Commentary

Still no Hall vote for Mark McGwire

Slugger got second chance as hitting coach, but doesn't deserve one for Cooperstown

Originally Published: December 27, 2010
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

Each year, as the participants of the steroid era retire and gray, filling out a Hall of Fame ballot grows more perilous. Playing judge and jury as a Hall of Fame voter is hard enough, and assessing players who played during one of the great corrupted eras adds the role of private investigator.

The question of Mark McGwire's candidacy is renewed only in light of his admission of steroid use during his career and subsequent apology as a condition of returning to the game as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. Yet for the fourth straight year, I will not cast a vote for McGwire.

[+] EnlargeMark McGwire
US PresswireMark McGwire profited greatly from his home run production.

Since being eligible, McGwire has never received more than 23.6 percent of the vote (75 percent is necessary for induction). His apology won't change my vote for him, nor should it.

A common theme in our collective narrative is that America is about second chances, and those second chances can lead to redemption and forgiveness. McGwire lied about his steroid use, then admitted it, and now can move on.

That is his current arc, and he is benefiting. His apology gave him exactly that -- a second chance to return to the game that made him famous, an opportunity to rehabilitate his public image after his disastrous congressional testimony 5½ ago, the chance to breathe again without the shadow of a humongous and obvious lie weighing him down.

He has received all of these things, but he doesn't get to have it all. McGwire made a very conscious bet: money and fame over any potential risk to his reputation. He took the money. Induction to the Hall of Fame was part of the risk. McGwire is working. He has his second chance. He is no longer a pariah. He got to keep his money, and the Hall of Fame is the price.

Apologies do not and should not equate to absolution. The slate isn't clean simply because one says he's sorry, and that now McGwire can resume as though his lies never took place, as though they are now less egregious, less demeaning and diminishing to himself or the people who believed in him.

There is much talk about the cost of McGwire's lies to McGwire, and how we should all move on because he simply said he was sorry, which of course was the least he could've done. McGwire was handsomely compensated for his steroid use. The risk paid off. He earned roughly $75 million in salary, which doesn't include endorsements. He played 16 seasons in the big leagues when injuries might have cut his career in half. He profited from the adulation of millions of fans, cheering his name as he rounded the bases for an entire summer based on a foundation ("I have never taken steroids") he knew to be false. This we know.

But less discussed is the cost of his lies to others, from the fans who watched a lie, to the people inside and outside the game who defended McGwire far more and with far more passion than he ever defended himself. His lies diminished them.

McGwire traded on the power of his famous name, the venerable name of the St. Louis Cardinals and the reputation of his respected manager, Tony La Russa, to intimidate others like Steve Wilstein, the reporter who asked McGwire about the bottle of androstenedione sitting in plain view of the clubhouse in 1998. McGwire counted on the power of his celebrity to humiliate a reporter who had done no wrong, to crush discussion of him because he knew an adoring public would believe him. La Russa tried to have Wilstein expelled from the clubhouse. Other writers, caught in the home run aroma of 1998, turned on Wilstein, and McGwire, who naturally knew his charade better than anyone, allowed his manager to fight his battle for him while he continued on with his illusion. He let it all happen for his own personal gain.

America is a place of second chances, redemptions and rehabilitations. Mark McGwire is enjoying his right now. He said was sorry. He took the questions. He received the support of the commissioner of baseball and one of the most respected clubs in baseball. He should not be hounded by questions of his past steroid use, and does not have to, in his famous words, "talk about the past." That is his second chance.

He did not believe enough in his ability to play baseball without illegal drug use, and that should never be rewarded by a Hall of Fame induction.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hbryant42 or reached at Howard.Bryant@espn.com.