It's high time for the obscure baseball blogger, the voice of the fan rabble, to join the cocktail party courtiers in the big newsrooms and have his say in the Hall of Fame debate. If a Hall of Fame ballot would have shown up in the TO'LC mailroom, it would have been cast for Mark McGwire. In my view (and that of this blog's editorial board), Big Mac needs to be enshrined for his two all beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and sesame seed bun ... even if he did get help from the special sauce.
First, let me make clear that this is not a fawning encomium. I am no fan of Mark McGwire. Or the Cardinals. Or the Athletics. I didn't go to USC. I'm not Irish or redheaded. OK, during the historic pursuit of Maris, I was in attendance in Miami the night Big Mac pole-axed nos. 58 and 59, and that was a great personal baseball memory. But only a few days later, I also remember being PO'd at McGwire for publicly pressuring that poor grounds crew guy into giving up the #62 ball in exchange for a couple of bats, a jock-strap, and an autographed bottle of andro. [If I were that guy, I would have said, "Congratulations Mr. McGwire, I'm honored to meet you, and I suppose ‘for the love of the game' I should hand over this golden egg, but then again, I don't recall you choosing ‘the love of the game' over money during the last player's strike, or did I miss it? So if it's OK with you, I'm going to pay for my daughter's college education, and you'll have to somehow survive the years memorializing your historic achievement with a hat, uniform, spikes, bat, underoos, hundreds of front-page newspaper tributes suitable for framing, DVDs, radio call recordings, and probably a Krugarrand soon to be cast in the event's honor. Oh, you can still have the ball if you really want it. Due in no small amount to those "work stoppages" during which I had no job and the fans were left out in the cold, you make plenty of money. So I'll make sure you're on the formal invitation list. Next Tuesday. 10:00 am. Sotheby's. Smell ya' later."] No, my Hall vote for Big Mac would not be the subjective worship of an entranced fan.
If I betray any bias, it is my nature to be drawn to the contrarian position on any issue, like a moth to the flame. It appears that this is no exception.
My argument for a Big Mac plaque is a defense of the storied history of the game. What's that, you say? A defense of history? By promoting a man who shat all over it by cheating, by artificially inflating his numbers, by sullying Roger Maris and his legendary achievement? Yes, history. Hear me out.
The philosophy to which I'm subscribing takes the purely ontological view of baseball history. It is; it exists. For its own sake it is not to be parsed, debated, or judged, divided between "good" history and "bad" history, the latter to be discarded. I go yard, therefore I am. Thus, Mark McGwire - like many of his even more notable peers - must be enshrined because of the baseball history he created, regardless of how he created it. Because of the history to which he was a part.
Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs in major league baseball games. They counted. Every one. They still "count" - there are not projects underway to go back, scrub the records of the "tainted" dingers, and reverse the outcomes of those games, or seasons. He's seventh on the all-time list, a 4-time home run champion, a 4-time slugging percentage champion, a 12-time all-star. Disapprove of his methods, cast aspersions on the manner in which he is handling it now, but do not deny that McGwire is, objectively, existentially, one of the greatest sluggers the game has ever known. As baseball's all-time leader in home runs per at-bat, you can reasonably conclude that he was the most "dangerous" hitter ever.
He was a legend. His accomplishments on the field made him "famous," the subject of adulation, brought kids to their feet, caused adults to high-five, made memories and magazine covers. He made toes tingle, made fans squirm in anticipation, stopped conversation in sports bars. In 1998, he "saved baseball," or so it is said. What he did occupies a hallowed place in our mind's eye. It embodies the concept of history. So his plaque should hang in that hall of history.
The baseball Hall of Fame represents more than an honor to bestow upon an individual. It's larger than that; larger than one man. It's the museum of baseball, a hall for posterity. The poobahs have already denied enshrinement of (not to, of) Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader. Now McGwire. So how far do they take this? Barry Bonds, the likely all-time homerun king? Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher of all-time, who was recently put in the cross hairs of suspicion? What kind of history museum is it, indeed what kind of history can baseball claim, if it embarks on a course of simply pretending that these towering figures, these players who filled stadiums and thrilled cities, broke sacredly-held records and took curtain calls, defined the game for a generation, simply didn't exist? It's Orwellian, the kind of history Winston Smith was tasked to re-write in 1984's dystopia. The Hall of Fame is a building in New York, not the Ministry of Information in Oceania. The game's greats, and the moments they created, simply should not be flushed down a memory hole.
Yes, there are ways to draw distinctions among them. McGwire, apparently, owes his entire standing as an all-time great to an illegal substance. Bonds, by contrast, already sported sufficient credentials before he took his first ‘roid. We're sure about McGwire; only a little suspicious of Clemens. Perhaps they should set up a 'Roid Court in Cooperstown to try players, require them to seek acquittal before casting the plaque, or maybe they can plead out to a lesser offense and get a smaller model plaque, or one cast of aluminum. More seriously, perhaps there should be an artificial line of greatness that transcends cheating, one that would enshrine record-setters like Bonds, but make object lessons of his generational supporting cast, players like McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro. This is going to create some sticky debates. Its the course the "official" voters may very well choose - indeed it's one that George Vecsey seems to have charted in a recent NYT column. I won't lie down across a railroad track in protest if this is the way it bears out. But after reflection and internal debate, it's just not the way I would set the rules or treat my ballot.
I am sympathetic to the notion that rewarding scofflaws encourages the conduct in others. It weighs on my thinking, but doesn't ultimately tip the scales. I believe both interests can be adequately served. Punish the cheaters for their impudence in other ways. Ban them from actively participating in the game. Even black-mark their Hall of Fame plaques by noting their role in the steroid era and the controversy their inductions fueled, or create an exhibit in the Hall chronicling the era, casting a shadow on their juice-aided accomplishments. But let them in. Admit all history through the door. Let history be history. Don't just forget.
"The hypocrites are slandering the sacred halls of truth"
-- Geddy Lee
Not on my watch, Bubba. Truth rules. I say, a plaque for Big Mac.
Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.