By: Joe Strupp
When slugger Mark McGwire becomes eligible later this year, Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown will have to face the steroid problem head-on for the first time. The 700 sportswriters who have a vote must submit their choices by the end of 2006, and many have already said they will give McGwire a clear “nay,” noting the rumors of juice use by the former St. Louis Cardinal and Oakland Athletic. McGwire didn’t help his cause last year when, during testimony before a congressional committee, he all but declined to address the issue of steroid allegations and did not directly deny using them.
The New York Times earlier this year polled 50 writers who are eligible to vote, revealing that just eight said they would back McGwire for enshrinement. “It could be an ominous sign for McGwire,” the paper reported.
Among those who spoke with E&P, most say they would decline to support the former single-season home run champ, but some admit they might allow him in on a later ballot.
“I won’t vote for him first ballot,” says Bob Nightengale of USA Today and a former baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times. “The primary reason is he had so many home runs in such a short time.”
Glenn Schwarz, sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, declares, “He is a ‘no.’ I will not vote for him ever. I think he was artificially pumped up. He was not a Hall of Famer until he hit the juice.” Former Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jeff Pearlman echoes that view, saying, “Definitely no.”
The steroid aspect affects some other writers in a different way. Buster Olney, who appears on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” and writes for ESPN The Magazine (he’s a former New York Times baseball beat writer), says he would not hold the steroid aspect against any player today because it is likely so widespread. “Yes,” he says when asked if McGwire could count on his vote. “I’m voting for [Rafael] Palmeiro and [Barry] Bonds. My feeling is that the issue is so broad and the problem so broad that the playing field is level.” He also believes that 75% to 80% of the baseball awards from 1988 to 2004 were won with performance-enhancing drugs: “The steroid era ? you have got to measure them against their peers,” Olney adds. “To try to pick and choose seems folly to me.”
Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News agrees, saying he might not vote for McGwire, but steroids won’t be a part of the consideration. “How many pitchers have been on steroids?” he asks. “It is something we still have to look at.”
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.com, who covered baseball at The Sun in Baltimore, takes the same argument the other way. He says he would not vote for anyone from the “steroid era,” with the exception of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, who are on the ballot this year, and Greg Maddux, who is still pitching. “There is a collective responsibility that was abandoned,” he says of that era’s players. “They had a responsibility to take it on themselves.”