You are Mark McGwire and you spent Tuesday wondering how you went from national hero to national pariah so quickly.
Oh, you understand people think you cheated. You get that. How could you not? Even holed up in your Fortress of Solitude, you can't avoid hearing people bitch about it. And hey, you're down with that. No one likes a cheater, whether it's Ben Johnson, a spouse or someone who claims he landed on Chance instead of Park Place.
But what you don't get is the inconsistent application of this moral outrage. Hell, no one complains about steroid use in football. Use steroids in the NFL and they send you to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. But if you use steroids in baseball, they want to send you to jail. Why the double standard? Why does one sport get cocoa butter and the other gets subpoenas?
You also don't remember people being so concerned about this issue back when you still were hitting home runs. Sure, there was a spirited discussion about performance enhancers during the summer of 1998 when an Associated Press reporter spotted a bottle of androstenedione in your locker. And as you recall, after many columns and much talk-show ranting, the national consensus was that while andro was a steroid "precursor" nobody cared; they just wanted to see more home runs.
What has happened between when Time Magazine named you a Hero of the Year in 1998 and now? Time excused your use of andro because it protected you from muscle tears, praised you for not stopping "to rip off the head of the reporter who had gone peeking into your locker" and dismissed the whole controversy by writing:
" whatever else it does, it can't help a player's timing, his hand-eye coordination, his ability to discern a slider from a splitter. But even if andro improved his power by an unlikely, oh, five percent, then instead of 70 home runs, McGwire this year would have hit maybe 67."
How can writers who credited you then with saving the game now refuse to vote you into the Hall of Fame? How could fans who cheered your long home runs and lavished praise on your broad shoulders and powerful biceps now pretend that they honestly didn't suspect what was going on then? Were they really that naive then or are they just hypocritical now?
Besides, what was so wrong about trying to improve your performance the same way so many others were doing at the time? (Including certain pitchers you don't care to name.) Certainly no one who cheered you in St. Louis seemed to care at the time what your methods were. Certainly no fans cheering Barry Bonds in San Francisco or cheering Jason Giambi in New York cared what those players did as long as they kept hitting home runs. Certainly the Tigers didn't care what Gary Sheffield did when they recently traded for him. Nor did the Mets care about what Guillermo Mota did when they recently signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract.
Why is it acceptable for fans to cheer a suspected steroid user as long as he's hitting home runs for their team and then turn around and condemn him when he isn't?
OK, you admit your appearance before Congress was a public-relations disaster. You might as well have said you embezzled retirement funds from little old ladies for all the good it did your reputation. But you also wonder how other people would react if they were subpoenaed to appear before Congress and forced to testify about what they might have done years earlier. You wonder just how honest and forthcoming sportswriters would be if a senator questioned them on national TV about whether they ever took free tickets from a team they covered, or doctored a quote to make a player sound better, or put a cab ride they never took on the expense report or violated any other rule of journalism (and the federal tax code).
And yeah, you also probably regret saying, "I'm not here to talk about the past." That was as big a mistake as ever trusting Jose Canseco. You never should have said that. What you should have said is, "It's none of the government's damn business whether a baseball player took steroids seven years ago. If you're so damn concerned about 'the nation's children' why don't you return all your campaign contributions from big tobacco and the alcohol industry? Better yet, why don't you figure out how to solve the mess in Iraq that's growing worse by the day and killing 1,000 civilians a month?"
You are Mark McGwire, and you once hoped to spend Tuesday celebrating your election to the Hall of Fame. Instead, you did what you do every day. You played golf and wondered what you did that was so damn awful.
Tell your statistics to shut up
The votes are in, and as expected, the presence of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn as obvious first-ballot Hall of Famers hurt most of the players on the bubble. While Goose Gossage rose from 64.6 percent to 71.2 percent start writing your 2008 induction speech, Goose every other holdover except Dave Concepcion lost ground.
Jim Rice fell from 64.8 percent to 63.5 percent. Bert Blyleven lost his big momentum by falling from 53.3 percent to 47.7 percent, and Andre Dawson dropped from 61 percent to 56.7 percent. I was about to criticize the BBWAA for its inconsistency, but then I saw the ESPN.com reader survey. Only 76 percent of you would have voted for Ripken and only 74.7 percent for Gwynn. There is no rounding up in the Hall of Fame vote so that means readers would not have elected a guy with 3,141 hits, a .328 career average and eight batting titles. What's the deal with that? Did we use butterfly ballots on the form?
The Randy Johnson trade makes sense from New York's perspective the Yankees don't have to pay a 43-year-old pitcher with a bad back (and a 5.00 ERA last year) $18 million this season. It's not so easy to understand from Arizona's perspective. Yes, the Unit is nearing 300 victories (he needs 20), and we've learned not to underestimate him, but he will be 46 by the end of the contract extension the Diamondbacks gave him. The Snakes already owed Johnson $44 million in deferred payments from his previous contract with him, then just tacked on another $26 million obligation to a pitcher who may be at the end of the line. That said, enough of this talk that Johnson couldn't handle pitching in New York. He handled the Yankees quite well when he beat them twice in the 1995 division series and three times in the 2001 World Series.
Here's hoping that baseball never gives into the temptation to start using a bracket to display its World Series "tournament" or refer to teams being seeded the way the NFL and NBA have in an obvious attempt to copy the NCAA basketball tournament. Sorry, but the professional postseasons are not tournaments. There is no seeding. No committee meets to rank teams. Teams don't sit around the clubhouse on Selection Sunday waiting to see whether they got an invitation. No one says, "Hmm, the AL Central was particularly tough this year, so we're going to take three teams from there and no one from the AL West. And then we're also going to give the Twins a first-round bye based on their strength of schedule." No team from a mid-major conference or the Pacific Coast League or the Northern League gets an invite and becomes the Cinderella team. So why do we see seeding references in the NFL playoffs? There is no seeding here, no computer rankings, no subjective rankings, no surprises. It's all based on your record. San Diego is not a No. 1 seed; the Chargers are the AFC West champions. The Jets are not a No. 5 seed; they are a wild-card team. The NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball postseasons are exciting enough they don't need to pretend to be something they aren't. We'll accept seeding and brackets in the pro playoffs just as soon as Boise State gets an at-large bid and upsets the Seahawks in the first round.
From left field
Once again, no one was voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously, but the good thing is that we're seeing a decline in the old curmudgeons who still believe that no one should be elected unanimously because Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Willie Mays, blah, blah, blah, weren't elected unanimously. Paul Ladewski, the Daily Southtown columnist who submitted a blank ballot because he wants more information before voting for any player from the steroid era, said that it would be a slap in the face of the past greats if a lesser player got in unanimously. Sorry, but the slap in the face came from the narrow-minded writers who refused to vote for Mays and Hank Aaron in the first place.
You want a slap in the face? Yogi Berra didn't even get in his first year. Warren Spahn wound up with more career victories (363) than Hall of Fame votes (316) when 64 writers left him off their ballots.
All that reminds us of the great Dick Young line about the guys who didn't vote for Mays: "If Jesus Christ were to show up with his old baseball glove, some guys wouldn't vote for him. He dropped the cross three times, didn't he?"
Take a look at the number of BBWAA writers who didn't vote for the following players:
|Snubbed on first ballot|
For another look at some strange BBWAA voting, check out Rob Neyer's piece on the baseball page.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is back up at a slightly different address, jimcaple.net, with more installments of 24 College Avenue. In addition to "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," his new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is on sale now.