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McGwire good for only 1 out of 4 for Hall of Fame vote

11/28/2006 - MLB

NEW YORK -- For one glorious summer, Mark McGwire was bigger
than baseball itself. America stopped to watch each time he came to
the plate, and cheered every time he sent a ball into orbit.

He could do no wrong, it seemed. Surely he would be a shoo-in
for the Hall of Fame someday.

And then came that day on Capitol Hill. Over and over, the big
slugger was asked about possible steroid use, and his reputation
took hit after hit as he refused to answer, saying he wouldn't talk
about his past.

Now, with Hall ballots in the mail, McGwire's path to baseball
immortality may have hit a huge roadblock.

The Associated Press surveyed about 20 percent of eligible
voters, and only one in four who gave an opinion plan to vote for
McGwire this year. That's far short of the 75 percent necessary to
gain induction.

"There is a clause on the ballot indicating that character
should be considered and after his nonperformance at the
congressional hearings his character certainly comes into play,"
said the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy.

"He doesn't want to talk about the past?" he said, "Then I
don't want to consider his past."

McGwire, who hit 583 career home runs, headlines the ballot
released Monday along with Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn. Results
will be announced in early January.

"Mark fits the criteria, just like everyone else," Hall
chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. "We've been very pleased with the
judgment exercised by the writers over the past 70 years of voting.

"The ballot says a player's record of achievement,
contributions to the teams, the game, their character, longevity
and sportsmanship should be considered. I think this year's
balloting will be interesting," she said.

The AP contacted, via e-mails and telephone, about 150 of the
approximately 575 present or former members of the Baseball
Writers' Association of America who are eligible to cast ballots.
Of that number, 125 responded, including 25 AP sports writers. Most
of the voters' names were obtained in the Major League Baseball
media directory.

And the breakdown was:

• 74 will not vote for McGwire.
• 23 will vote for him.
• 16 are undecided.
• 5 refused to say.
• 5 aren't allowed to vote by their employers.
• 2 will abstain from voting.

That means if all the undecideds and those refusing to say voted
for McGwire, and everyone else voted, McGwire would need 84 percent
of the rest to get into the Hall.

Chaz Scoggins of The Sun in Lowell, Mass., was among McGwire's
supporters.

"He wasn't breaking any baseball rules during his career," he
said. "As for using performance-enhancing substances, the fact
that so many pitchers have been detected using them kind of evens
the playing field."

The St. Louis Cardinals, McGwire's last team, suggested calls
for McGwire be left with his business manager, Jim Milner. A
message left Monday at Milner's office was not returned.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't address McGwire
specifically, saying it was unclear how this generation of home run
hitters will be judged.

"Time will tell. We'll have to work our way through all of
it," he said Monday night. "All we can do realistically is take
care of the present and the future."

McGwire played in the majors from 1986-2001, the first 12
seasons with the Oakland Athletics and the rest with the Cardinals.

When he hit 70 homers in 1998 -- breaking the mark of 61 Roger
Maris had set 37 years earlier -- McGwire became a national hero for
his Paul Bunyan-like physique and feats. A year later, part of an
interstate highway in St. Louis was named after McGwire. Large
signs at both the current and previous Busch Stadium called
attention to "Big Mac Land," ads for McDonald's referencing
McGwire.

But his reputation plummeted following allegations by former
teammate Jose Canseco, who claimed in a 2005 book and subsequent
interviews that the Bash Brothers used steroids together while
playing on the A's.

And then came McGwire's testimony to a congressional committee
on March 17, 2005, when he repeatedly avoided questions, saying
time after time: "I'm not here to talk about the past."

That appearance and those allegations are still fresh in the
minds of many voters.

"He won't get my vote this year, next year or any year," said
the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan.

When the AP conducted a survey of Hall voters during the week
following McGwire's testimony, 56 percent of the 117 voters who
gave an opinion said they would support his induction.

Ballots will be mailed to voters this week and must be
postmarked by Dec. 31. Results will be announced Jan. 9, and
inductions will take place July 29.

Players who have appeared in 10 seasons and have been retired
for five years are eligible for consideration by a six-member BBWAA
screening committee, and a player goes on the ballot if he is
supported by at least two screening committee members.

A player remains on the ballot for up to 15 elections as long as
he gets 5 percent of the votes every year. McGwire appears to be in
no danger of missing that mark.

Gwynn and Ripken are considered virtual locks for election.
Canseco also is on the ballot for the first time but is not
expected to come close to election.

Gwynn isn't sure whether McGwire used steroids.

"I think he's a Hall of Famer, myself," Gwynn said. "He hit
500 or so homers, almost 600. I think we have no proof whether he
did or not. Canseco said he did. He didn't perform well at the
congressional hearing, and I think that will stick with people more
than anything else. He's on the ballot, too. I have no control over
that."

Hall voters will face additional questions when other players
accused of steroid use go on the ballot. Sammy Sosa and Rafael
Palmeiro become eligible for 2011 and Barry Bonds, who plans to
play next season, sometime after that.

Others view it as a matter of baseball rules. Baseball did not
have an agreement with its players' union to ban steroids until
after the 2002 season.

Some writers say they might vote for McGwire in future years but
won't consider him on this ballot, not wanting to give him the
extra honor of getting elected on the first ballot.

"I don't plan to vote for him on the first ballot, but I do
plan to vote for him," said former Chicago Tribune writer Jerome
Holtzman, baseball's official historian.

Some players have seen their support increase over time. Jimmie
Foxx got 10 votes when he first appeared on the ballot in 1947,
then was elected with 179 votes four years later.

Dave Kingman (442) has the most home runs for a player who has
been on the Hall of Fame ballot and was not elected -- he received
three votes in his only appearance, in 1992, and was dropped.

Among the 33 players above Kingman on the career home run list,
20 are in the Hall, seven are active (Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank
Thomas, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Gary
Sheffield), four haven't been retired the necessary five years
(Sosa, Palmeiro, Fred McGriff and Jeff Bagwell) and two are on the
ballot for the first time (McGwire and Canseco).

Eleven of the 15 Hall of Famers with 500 homers were elected on
the first ballot. The exceptions were Mel Ott (third ballot),
Harmon Killebrew (fourth ballot), Foxx (fifth ballot) and Eddie
Mathews (sixth ballot).