Hall of Fame ballots with Mark McGwire's name arrive in the mail this week and already baseball writers are squirming with the biggest dilemma we've faced since trying to get a $25 receipt for an $8.99 all-you-can-eat meal at Sizzler:
How are we to vote on Mark McGwire and all the other steroid suspects who will follow in coming years?
The question seems frustratingly problematic at first but the answer is actually quite easy. All you have to do is refer to The Hypocrite's Guide to Voting on Mark McGwire.
You knew McGwire was taking andro in 1998's home run chase and suspected he was taking something much stronger but nonetheless repeatedly wrote stories glorifying his deeds and crediting him with "saving baseball." You now have no additional evidence other than those same old suspicions, but you are nonetheless repeatedly writing stories condemning his actions and blaming him for ruining baseball. Therefore you clearly must not vote for McGwire, because that was then and this is now.
You constantly ridicule grandstanding politicians and bureaucratic government committees in your columns but when you saw grandstanding politicians drag McGwire before a bureaucratic government committee, you were appalled that he did not show the proper respect by fully answering their questions. You feel that he greatly damaged his reputation, effectively admitted his guilt and gave the sport a black eye by saying, "I am not here to talk about the past." You also write stories claiming that the government has no right to force reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams to testify before a grand jury, and that it will cripple the First Amendment if they so much as state their names. Therefore you must not vote for McGwire because everyone knows he should have testified when he was subpoenaed while reporters should never have to do so under the well-established legal principle of "that was him, and this is us."
You firmly believe McGwire never would have gotten anywhere close to his home run marks without cheating by taking steroids. You also nod and laugh when you hear stories about how Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford cheated their way to 314 and 236 wins, respectively, by loading up their pitches with Vaseline or scuffing the baseballs with sharpened belt buckles and wedding rings. You therefore must not vote for McGwire because cheating with steroids is evil, while cheating with doctored baseballs is nothing more than good, old-school baseball.
You have known since reading "Ball Four" that a vast number of players since at least the 1960s have been taking amphetamines. You also look at the players of the '60s, '70s and '80s as representative of when the game was clean and level. Therefore you must not vote for McGwire, because steroids gave him a grossly unfair advantage while amphetamines are nothing more than a harmless pick-me-up.
You have gained 78 pounds since leaving college and 11 pounds just since Thanksgiving. You are certain McGwire was on steroids (and Barry Bonds as well) because they are so much bigger now than they were as rookies. You therefore must not vote for McGwire because no one gets that big without taking steroids.
You disregard McGwire's home run totals, because he reached them with the help of steroids in an era in which offensive stats were greatly inflated. You also hold as sacred the offensive statistics compiled by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and others during an era when black and Latino competitors were banned from the game. You therefore must not vote for McGwire, because his numbers are suspect unlike those of the players from the clean golden age.
You feel that letting steroid users into the Hall of Fame will cheapen the institution and insult the legacy of the players already enshrined. You therefore must not vote for McGwire because you must preserve the integrity of Cooperstown for such Hall of Famers/cheapskates/bigots as Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Charles Comiskey and Tom Yawkey.
You constantly write that baseball must strengthen its steroid testing but you yourself are able to tell whether a player was on steroids just by looking at him in the clubhouse. Therefore you must not vote for McGwire because he obviously took steroids, and you must give Cal Ripken Jr. a pass and everyone else for whom you will eventually vote because, duh, obviously they did not.
Is all that clear? Good. Now fill out your ballot and we'll get back to you with another guide when Barry Bonds comes up for a vote in six or so years.
But seriously, folks
Before you write in no, I am not saying Ripken took steroids. I don't believe either he or Tony Gwynn took any performance enhancers and I will vote for them without hesitation and eagerly await their acceptance speeches for the honor both so richly deserve. But I never suspected Ryan Franklin or Alex Sanchez took steroids, either. The point is, we just don't know who did and who did not take performance enhancers, other than the players who have tested positive. To withhold votes on some players we suspect because they fit a certain profile is no more valid than arresting and convicting someone of a crime because they fit a profile. Fitting a profile is not proof of guilt, just as NOT fitting a profile is not proof of innocence.
We can and should, however, legitimately view the home run totals of the steroid era as inflated, just as we raise our eyebrows at the ERA figures from the dead-ball era. All baseball statistics should be viewed within the context of when they were achieved. If offensive numbers were high in a certain era as they were in the early 1930s and much of the 1990s we must take that into consideration. If offensive numbers were down in a certain era, we must take that into consideration as well. We do this all the time, not just with the steroid era.
So how will I vote on McGwire? I already made it clear in a World Series column that I will vote for him, mostly because of the point I made in the first argument of The Hypocrite's Guide. We (media, fans, baseball officials) all had our suspicions regarding McGwire when he was delighting us with his performance in the mid- and late '90s. We didn't have a problem with those suspicions then, so why should we care so damn much now? If we had such an enormous problem with his possible steroid use, the time to express our disgust was then, not now.
And we writers aren't alone on this remember, fans voted McGwire onto the All-Century team in 1999, giving him nearly five times as many votes at first base as Willie McCovey.
Tell your statistics to shut up
In other Hall of Fame news, McGwire's old Bash Brother, Jose Canseco, is also on the ballot for the first time this year, though he wouldn't be considered a serious candidate even if he hadn't admitted to steroid use. (Admitted? Hell, bragged is more like it.) But Jose is a noteworthy candidate in that he's on the ballot despite not actually being retired from professional baseball. Remember, he played this season for the San Diego Surf Dawgs and the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League. He hit .169 with four home runs and nine RBIs, plus 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in a 4 1/3 inning start.
This may not be clearly linked to baseball but It only took an 18-year wait, the completion (more or less) of the Big Dig, the Red Sox winning the World Series, a best-selling CD of the same name by Gnarls Barkley and Howie Mandel starring in a hit series, but "St. Elsewhere" finally became available on DVD this week.
Set in the fictional Boston hospital of St. Eligius, "St. Elsewhere" is the best drama in TV history. Why only the first season is available instead of the entire run of a series that launched the careers of Denzel Washington (Dr. Philip Chandler), Helen Hunt (Dr. Boomer Morrison's girlfriend), David Morse (Dr. Boomer Morrison), Mark Harmon (Dr. Robert Caldwell), Alfre Woodard (Dr. Roxanne Turner) and even Tim Robbins (he played a bomber in the first season) is a question that only true geniuses such as Bill Belichick or Tony La Russa could answer. For crying out loud, the classic final episode aired in 1988 when Barry Bonds had only 50 career home runs and a 7½ cap size yet it still isn't available. But at least fans get the first season and another chance to watch a fully coiffed Mandel (Dr. Wayne Fiscus) wearing his famous Red Sox cap again. Of course, we'll have to wait for the release of the fifth season when Fiscus has a near-death experience, goes to heaven and sees that God has taken the form of Lou Gehrig. Requisite baseball tie-in question for readers: Which cap did you prefer seeing Fiscus wear? The traditional Sox cap or the throwback '70s-style version?
Seattle fans may be nearing a city record for rainfall in any month (15.26 inches and counting in November with just seven-hundredths of an inch left to go) and have watched the Mariners decline from 116 wins in 2001 to three consecutive last-place finishes but at least their team extended utility player Willie Bloomquist's contract to 2008. Whew! This move came after the Mariners gave Bloomquist a two-year contract last winter three years before he would be eligible for free agency. Seattle needs another starter and a home run threat in the middle of the lineup, but at least the Mariners have locked up a guy who hit .247 with one home run and 15 RBIs last season.
With the initial rumors that Scott Boras is playing hardball with the Red Sox and pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka asking for a reported three-year, $42 million contract compared to Boston's offer of about half that we have to at least consider the possibility that Boston won the posting fee simply to keep the Yankees from signing him. In case the Red Sox do sign him and if Boras gets close to what he wants, the Sox may end up spending $30 million a season (including the posting fee) for a player who has never thrown a pitch in the majors. Which makes almost as much sense as signing J.D. Drew to a $70 million contract.
OK, this doesn't have anything at all to do with baseball, but we still have to comment. When it became clear that USC would beat Notre Dame on Saturday and take over as the likeliest team to play Ohio State for the national championship in Arizona, Brent Musburger said, "The road to Glendale, Ariz., is paved with Trojans." We suspect that Brent immediately slapped his forehead and thought, "That didn't come out right, did it?" It was an inadvertently funny line and the obvious rejoinder was, "You know what, Brent? Since Matt Leinart went from USC to the Arizona Cardinals, that might be literally true." (BTW: How much money will Notre Dame give coach Charlie Weis if he ever beats a Top 20 team instead of only the unranked opponents on the schedule?)
And finally Jay Buhner is on the Hall of Fame ballot as well, and while his 310 career home runs and strong arm won't get him many votes, this is as good a time as any to mention once again the classic moment from "Seinfeld," when George Steinbrenner shows up at the Costanzas' home with the bad news that he believes their son, George, is dead.
Estelle (crying): "I can't believe it, he was so young. How could this have happened?"
Steinbrenner: "Well, he'd been logging some pretty heavy hours, first one in in the morning, last one to leave at night. That kid was a human dynamo."
Estelle: "Are you sure you're talking about George?"
Steinbrenner: "You are Mr. and Mrs. Costanza?"
Frank (yelling): "What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?!? He had 30 home runs, over 100 RBIs last year, he's got a rocket for an arm, you don't know what the hell you're doin'!!"
Steinbrenner: "Well, Buhner was a good prospect, no question about it. But my baseball people love Ken Phelps' bat. They kept saying 'Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps.'"
Buhner may not deserve a plaque on the wall in Cooperstown, but that scene should be playing on an endless loop somewhere in the Hall.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site, jimcaple.com, also will be back up later this week or early next, with more installments of 24 College Avenue.