Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SPORTS: Speaking of Kicking the Dog

In my post yesterday, I talked about kicking the dog, which is really a heinous thing to do. So, it comes as no surprise that I'm not working up a great big excoriation over Mark McGwire. Why bother? He's never getting into the Hall of Fame, no matter how much scheming Tony LaRussa and his 'support' group do.

First, let me say that pre-retirement Mark McGwire was an outstanding citizen off the field. A nice man with an understanding of civic responsibility. It's THAT aspect of him that has anybody with any moderate knowledge of baseball considering putting his name on the ballot. What keeps him off the ballot are the facts, the ones agreed to even before be bared his ever-lovin' steroid-fed soul.

He hit home runs (see Maris, Roger for what that's worth in Hall of Fame freebies). He had a year early in his career where he won a Gold Glove in a bad year for first basemen. After that, he ranged from adequate to really not adequate at all. His life time average of .263 included three years of walking the Mendoza Line pretty well. In fact, LaRussa once kept him out of a season finale for fear he would end up below .200 for the season. His on-base percentage was below .400, despite being a feared hitter worthy of intentional walking for much of the last decade of his career. He wasn't much on the basepaths, as attested to by his once every three years triple rate and less than a stolen base a year rate. Basically, he was a more successful Dave Kingman. But he had that magical year.

McGwire shouldn't be enshrined for that year anymore than Maris has been (and you can add Paul Henderson to the lot of good players with one starring moment, as passed over would-be hall-of-famers). He was a good player who hit prodigious taters. We all 'suspected' he was juiced, so our sense of awe and wonder has been cooled over the years. We know now that our suspicions were right.

Despite all of that desultory stats-repeating, the fact is that McGwire would be in the Hall today if he'd been a better man. Fact is, he might very well have equaled his feats juice-free. Even he understands today that his overly-muscular build, fueled by steroids, probably led to more injuries than he might otherwise have endured. Ironic, given his defense that he used steroids to get OVER injuries. A LOT of people think he had that capability. And even after the career was kaputsky, he could have solidified his reputation on that day in Washington when he had the chance to come clean. He could have blown the whole steroid era to pieces by telling the truth. He could have become the anti-steroid crusader that kids could believe in. He carried all of the baggage of Jose Canseco without the slime that stopped too many people from believing Canseco, the patient zero of the insidious infection that was steroid use in major league baseball.

So, Monday's self-serving statement does nothing to revise the facts. Mark McGwire was a deeply flawed man and baseball player. And Cooperstown will always be a place he can only visit.

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