Missing the Mark
Jan. 9: Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn top the list for Cooperstown's Hall of Fame, but for slugger Mark McGwire it's a swing and a miss. MSNBC.com's Dara Brown has the story.
NEW YORK - Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame bid was met with a rejection as emphatic as his upper-deck home runs.
While the door to Cooperstown swung open for Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn on Tuesday, McGwire was picked by less than a quarter of voters — a result that raises doubts about whether Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or other sluggers from baseball’s Steroids Era will ever gain entry.
McGwire, whose 583 home runs rank seventh on the career list, appeared on 128 of a record 545 ballots in voting released Tuesday by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“I hope that as time goes on, that number will increase,” Gwynn said. “I hope that one day he will get into the Hall of Fame, because I really believe he deserves it.”
The 23.5 percent vote McGwire received represented the first referendum on how history will judge an age when bulked-up players came under suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball didn’t ban steroids until after the 2002 season.
“We knew,” Gwynn said. “Players knew. Owners knew. Everybody knew, and we didn’t say anything about it.”
Gwynn, with an infectious laugh and smile, and Ripken, with cool professionalism, were different on and off the field. They both said they knew McGwire would take some attention from their elections, but while Gwynn was open with his opinion on Big Mac, Ripken was guarded. Ripken said Goose Gossage and Jim Rice belong in the Hall, but stayed away from whether McGwire should gain the honor.
“I don’t think it’s my place to actually cast judgment,” Ripken said.
He also rejected Gwynn’s assertion that steroid use was common knowledge.
“I didn’t know,” Ripken said. “Looking back, maybe I can be the most naive and most ignorant person around.”
As the announcement approached, fans, players and managers voiced their views. Many voters said McGwire was hurt by his 2005 congressional testimony, when he repeatedly evaded questions.
“There’s that big black cloud hanging over baseball with steroids,” Gossage said. “It’s a shame. There are a lot of great players in that era. Who knows what’s going to happen?”
Gwynn remembered the way McGwire “was able to really bring a town and a country together” when he hit a record 70 homers in 1998 — a mark Bonds broke when he hit 73 three years later. Gwynn predicted McGwire eventually will be elected.
Jim Milner, McGwire’s business representative, did not return telephone calls. McGwire, who lives in a gated community in Irvine, Calif., has made few public comments in recent years.
Ripken and Gwynn were rarities in the age of free agency, each spending his entire career with one team. They will be inducted during ceremonies July 29 at the Hall along with anyone elected from the Veterans Committee vote, which will be announced Feb. 27.
Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles shortstop who set baseball’s ironman record, was picked by 537 voters and appeared on 98.53 percent of ballots to finish with the third-highest percentage behind Tom Seaver (98.84) and Nolan Ryan (98.79).
Gwynn, who won eight batting titles with the San Diego Padres, received 532 votes for 97.61 percent, the seventh-highest ever, also trailing Ty Cobb, George Brett and Hank Aaron.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“All I wanted to hear was, ‘You’re in,”’ Ripken said. “I really didn’t get caught up in wanting to be unanimous or wanting to be the most.”
Gwynn worried that he might get 100 percent.
“For the last month, I think, that’s all I could think about, hoping that I didn’t get near that number,” he said. “We’ve never had one, and so I sure didn’t want to be that guy who was closest.”
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