Hall of Fame voters weigh in on McGwire
Chances not expected to change drastically after admission
No one will know for sure until the ballots arrive in the mail next December and the voting results for 2011 are announced a year from now, but an informal MLB.com survey of many Hall of Fame voters on Monday indicates little immediate change expected for Mark McGwire's Cooperstown candidacy.
McGwire, now the Cardinals' hitting coach, admitted in a statement that he used performance-enhancing substances extensively during his Major League career, including the 1998 season, when he shattered Roger Maris' fabled single-season record of 61 home runs.
This year McGwire received just 23.7 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- far less than the 75 percent required for induction -- and that was comparable with his prior three years on the ballot.
"I haven't voted for him in the past, and I don't think today's admission is going to influence me to vote for him in the future," said Scott Miller, national baseball columnist for CBSSports.com. "One, I'm still wanting to wait and see how this whole steroid era is going to play out. I still don't think we know everything, and I think there's a lot more we're going to be learning. As things stand now, it's been such a stain on the game. As of now I'm not voting for any of the steroid guys. I don't see that changing in the future. You never say 'never,' but as of right now, I don't see any reason why I would change my vote."
Miller and Bob Nightengale of USA Today are among those who do not think the issue of performance-enhancing substances is completely relevant in McGwire's case. Miller cited McGwire's 1,626 career hits as insufficient for Cooperstown, and Nightengale said that he would vote for future candidates Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens.
"I thought [McGwire] was a borderline Hall of Famer with his numbers," Nightengale said. "For the fact that he has a low batting average [.263], just a lot of bad seasons and the fact that a lot of those home runs were hit over a short period of time -- which everyone suspected was due to steroids. But I'm not a guy that's against the steroids. I've not held steroids against McGwire in voting. I think it'll be interesting to see what his total does next year by admitting to it, just with his presence in baseball being the Cardinals' hitting coach. If he had done this from the get-go, he would have had a much stronger chance."
Mark Bradley, columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said that he has voted for McGwire and seemed likely to check the box again as long as McGwire's records are allowed to stand. Having said that, however, Bradley expects McGwire's percentage to actually go down.
"My feeling would be that as long as baseball allows records to stand, to me, that's what I vote on, the numbers," Bradley said. "[If] the numbers are on the books, then in my view, baseball is saying we recognize these as legitimate. So if you're asking me if I've voted [for him] and would I, then the answer is yes. As long as baseball doesn't remove the records of Pete Rose [career hits] or Hack Wilson [RBIs in a season], then yes, they should be Hall of Famers.
"You go into this and you think, 'OK, how many of his home runs wouldn't have been home runs if not for steroids?' What, 15, 20, 100? What happens if a batter on steroids hits a home run off a guy who's also on steroids? Does that cancel each other out? I don't see how baseball can do anything but eventually give blanket amnesty to everybody. We're going to say, 'We're not going to take any records off the book, and you guys can decide for yourselves.' We've already seen it be a test case, and it will be even more of one now that he has actually admitted it."
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Hagen said that the whole issue "is still evolving, and we're all still trying to figure this out.
"What I've sort of come up with is, you have to accept at this point that steroid use during this era was, in fact, very widespread," Hagen said. "And clearly, it seems there's circumstantial evidence it helped the hitters more than pitchers, but I also believe a lot of pitchers did it, too. If you accept that, I think you have to go one of two ways. You either have to say, 'I just can't bring myself to vote for anybody who did that,' and just not vote for anybody who played in that era. Or you have to say, 'Well, there was the dead-ball era, live-ball era, this was just one of the eras of baseball' -- and judge everybody in that era according to where they stood in relationship to their peers.
"I still haven't decided which side I come down on. But you can't split the baby at this point. To just pretend it was only a couple of people, I don't think we should do that at this point. It's been my impression -- and I hope that in the end, I wouldn't let it impact my vote -- that if in fact you believe that Clemens did it, the fact he is stonewalling it isn't going to help him. Then you have a guy like Andy Pettitte who says, 'I did it once.' Well, I'm sorry, that doesn't seem too logical either. At least he doesn't totally deny doing it. But in the end, I don't know that it should influence your vote. You just have to say it is what it was, or [you] can't vote for anybody who played in that era."
San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Tim Sullivan quit voting after the Mitchell Report was released, and Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers expressed disdain for the very process of which he is a part. He said that Rick Telander of the Sun-Times last year raised the issue within the Chicago BBWAA chapter about needing to have a more standardized vote criteria, but when the subject was discussed in the wider BBWAA meeting during All-Star week in St. Louis, there was no consensus.
"The majority opinion was that we're smart enough to figure it out. But I'm not sure that's correct," Rogers said. "I have not voted for [McGwire] in the past, and I don't see why this would cause me to vote for him in the future. If anything, I'm going to stop voting, because I think the system is broken. This is a good step when you get a guy who actually tells you what he did, but having to assume what guys did what ... you never really know. I hate voting in the Hall of Fame now because of that. I did vote last year, but I almost didn't.
"Twenty years ago it was hard not to know who was a Hall of Famer just on how well they played. You could sit in a press box and pretty much know all you needed. Now there's no way."
Longtime Indians beat reporter Paul Hoynes of Cleveland's Plain-Dealer was noncommittal about the 2011 ballot but seemed unlikely to support McGwire.
"Right now I don't think so," Hoynes said. "But for me he set the bar. McGwire is the guy. In 2013, we've got all those guys coming. If we don't get this resolved, I just don't see a whole lot of the greatest players in the game getting in. I haven't voted for [McGwire], and I don't go along with the theory that since everybody was doing it, that levels the playing field. I don't buy that. When you jab a needle in your rear ... Baseball players don't do that. Whenever he did, he knew what he was doing wrong."
Peter Schmuck, a former BBWAA president and columnist at the Baltimore Sun, said that his paper has restricted him in the past from using his vote, but he receives his annual ballot, he does have an opinion, and he thinks McGwire's percentage will go up.
"It was a thing he had to do to have any chance of getting into the Hall," Schmuck said of Monday's admission. "I think it increases his chances tremendously. Even though he's saying what we all already knew, anyone who was at the Congressional hearings and watched him tear up and obfuscate, anyone who saw that knew what the truth was right at that moment. You could sense this was a guy horribly conflicted, who clearly felt a sense of guilt about it.
"I know that people say a lot of these steroid admissions have been insincere, but I suspect this one he felt very guilty about. That was clear at those hearings. He had obviously been told by attorneys at those hearings, 'You can't be the guy who outs other players.' He did not want to open that Pandora's box. I can't really blame him for that. Although I'm not particularly forgiving of the steroid era, if I'm voting next year, the chances of me voting for him got better."
Jon Shea, the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, thinks McGwire's percentage will be flat because of some gain and some loss.
"If the fifth ballot were today, I probably wouldn't vote for him again," Shea said. "It's commendable he came out and came clean, but that's an awful lot of his career that he was juiced. His numbers obviously reflected his drug use. So his coming out makes it easier for some to vote no, but it will also make it easier for a lot of people to vote yes.
"As in the steroid era, though, things tend to change by the month or day. Maybe public sentiment and writer sentiment will change with it."
Marc Topkin, baseball writer for the St. Petersburg Times, has voted for McGwire all four years and thinks McGwire will "creep up slowly" on the ballot. But he added that "slowly" may mean "a 10- to 15-year overall process. I think it's going to take some time."
"It has to be taken as a positive step," Topkin said. "But I don't think that anyone who didn't vote for him because they thought he used steroids is going to feel any differently. They're going to say, 'OK, he used them.' They're still going to not vote for him. And I don't think people who voted for him are going to now not vote for him. But it may sway the people who were waiting to see what he had to say."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.