It's being said that Mark McGwire's failure to be inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame on his third go-round is a direct result of the widespread suspicion that he used steroids when he was breaking records and bashing the cover off the ball in the 1990s. Which may lead you to think that the road to Cooperstown will be rocky when other notable juicers come up for induction over the next few years. But McGwire is a lousy litmus test for the entire steroid era, because his numbers simply aren't Hall-worthy, illegal substances or no.
Yes, McGwire's career total of 583 home runs is extremely impressive. His career on-base percentage of .394 and slugging percentage of .588 are staggering. There's no doubt that for about five years in the '90s, he not was not only one of the great power hitters of all time, but one of the dominant figures in American popular culture. And when he was at his peak, he certainly made baseball a more exciting game to watch.
But by almost every other measure, McGwire falls short. Way short. There's his anemic .263 lifetime batting average. His measly 1,626 hits. He couldn't run -- 6 career triples and 12 career stolen bases -- and he wasn't a very good fielder. Longevity counts a lot towards HOF credentials, and McGwire lasted 16 seasons, but he played fewer than 100 games in four of them because of injuries.
In a nutshell, McGwire was a one-dimensional player. Granted, it was a hell of a dimension, but does that make him Hall-worthy, assuming you remove steroids from the equation? I don't think so. It'll be much more interesting to see what happens when players like Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens -- who can't be denied entrance based on their numbers, but may get shut out for moral reasons -- get their names on the ballots.
Personally, I think it's silly to bar anyone from the Hall based on anything but their stats. Countless gamblers, pill-poppers, cokeheads and other unsavory gents have already gotten their plaques, so why are the voters suddenly getting so uptight?
But baseball writers are nothing if not subjective when it comes to Hall Of Fame voting. How they feel towards players, as human beings, matters more than what those players actually did on the field when it comes to getting into Cooperstown. And McGwire, right up to the day he sort of incriminated himself in front of Congress' steroids hearing in 2005 by tearfully refusing to "talk about the past," was almost universally well-liked and respected.
So who knows? If Big Mac decides to come out of seclusion and starts wining, dining and charming the right baseball journos, we might see those vote totals start creeping up. And if the rosy glow of nostalgia for McGwire's magical 1998 season one day overshadows the scandal that followed, he might be talking about the past at Cooperstown after all. But he still won't deserve to be there.