Ott 11,337 156
Albert Pujols  9,902 156
Minimum 3,000 plate appearances

If batting metrics were the only thing to judge Hall of Fame candidates on, McGwire’s production would make him not just a Hall of Famer, but a fabled inner-circle Hall of Famer. Of course, that’s not how this works. His defense was uninspiring at best at first base — the least athletic defensive position on the field. His base running was a liability, as evidenced by a 28 percent extra-bases-taken rate and a stolen base total of just 12 through 1,874 career games played.

The lack of added value when out of the batters box, in addition to the missed playing time, kept McGwire’s career WAR totals from soaring to the levels of the inner-circle names with comparable power and on-base abilities. By the FanGraphs version of WAR, McGwire (66.3) sits 80th all time, directly between possible future inductee Tim Raines (66.4) and actual Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew (66.1). Baseball-Reference’s metrics have him a bit lower at 62.0 WAR, good for 108th all time in a range comparable to Hall of Famers Billy Williams (63.6) and, again, Harmon Killebrew (60.4) as well as borderline future candidates like Andruw Jones (62.8), Todd Helton (61.2) and Jim Edmonds (60.3).

Although his career WAR sits in a range without a clear Hall of Fame mandate, there is no question in my mind McGwire deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. By objective measures like wRC+, he is among the greatest hitters the sport has ever seen, second only to Bonds in his era. And even if his baserunning and defense fail to push him clearly over the Hall of Fame threshold, his emotional and historical contributions to the game make his case a landslide.

As a rookie in 1987, he burst onto the scene with 49 home runs, obliterating the rookie record of 38 set by Wally Berger in 1930 and matched by Frank Robinson in 1956. In the nearly 30 years since, the closest anyone has come to McGwire’s record was Albert Pujols with 37 homers as a rookie in 2001. His prodigious display of power netted him a Rookie of the Year Award and a catchy nickname as one of the Bash Brothers alongside his Oakland Athletics teammate, slugger Jose Canseco.

While with Oakland, the Bash Brothers were key contributors to their 1989 World Series championship run, but McGwire’s finest October moment arguably came the season before. Three days after Gibson became the seventh person to hit a walk-off home run in a World Series game, McGwire became the eighth with a Game Three blast in the bottom of the ninth off Dodgers pitcher Jay Howell. The early career fame garnered by his rookie success and Bash Brothers persona never faded.  He was a 12-time All-Star,  elected to the All-Star Game in every full season of his career.

Of course, the truly iconic mark he made on the game didn’t come until he joined the St. Louis Cardinals. The summer of 1998, just four years after the devastating players’ strike and canceled World Series, was critical in making baseball relevant again. What began as a three-way race to home run No. 62 among McGwire, Sosa and Griffey became a riveting two-man battle when Griffey fell off the pace down the stretch and totaled “just” 56 homers in the end. The McGwire-Sosa Show captivated a baseball-starved nation. The division rivals who were united by a twist of fate in the quest for baseball’s magic number became unlikely friends who lit up television screens with a contagious, electric energy that reminded viewers how much fun the game could be.

On Sept. 8, 1998, in a script presumably written by whichever deity presides over baseball, McGwire’s record-breaking home run No. 62 occurred while his Great Home Run Race partner stood in right field. If it’s been a while since you’ve watched footage of No. 62, I can’t recommend re-watching it enough.

Watch the way each Cubs infielder shakes McGwire’s hand as he rounds the bases. Revel in the bear hug he gives to Sosa – how often in any sport do you see mid-game celebratory hugs between on-field foes? Reflect on the respect McGwire shows to the record being broken when he embraces the family of Maris. It was a moment so glorious that Buck’s declaration that we’ll always remember where we were was obvious enough that it’s truly a testament to his talent he thought to mention it.

In the years since, the moment and the magical summer of 1998 have been irreversibly tarnished by revelations of the steroid culture that coincided with the home run race. However, the fact that we can no longer naively celebrate the achievement the way we did in the moment does not mean we can’t appreciate it and the joy that summer gave us.

As a baseball fan who grew up in the 1990s, the story of my childhood love affair with baseball is incomplete without Mark McGwire. His production on the field as well as the way he helped breathe life back into the game that fateful summer are more than worthy of enshrinement. Context for the era belongs in the museum. Mark McGwire, one of the most significant players of all time, belongs in the plaque room.


Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.
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Eric
7 years ago

No and NO. Mark McGwire never belongs in the HOF, neither does Clemens, Pettite, Bonds, Palmeiro, Sosa, Canseco, ARoid, Luis Gonzalez, Brady Anderson, etc, or anyone else that did PEDs, steroids, andro, or that I highly suspect etc.

All these guys have one thing in common – They were all rookies in the 1980’s, the decade I was a teenager. I have 25,000 baseball cards, and all their rookie cards. I love the game dearly. But they ruined it, AND I knew they were doing steroids back then, in the moment. Why? Because as that teenager, I joined a gym one summer, a gym of ill-repute, where the owner was selling steroids over the counter. My dad got pulled aside by that same owner and told him that if I were to work out here, that I was never to use, buy, or sell any of what he offered up at his counter (I was 16 at the time), and I never did, but I saw the results in the men that did take the stuff.

Grotesque acne, anger issues, walking around like disproportionate cartoon characters, muscles that are so big, they have muscle babies, never mind what it does to your reproductive organs, your whole body changes, for the worse. The owner himself – all his fingernails were brittle and broken in half and he had massive muscles and acne. Now, why would a gym owner admit all this, or tell my dad, I have no idea.

BUT, I knew what was going on with McGwire and the rest in the late 1990s and 2000’s to about 2008. I knew then. He and the rest tainted baseball. They tainted outcomes, whether it was regular season games, division winners, World Series champs, playoffs, determining which teams got in or didn’t, PLUS all the hardware that should have gone to others that didn’t use PEDs, -the MVPs, GGs, CYs, SS’s, etc.

It would be one thing if it ONLY affected the guys that took this stuff, but that is NOT the case, it affected the entirety of MLB, not to mention devaluing the other true HOFers or those that aspire to the HOF, by making it appear that their PED free accomplishments are diminutive, and making it look like 500 HRs is an easy plateau to get to. Not only that, you cannot make the data comparable with any other era, because it ruined 2 decades worth of stats, which in the modern era we now place a heavy handed emphasis on (rightly or wrongly depending on your view) through Sabermetrics.

Obviously, I lived through all the relevant decades that matter to this discussion, 80s, 90’s and 2000s. These guys were players I looked up to and hoped to be like, and thank God I wasn’t. The 1980s was the last great decade of MLB, and unfortunately, it looks like it will stay that way for a while. I have no forgiveness for this issue, screw the ‘connectivity among generations’ argument. Even as I say that, realize I am part of the generations that don’t get to connect. But I do still love the game itself, and I still play it PED free.

David
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Outstanding comment!

Corrine, I think a lot of people would disagree with your comment regarding only invoking the character clause on gambling cases. Also, “…McGwire, one of the most significant players of all time…”???

bucdaddy
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric

“Clemens, Pettite, Bonds, Palmeiro, Sosa, Canseco, ARoid, Luis Gonzalez, Brady Anderson, etc, or anyone else that did PEDs, steroids, andro, or that I highly suspect etc.”

You have irrefutable evidence for this then, not just “I suspect”?

I suspect you don’t.

Eric
7 years ago
Reply to  bucdaddy

Sure do, look at the back of their respective baseball cards.
People are always in denial. Its like Lance Armstrong all over again.
Deny it for years, then get stripped of every award.
No one wants their “heros” to be mortal, but they are susceptible to the same temptations as everyone else.

If a 16 year old kid (me) knew right from wrong, and what taking steroids would do to my body, versus not taking them, someone that’s older easily knows the difference too.

DCZ
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Surely all amphetamine users should be out, no? Hmm, let’s recount the list of Hall of Famers that would instantly get kicked out: Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Goose Gossage…the list goes on.

And about suspected users? I don’t know who used it but there

Sure are, look at the back of their respective baseball cards.
People are always in denial. Its like Lance Armstrong all over again.
Deny it for years, then get stripped of every award.
No one wants their “heros” to be mortal, but they are susceptible to the same temptations as everyone else.

If 16 year old kid (me) knew right from wrong, and what taking amphetamines would do to my body, versus not taking them, someone that’s older easily knows the difference too.

Please, all I ask is some consistency.

baseball fan
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Many say they knew players took steroids. If fans knew don’t you think the commissioner knew, writers knew, players union knew, owners knew, managers/coaches/trainers knew?

Of course everyone knew and they all profited off the increased popularity due to the HR increase.

Writers still voted for players to win MVP & CY Young and other awards. All the records still stand and teams still have World Series titles with users on their team.

Baseball could have put in new rules to put in tough testing and tough penalties if caught. They chose not to until the government got involved.

There are no clinical studies showing steroids help a player hit a baseball. It does not improve hand eye coordination.

Vote the best from each era because you can not pretend the records do not count or the players did not exist.

Scott
7 years ago

I am 32 and your premise of our treasured 90’s baseball memories being under-represented in the Baseball HOF and Museum really resonates.

My modest proposal:

Remember those crazy cartoon-hero versions of players that (iirc) FOX would use in promos and lead-ins before the whole steroid scandal made that look like the worst idea possible?

The HOF opens up a wing for the steroid era with excellent cartoon depictions of the users with crazy numbers that were put up in the era.

Pedro, Maddux, Frank Thomas etc etc that get in via the normal voting get real plaques.

If we can’t get Bonds/Clemens/McGwire etc etc properly enshrined then Hulk Bonds, the Version of Clenens that thought he was a chicken from that one Simpsons episode, And McGwire depicted as Bluto from Popeye will suffice.

Imagine bringing the young’uns to the crazy cartoony steroid wing and regaling them with tales of growing heads and shrinking….ok leave out some details.

Great read!

baseball fan
7 years ago
Reply to  Scott

Pedro was supposedly on the list of players caught using when baseball did their initial test.

You can’t assume to know who used during the past 40 years.

bob magee
7 years ago

“…or that I highly suspect etc”

So, besides you, who else gets to decide?

This rage against steroids is so much moral posturing about the “sacredness” of baseball stats.

Steroids do not a ballplayer make.

Exhibit one – Ozzie Canseco

Why didn’t he become a star?

Ballplayers can only be compared to others in the era in which they played.

Counting stats are fun, but entirely irrelevant to judging the quality of a players talent, especially because we have no idea how performance is impacted by steroids and their ilk.

McGwire hit 49 homers as a rookie. He was a HR hitter. Why do we think that 70 homers as a veteran player was so far beyond possibility?

Why are they called performance ENHANCING drugs and not performance ENABLING drugs?

Why is a cortisone shot a “moral” drug? It is used to keep players on the field – in spite of their injured body. In fact, it does not heal, but does allow for the opportunity for greater harm to be done to the player.

If the argument is that affects the “integrity” of the game, then why no outrage back when Pete Rose kept writing his name into the lineup in order to chase the all time hits record? He was a washed up hitter even for a middle infielder – let alone a 1st baseman.

Nope, the moral outrage is because “stats” were impacted – not the game.

Eric
7 years ago
Reply to  bob magee

First off Bob, if you remember and maybe you don’t, while according to you McGwire hit 49 as a rookie, he really didn’t. 1987 was the year of the tainted baseballs produced for MLB. They were wound too tight or something and allowed them to travel farther distances, made by a different overseas manufacturer as I remember. This was also the year if you recall where Wade Boggs hit 24 homers and never hit more than 8 to 12 or so previously. There is merit to my recollections. So yes McGwire hit 49 but it really wasn’t legit then either, but that wasn’t his fault. Second, go look at his body type in the early years, he was skinny as a rail like Darryl Strawberry was. He “filled out grossly.”

Third, I suspect Brady Anderson did PEDs and Luis Gonzalez but cannot prove it. Flip over the back of their baseball cards some time. BA had 50 HRs one year and never hit more than 21 prior to that year, nor more than 24 after. NO WAY JOSE is that legit. Luis Gonzalez at ages 32 and 33 hit 31 then 57 HRs when he never before hit more than 15 in any one season. I don’t buy it.

Fourth, knowing what we now know about professional baseball players and the aging curve, supposedly its typically a decline, and a huge decline at that post age 32. Bonds had two peaks? ages 36-39 was BETTER than ages 27-32? Give me a break. I stick by my comments and I apparently have a longer memory than you.

Geronimo
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Eric, your memories mean nothing.

BobDD
7 years ago
Reply to  Geronimo

I’m not impressed by his suspicions either.

Eric mk. II
7 years ago
Reply to  BobDD

I’m especially not impressed by his storytelling zzzzzz

Eric
7 years ago
Reply to  BobDD

To Geronimo, BobDD, and Eric mk. II.

http://www.sbnation.com/2013/6/13/4426478/japan-juiced-baseball-power-mlb-1987-rabbit-ball

It doesn’t matter what you think of my storytelling, suspicions, or recollections/memory. The fact is, I AM RIGHT.

Its funny that the picture to this article is one of Mark McGwire. I find that it makes my point quite emphatically.

So please don’t take my word for it, read this article – and I am sure you can find plenty more that reiterate the same thing.

ray miller
7 years ago

Good article, but a flawed argument, in my opinion. Would the home run race of 1998 have happened if McGwire and Sosa weren’t juiced? And if it hadn’t happened, would either guy still be in the running for the HOF? I would say not. Before ’98, Sosa was a talented but erratic ballplayer who drove Cubs fans nuts by interspersing his good plays with lots of bone-head moments. Before ’98, McGwire was a more dependable, but still one-dimensional player. The problem with steroids that seems somehow not to be directly addressed in all the endless discussions we have on the topic is this: Baseball is driven by statistics; you get into the HOF by producing otherworldly statistics; so, what are voters to do in the face of statistics that can justifiable be seen as tainted? The issue isn’t cheating, per se, in the end; it’s statistics that can’t be taken at face value as a true indication of talent. 1998 (which thrilled me at the time as much as it did Corinne and millions of others), sadly, has to be seen less as a baseball spectacle and more as a trash-sport extravaganza–“American Gladiators”/pro wrestling/”World’s Strongest Man”, etc. I really mean that “sadly”, too–once the PED speculation started, I remember feeling tremendously depressed at the thought that 1998 was an ersatz, artificially-produced event. Depressed, but cheated, too.

Now, I would agree with those who say that HOF voters should ask the question: Would Player X belong in the HOF anyway, even discounting the stats that would be directly impacted by steroid use? By that criterion, Sosa would be out, Bonds and Clemens in, and McGwire right on the cusp. The value of Corinne’s article is in showing the argument that can be made for McGwire above and beyond HRs. For me, personally, it’s still not enough, but at least the issue is open to debate.

It’s a different matter considering those players who have never been seriously connected to steroid use, yet still are tainted by association: Piazza, Bagwell, etc. They need to be judged on their merits, based on the information we do have. I have no patience with those who don’t want to vote for anybody from that era. Drop your prejudices, do your homework, and make a well-reasoned decision based on what we know.

bucdaddy
7 years ago
Reply to  ray miller

“the stats that would be directly impacted by steroid use”

How do we know what impact steroids had on stats? Are you a medical professional? Has any medical professional ever documented a 1-to-1 relationship between steroid use and increased power? Do you have a link to the JAMA documentation? I’d like to see it.

Way too many assumptions being made in this thread.

Michael Bacon
7 years ago

No, he should not be in the HOF! He could sometimes hit with power. That is all. Is that enough? Certainly not. How much was because he was “enhanced.”
How about an Almost Hall of Fame? Or maybe, “Not Quite Hall of Fame.”

Geronimo
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael Bacon

One of the all time greatest hitters = sometimes hit with power.

OK.

Do you know what a BB is?

Jeff Girgenti
7 years ago

Good job articulating the difference between gambling and PED use. Steroids were quite simply just part of the game. It really doesn’t seem that hard to accept unless you enjoy being angry.

bob magee
7 years ago

in 1930 nine of 16 teams hit over .300 – do we discount stats from that year as well? Especially when compared to 1968 when AL produced 1 .300 hitter and one .290 hitter?

Do we discount all expansion years?

Context matters – not moralizing

If you feel McGwire did not stack up as best of his era – okay.

By the way – Hank Aaron had his highest Slg Pct, OPS and OPS+ at 37 (also OBP) – also most HR’s

At 39 he had his 2nd second highest totals for those 4

He admitted to using amphetamines during his career.

Willie Mays admits to asking his doctor for a “boost”

Nope – PEDs are about stats and not about integrity of the game.

Paul G.
7 years ago
Reply to  bob magee

in 1930 nine of 16 teams hit over .300 – do we discount stats from that year as well? Especially when compared to 1968 when AL produced 1 .300 hitter and one .290 hitter?

Actually, we do. That should be fairly obvious.

Tramps Like Us
7 years ago
Reply to  bob magee

gee…wonder why that would be? You don’t suppose Aaron played in a different ballpark those years? You know, one that was better suited for home runs. And called the “launching pad.” Nah, that couldn’t be it….it’s just a random occurrence, taken out of context to support a faulty premise.

Marc Schneider
7 years ago

The PED users-assuming that that is what caused the home run surge-didn’t ruin the game, they saved it. Like it or not. And they still had to hit them. Please stop with the moralizing about the “true Hall of Famers.” How many of the guys back in the day would have used PEDs if they had been available? If you say none, you are being willfully disingenuous. The fact is, records in sports are always contextual; rules change, conditions change. There are certainly good reasons to decry steroids, but the affect on the records is not one and, unless you can show that McGuire or whomever hit the home runs only because of steroids, I say let them in the Hall.

Paul G.
7 years ago

I do wonder if the injuries McGwire suffered had anything to do with the drugs he was taking. Lost time to self-inflicted injuries should not be a credit to him.

The thing about McGwire is it was never clear to me if the PEDs he was taking were prohibited. They should have been prohibited by baseball and may have been criminally illegal, but if he was acting within the letter of the rules then he was technically not cheating.

Chill
7 years ago

Big Mac was a one trick pony. He hit homers. Lots of them. The BB’s and OBP were a direct result of his power. The more power you have, the more carefully you are pitched to. There are no other HOF skills on MM’s resume. He was a bad defender (at an easy position relatively speaking) and base runner and never hit for average. His only skill was hitting bombs and the resultant BB’s that came along with them. That one skill was undeniably tainted right from the start. In his rookie year he was teammates with the most notorious juicer in baseball history. As a result ALL of Big Mac’s accomplishments are tainted. He was a one trick pony whose only trick is undeniably tainted. In short, he was a fraud and any case for his induction into the HOF is equally fraudulent.

a eskpert
7 years ago
Reply to  Chill

The bb’s weren’t just a result of his power. All kinds of guys have power and can’t walk at all. Sosa’s the obvious comparison. He’s a like a less durable Jim Thome.

Michael Bacon
7 years ago

Baseball Reference has a feature which totals the stats of a player for two or more years instantly with one mouse click. I have done this with many players breaking it down to not only the twenties and thirties, but also into ages 20-24; 25-29; 30-34; and 35-39. Only a small percentage of players have played MLB in their teens, and not many, other than LOOGIES and knuckleballers, have played in their forties. From the players of my youth, Mickey Mantle and Henry Aaron, etc., one generally sees a decline in the 30’s, especially the late 30’s. This is not so for the infamous players of recent fame such as Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. Look at the stats broken down for McGwire:
ages OPS+
20-24 146
25-29 142
30-34 191
35-37 181

The disparity between his 20’s (143) and 30’s (181) is just as great, as it is with many of the players who played during the, shall we say, “enhanced” period in which McGwire played. Only a small percentage, if any, of players from the period of modern baseball, 1921-1992, show an improvement this dramatic. Unfortunately, many from 1993 until recently, show this kind of “improvement.”
To compare steroids with amphetamines is ridiculous! Amphetamines give one a boost which helps long haul drivers stay awake; steroids make one “The Hulk.”
As for the 1930 comment, everyone benefited from whatever was the cause of pronounced run scoring. Not everyone subjected themselves to using PEDs in the era of the Ragin’ Roids. I recall Doug Glanville writing in his book that in the minors Jason Giambi was considered a “gap-hitter.” When he reached the show, something transformed him into a “slugger.” Mr. Glanville wrote about getting cut because the club kept a PEDs user. Talk to the players of the Ragin’ Roid era who did NOT “enhance” their bodies and ask them how they feel about the players who chose to cheat.
And yes, Geronimo, I know what a BB is, and Mr. McGwire accepted a plethora of them, which I failed to mention. So, yes, the man did have a high OBP, so he was not only a one dimensional slugger. He was about average at first base, but he could not run and his batting average was below .270. I will admit to not knowing much about his arm, but he was never thought of as a speedster on the bases. How many of the five tools did he have, Geronimo?

a eskpert
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael Bacon

Amphetamines do a hell of a lot more than that. A bunch of my dad’s college football teammates would take speed because it improved their reactions noticeably.

Devo
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael Bacon

Ted Williams was a five-tool guy? Babe Ruth was a speedster? Lou Gehrig was great at first? Come on. Not everyone is going to be Griffey, Bonds, Mantle, Mays and Trout. That argument is almost as bad as the “amphetamines aren’t steroids” moral equivalency. They are both PEDs. An absolutist like yourself should be just as vehement about the barring of players who used them.

But if you are one of the greatest power hitters ever, you deserve consideration. The Hall of Fame isn’t a Hall of Morality. If it were, you can go ahead and take Ty Cobb and a bunch of others out.

Michael Bacon
7 years ago

Mr. Magee,

Mr. Aaron was fortunate enough to play on the field of Atlanta Stadium, which was known as “The Launching Pad,” for good reason. The city of Atlanta is about 1100 feet above sea level, which causes the ball to “launch.” Former Baltimore Oriole Davy Johnson “launched” 43 in ’73 at while playing his home games at The Launching Pad. His next highest total was 18 with the O’s in ’71.
Playing in Atlanta offset the years The Hammer spent playing in Milwaukee County Stadium, a pitchers’ park. Also, Henry’s BABIP was .291 in 1971 when he was 37, which was higher than it had been since .309 in ’67, and it would never again be as high. But .291 was his career BABIP!
If the Braves had stayed in Wisconsin it is most probable Hank would not have broken Babe Ruth’s all-time record. Yes, he had another good season at age 39, but he did not play a full season. Mr. Aaron mentioned something about one of the main benefits of using PEDs was use shortened the amount of time it took to recover, which is one reason a certain group of MLB players put up astounding stats in their late 30’s during the ill-fated 1993-until now period. Hank Aaron put up those numbers because of where he played, while much lesser players put up comparable numbers at the same age as Hank because they CHEATED!

BobDD
7 years ago

OB% and Slg are the two most important offensive “talents” for hitters. McGwire was top 5 throughout his career for both when healthy. That to me, is Hall of Fame worthy.

Eric
7 years ago
Reply to  BobDD

IF, IF, IF, Mark McGwire was legit, OB% and SLG would be relevant and important, but he isn’t.

Devo
7 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Eric, we are still talking about him. He’s relevant.

Christopher
7 years ago

Eventually I believe all the steroid users will get in. You can’t deny that this era happaened. McGwire of course received an advantage from steroids, but so did countless others. And many players took sterioids and never did anyting because steroids couldn’t make up for less talent.

1998 was an amazing year, and I bought it hook line and sinker. Yes it was the steroid era, and yes McGwire was the ultimate user, and yes you can rail about roids all you want from your mountain tops.

But I think he’s a Hall of Famer.

nickolai
7 years ago

The “steroids era” happened. Nothing can change that, as much as many of us would like to forget it. It’s completely unfair that the players bear the brunt of the blame and moral outrage, when the entire system of MLB (inclusive of the commissioner’s office, the owners, the players, the media and yes, us fans) either passively accepted or willingly turned a blind eye towards what was right in front of us.

The Hall of Fame should be about capturing a view of the best players of each era of history. It’s ridiculous that Bonds and Clemens (and yes, McGwire) would be excluded simply because the public retroactively wishes that we cared more about banning PED’s from baseball at that time.

And the poster above who claims amphetamines are not PED’s — this is ridiculous. The baseball season above all else is a grind – 162 days through the heart of summer. OF COURSE amphetamines boosted performance, helped with player endurance, energy levels and recovery time. Why do we draw such a thick red line between amphetamines and ‘roids abuse?

Jason S.
7 years ago

People will disagree on various points. To some, what Rose did is a trifle compared to the steroid use. Others feel the exact opposite. Given the split opinions, the Hall’s decision to essentially “Just keep them all out” is understandable.

I feel that the Hall doesn’t really live up to its own standards anyway, so it’s hard for me to get all bent out of shape about it. I don’t care enough to personally research whether Cap Anson was really and truly the most racist guy of 1800s MLB, whether others were much worse to the point that his views were almost compassionate in comparison, or whether he was pretty much in line with what everybody else in MLB was thinking. Some claim he was the king of racists, yet he remains the Hall. Charles Comiskey was so hated that some of his players threw the World Series for money and even that didn’t keep him out of the Hall. Really? The Hall just couldn’t possibly find a way to NOT put a guy like Comiskey in it? So these are just 2 examples as to why I can’t really take the Hall seriously or get upset over what they do.

My personal feeling is that MLB chose deliberately to turn a blind eye to steroid use, just like it did with amphetamine use in the 60s and 70s. Do any of these drugs actually increase performance? I have no idea. But it seems likely. And perhaps even worse, when the MLBPA finally agreed to confidential testing, the whole point of the original tests was so the owners could get an idea of how prevalent the use of steroids was. Somebody associated with the testing probably broke a law in releasing some of the names of people who failed a test. The list of names released was cherry picked. For example, what the heck did Sammy Sosa personally do to piss off the guy who leaked the names? So given that nobody ever tried to hold the leaker accountable for what I assume was a criminal act and the Hall of Fame immediate went into this “We’re the paragons of virtue” stance, I just can’t take any of this seriously. I have no problem with McGwire, Sosa, and all going on, but I will admit that it does please me quite a bit that Barry Bonds isn’t going in either. Really don’t like that guy at all. So if the price of keeping Bonds out, just to stick it to him and his arrogance, is that McGwire stays out, I’m OK with that deal.

bucdaddy
7 years ago
Reply to  Jason S.

“My personal feeling is that MLB chose deliberately to turn a blind eye to steroid use”

Then so did a lot of the people now in the BBWAA who, what do you know, get to decide who makes the Hall.

(Inserts usual ethically challenged BBWAA rant here).

“Do any of these drugs actually increase performance? I have no idea.”

Now you’re correct.

Marc Schneider
7 years ago
Reply to  Jason S.

It would certainly be a criminal act today to leak medical information; not sure if it was back then.

Brian
7 years ago

I think part of the problem is it can’t be quantified. So that leaves the “impact of PEDs” up to sentiment, emotion, etc., which are not rational or objective processes (or, rather, even less objective than HoF voting already is).

So as much people say “steroid era happened”, which it did, it’s just as true that people will have their sentiments against the most prominent users. You, me, everyone else can say “it shouldn’t”, but reality is that it does. Just like we can say “he shouldn’t have done ‘roids”, but the reality is he/they did.

Sure you can argue steroids don’t really help players much, but there’s no way to prove it or how much it did help (or hurt). Just because it wouldn’t turn me into Babe Ruth or a -3 WAR player into even an average one (we assume, anyway), doesn’t mean it didn’t help Brady Anderson’s “magical” 50 HR season or the achievements of Bonds, Clemens, etc. After all, why would their risk their health and bodies and livelihoods as already good/great players if there was zero benefit?

We can add a “+” to stats because we can quantify the impacts of parks, run environments, league environments. We can’t do a “wRC+Steroids” because it’s an unknown.

Where there’s an unknown, people will fill in the blank. Unlike DIPS refinements, etc, it’s a bit of missing information that’s going to be hard to uncover even with advancing technology and new ways of looking at the data.

Rob
7 years ago

For those who see the Hall of Fame as a sacred venue for the games best better understand that plenty of cheaters already inhabit the hall and plenty of cheaters will eventually be inducted. Like others have stated before, the 1980’s, 90’s and early 00’s DID happen. They are a part of MLB history. There was cheating before this period, during this period and their is cheating going on today. Why do we single out PED’s like steroids as off limits for the Hall? Maybe it’s because we can’t quantify their impact, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. You could never quantify how much deadlier a pitcher was because he scuffed the ball, or what advantage a hitter had from stealing signs. Why does a pitcher like Gaylord Perry deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame, but a hitter like Barry Bonds or another pitcher like Roger Clemens get excluded? Why do certain drugs get passed by but some are viewed as unacceptable when it comes to the Hall of Fame? Drugs were used before this era, they’re still being used today and they will be used for a long time, most likely some by Hall of Famers. And where do we draw the line in advanced treatments giving players an advantage or even just a second chance? Should a player of Hall of Fame caliber be banned from the Hall for receiving a treatment like Bartolo Colon when he had Stem Cell treatment to repair damaged tissue?

As for McGwire’s case for the Hall, I would say no, but not because of his “enhanced” production. He was an extreme stat compiler and not much more. He collected HR’s and walks like no other but didn’t do much else.

nickolai
7 years ago
Reply to  Rob

My best friend and I argue about McGwire all the time, and your last statement is his basic premise. I never understood this. A home run is the best outcome possible for any given plate appearance. McGwire was one of the best in history at producing the best possible outcome. If you were designing a player from scratch, and could give him elite skills at just one aspect of the game, hitting dingers would be everyone’s first choice. Except for maybe just being generally amazing at getting on-base — oh wait, McGwire was that too.

Devo
7 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Rob, that’s the thing. There are plenty of guys in the Hall who did a few things well. Ted Williams and Ruth come to mind. Reggie Jackson, Killibrew. The fact is if you are good at hitting balls over the fence and getting on base, you deserve to be inducted. Look at the list above. He’s one of the 20 greatest hitters ever.

Rob
7 years ago
Reply to  Devo

I’m actually starting to sway towards his induction. What mostly did it for me was his position at the Hall of Stats, a site I had never heard of before with an interesting premise, place the 215 best players by the same algorithm into a group. I figured I would see him down towards the bottom, but was pleasantly surprised to see him around the 100 mark. Maybe deep down inside I don’t want him in because he cheated, but my objective side is telling me he really should deserve a spot.

salvomania
7 years ago

How come nobody get so bent out of shape about all the players in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s who used amphetamines every day?

Amphetamines ABSOLUTELY affect your ability to get out there every day and play with energy, and it improves reaction time.

Mays used them, Mantle used them, Pete Rose used them, I’d imagine most players in those decades used them (including Hall of Famers), at some point in their careers, if not continuously.

So accepted was their use that they were freely and openly dispensed in major-league clubhouses for decades—–and again, these are Schedule II controlled substances, illegal to possess without a prescription.

These drugs, without a doubt, affected and enhanced players’ performance, and affected their stats as well. Maybe guys weren’t hitting 60 homers, but they were playing 162 games a year, every year (Billy Williams) or stealing 800+ bases (Lou Brock) or pitching 200 innings in relief (Mike Marshall)… what would those performances have looked like in an environment that wasn’t altered by amphetamine use? Who were the biggest users? How were careers of the the players who didn’t take amphetamines affected by the tilted playing field?

We’ll never know the answers to those questions, but that doesn’t change the reality that there WERE affects, and they’ve been COMPLETELY IGNORED by the HoF voters and by the current chorus of outrage against guys like McGwire and Bonds, who would have been elite sluggers with league-leading numbers in any era, but who had the misfortune to excel in the “Steroid Era,” an era in which steroid use was as tolerated, if not as open, as amphetamine use in the previous generations.

I won’t take any no-steroid-user-in-the-HoF argument seriously unless it articulates why the steroid era is subjectively different than the amphetamine era, and why their argument doesn’t represent a double standard.

We can look at the numbers of the era and apply a “steroid filter” the same way we can look at the league-wide .230 batting average in 1968 or the league-wide .300 batting average in 1930 and understand that in each case the stats are a product of the era, whether that includes lively balls, better gloves, segregation, or widespread, tolerated drug use (amphetamines or steroids or whatever).

If it was one or two guys who “cheated” and were caught, and there was no reason to suspect others, that might be one thing. But all the evidence suggests that huge numbers of players, possibly most, at least dabbled in steroids, with organizational knowledge and with little or no fear of punishment, and we are able to discern within that enviorenmnet who the truly elite players of the era were. A HoF without a McGwire, a Bonds, a Clemens, is a weak institution that panders to the righteous moralizers who somehow consider their childhood and their heroes (and those heroes’ stats) as more sacred than those of yore, and who are too intellectually rigid to recognize the parallels between the steroid era and the 40-year amphetamine era.

Cranston Snord
7 years ago
Reply to  salvomania

What amphetimines effect is your perception. You THINK you are faster and have better reactions but you actually don’t. In fact they almost certainly make your reactions slower based on most of the research out there.

salvomania
7 years ago
Reply to  Cranston Snord

Amphetamines, sometimes called “speed” or “uppers,” are central nervous system stimulant drugs that increase alertness, self-confidence and concentration, and decrease appetite while creating a feeling of increased energy. The chemical structure is similar to the naturally occurring adrenaline and noradrenaline that is produced by the body. The effects of amphetamines are similar to cocaine, but last longer.

Amphetamines may provide some minor, short-term benefits. Current research shows that 10-30 mg methamphetamine may improve reaction time, and cognitive function, increase the feelings of alertness, decrease a sense of fatigue and increase euphoria.

Even if amps don’t literally improve reaction time—and it seems as if that effect is negligible if it does exist—there is no doubt about what the excerpt above (from a sport medicine report) refers to as an “increase (in) alertness, self-confidence and concentration… while creating a feeling of increased energy.”

From personal experience, years ago, when I was working two jobs and 80 hours a week for almost a year, calculated amphetamine use made a huge difference in my ability to function at my jobs and perform effectively. I am convinced that they similarly helped hundreds of ballplayers deal with fatigue from brutal game and travel schedules, day games after night games, minor injuries, etc., over the decades. The effect is NOT insignificant.

Devo
7 years ago
Reply to  salvomania

Preach, Salvo…..preach. I wish there was a “like” button

Tramps Like Us
7 years ago

My opinion….this is a pretty simple discussion. If you discount the steroid use, McGwire is a no-brainer hall of fame based on his numbers. If you don’t dismiss them, he’s not. There’s a bunch of guys from this era of whom the same thing can be said.

Six-fingers Johnson
7 years ago

One thing that annoys me about this discussion is the assumption that we can take the end product of MM’s efforts and legitimize or delegitimize them without realizing that they are a product of the PEDs themselves. To switch sports for a moment–if a given NASCAR driver’s car has 20 more HP than other competitors, then the winners sheet will consistently feature that car. You cannot look at those results and simply say “see how great that driver is?” and then debate how to celebrate such dominance. The numbers were never good/honest in the first place.

And what about the driver who came in 2nd for all those races, who had honest numbers? That one is far superior to the apparent “domination” of the leader.

Any player on that list whose body of work is done honestly is superior. MM’s numbers don’t mean a thing.

Rob
7 years ago

What about a pitcher like Gaylord Perry, known for doctoring baseballs and getting away with it. Or the amphetamine users, or anyone who has ever received a cortisone shot. It depends on how inclusive or exclusive you are when calling something cheating. Certain drugs help a player come back from injury faster, some help them play with an injury. Why is HGH frowned upon but Stem Cell Therapy isn’t? It’s a fine line between the cheating that’s openly (or quietly) accepted and the the forms of cheating that are denounced.

Alex
7 years ago

A commenter earlier articulated the amphetamines point well, and to piggy back on that what about the fact that Ruth didn’t play against blacks or Latino players? Don’t you think that boosted his and others in that era’s numbers a bit?

I also remember reading an article that said the inflated numbers of the mid to late 90’s had more to do with Mlb changing ball manufacturers from Spaulding to Rawlings (something along those lines) and the new balls had a much higher variance for distance up to 70 feet further than the previous baseballs. This problem was identified and corrected in the mid aughts but it’s interesting to note that there are still players juicing and have been since bonds and no one has even approached the hr totals of those years where the balls were “juiced”.

I think it really comes down to people protecting their own biases. People of previous generations are quicker to denounce peds while overlooking their own generations shortcomings as a way asserting their generations moral superiority. That’s why amphetamine cheaters like mays mantle Aaron etc and actual admitted in game cheaters like perry and incomplete talent pools due to racism like Ruth Gehrig get a pass but guys who happened to excel during an era when EVERYONE WAS CHEATING and the equipment was basically designed to inflate the numbers some how is morally wrong and discredits all accomplishment.

Great article I believe McGwire absolutely deserved to be a first ballot hall of famer regardless of ped use in the game.

If you disagree that’s fine but you a raging hypocrite if you also think mays mantle Aaron et al should have their “cheating “overlooked

Marc Schneider
7 years ago

Every single record in sports is contextual, every one. Would Tom Brady throw 50 TD passes playing under the rules that existed in the 1970s? I would bet the mortgage he would not. Babe Ruth did not hit 60 home runs with the dead ball.

There are sports in which you probably should discount the records because of drug use. Swimming, perhaps, where blood doping directly increases performance (as I understand it). But, in baseball, no matter how big and strong you are, you still have to recognize the pitch and hit the ball. PEDs don’t help you do that. I’m sure they provide a benefit as do amphetamines. But, they don’t directly affect performance. It’s not as if they make players bionic. Strength is important, but whether you hit the ball 500 feet or 390, it’s still a home run; Aaron was not a particularly big guy but he still hit a lot more homers than McGuire.

To me, the sad thing about the PEDs controversy is that, today, whenever a player’s performance improves substantially or he has a really great year, the immediate reaction by a lot of people is that he is juicing. It’s as if anything out of the ordinary is now assumed to not be legitimate. Personally, I would rather just watch the game and enjoy the performance.

DCZ
7 years ago

I despise the idea of wiping the memory of an entire generation from the Hall of fame. No matter how egregious the offense that generation committed.

To BBWAA and the so-called “small hall” guys: If you’re not willing to throw out AT LEAST the rampaging racists AND whoever took amphetamines out of the Hall of Fame, don’t bother pretending you’ve got moral high ground on PEDs.

Oh and please remember to throw out Gaylord Perry too, didn’t he blatantly cheat on-field?