There isn't anything new to say about McGwire's HOF qualifications. His critics characterize him as a one-dimensional slugger; even if that were true, what a dimension: Mark McGwire hit home runs with greater frequency than any other player in MLB history (one every 10.6 AB). At the time of his retirement, he ranked ninth on the career HR list with 583. His career batting average (.263) is low, but with a sparkling on-base percentage of .388, it’s also irrelevant. McGwire excelled at the two most important aspects of hitting: power (.588 SLG) and patience (1317 BB in 1874 G). His career OPS+ of 163 ties him with Jimmy Foxx for 13th on the all-time list, ahead of Stan Musial (159), Albert Pujols (157), Miguel Cabrera (155) and Frank Thomas (154). His five-year peak (.287/.438/.702; 284 HR, 191 OPS+) represents one of the most dominant hitting stretches of the 20th century. He should have been named NL MVP in 1998, but placed a distant second to his partner (or accomplice, depending on one’s point of view) in home run heroics, Sammy Sosa.
McGwire was an enormous man with bad legs, so he couldn’t run at all. He was an albatross on the bases, struck out too much, and played too little. He was also a relatively poor defender – deficits reflected in his career WAR total (62). According to Jay Jaffe's JAWs scale, which compares a player's career and peak WAR to those of his peers in the Hall of Fame, McGwire rates as just about "average" for a HOF first baseman (McGwire JAWs: 52; Avg. HOF 1B JAWs: 54). Rating as an "average" Hall of Famer – particularly if one's career was truncated by injury (McGwire fell short of 8000 PA) – certainly isn't a case against induction. In fact, it's hard to find any real reason to keep McGwire out of --
Big Mac, unlike Bonds, Clemens, or A-Rod, doesn't have an unimpeachable statistical argument for induction. It's not clear that McGwire would have amassed his eye-popping career totals without the aid of chemical enhancement – just as it's unclear the drugs did anything to help McGwire (but it must be noted that McGwire's career trajectory at the time he is rumored to have started his drug regimen was very different than that of Bonds or Clemens; at the conclusion of his age-30 season, McGwire's career line stood at .250/362/.507, with 238 HRs – hardly the stuff of a baseball immortal). Of the four faces on baseball's "Mt. Rushmore of PEDs," McGwire has the weakest HOF case – but it's still strong enough by plenty. He was one of the most devastating hitters in history, and if Plate Coverage had a vote to give, we'd give it to him.
Unfortunately, for McGwire, Plate Coverage doesn't have a vote. McGwire, as he has for the last decade, will fall short of induction. And while one imagines McGwire has no real expectations of ever getting elected (his support peaked at 23.7% in 2010, after all), one wouldn't blame him if he finds the VC vote particularly galling.
Because Allan "Bud" Selig is going to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
It's an incomplete summation of the man and his tenure. Selig not only oversaw the game's greatest geographic expansion, he led the game's greatest sustained economic expansion (per Graham Womack at the Sporting News, annual revenues went from $2 billion to $9 billion under his watch, a compound annual growth rate of about 8%). He negotiated and approved landmark television and merchandising deals, and led baseball's "early adopter" efforts with regard to streaming technology (it was reported earlier this year that the Walt Disney Company took a stake in MLB Advanced Media; while details weren't made public, it was estimated that the deal values the company at $3.5 billion).
He also redefined the role of commissioner, transforming it from a benevolent dictatorship charged with upholding the integrity of the game (and keeping the owners' avarice from running amok), to that of a chief executive role, charged with managing the business and growing the bottom line. A former owner, Selig saw his role as one of maximizing returns for his shareholders (the owners) – and in this regard, he was superb at his job (that labor, i.e. the players, also benefited from his business acumen is beyond dispute – the average MLB salary increased from approximately $1.1 million to $3.4 million during his reign). By the only measure that mattered to his constituents, Selig was the most successful Commissioner the game has ever known.
Of course, Selig was acting commissioner when the most calamitous work-stoppage (1994-1995) in the history of the game took place (he was firmly in the corner of ownership). He is the only commissioner to preside over an October without a World Series. He, like every other owner in the 1980s, engaged in collusion to restrict free agency and artificially suppress player salaries.
And it is under his leadership that the use of performance-enhancing drugs proliferated throughout the game.
Selig has always denied having any knowledge of the scope of the PED scourge prior to the findings presented in the Mitchell Report. It was Selig, after all, who commissioned the report in the wake of Jose Canseco's blockbuster memoir; it was Selig who pushed through new rules forbidding the use of steroids and other substances; and it was Selig who instituted the testing procedures and penalties that have, undeniably, reduced usage rates across baseball. His supporters will tell you that once Selig learned, to his great surprise and chagrin, of baseball's PED infestation, he took every measure to rid the game of a potentially existential pest (now seems like a good time to point out that baseball didn't test for steroids or other PEDs prior to 2003).
Is it possible Bud Selig didn't know anything about the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout the sport he oversaw? Sure. Anything is possible. It's certainly plausible – even likely – that Selig wasn't aware of the true scale of PED use throughout baseball. But to claim total ignorance (while at the same time marketing and promoting your home run heroes) seems a stretch.
Because if you believe Bud Selig didn't know anything about the rampant drug use that defined MLB culture while propelling attendance and revenue records, you believe Selig's corporate lieutenants didn't know.
If you believe MLB executives didn't know, you believe none of the 30 owners knew what was happening on their respective clubs.
If you believe the owners were ignorant, then you might buy that general managers and operations staff were also in the dark.
If you believe GMs were in the dark, then you'd buy the theory that managers and coaches were also blissfully unaware of what was going on in the clubhouse.
If you believe managers were unaware of what was happening, then you would concede that the medical personnel, trainers and nutritionists employed by every club had no idea that players were using.
Which means you might buy the notion that the hundreds of players actively using PEDs over the course of the "Selig Era" (roughly 1994 – 2006) were islands unto themselves; you believe they didn't talk; you believe they didn't compare drug regimens, or workout plans, or reliable sources for the substances they were ingesting and injecting into their bodies.
Of course, the far more likely explanation is that a number of people at every level of MLB – from the clubhouse to the commissioner's office – knew, to varying degrees, about PED use (including some writers who covered the game – amphetamines were openly distributed in major league locker rooms for decades). They knew, and they didn't care. And why should they? Juiced players led to juiced attendance, which led to juiced revenues and a juiced bottom line – everybody benefited; everybody was happy.
Until they weren't.
We all know what happened next: Records fell. Suspensions were served. BALCO. Biogenesis. Congressional testimony. Finger-wagging. "The Cream and the Clear." A HOF electorate that took it upon themselves to sift through the wreckage and apply judgement via the ballot.
Selig, to a large degree, cleaned up the mess MLB made of itself on his watch. But this was janitorial service. He did nothing to prevent the spill; he only mopped it up. Fair or not, it is his visage – not the scowling Bonds or the smiling Sosa – that should serve as the face of the "steroid era."
Bud Selig will be elected to the hall of fame – and he deserves the honor. He is, for better and for worse, among the most influential and important figures in the game's history.
It's appropriate that Mark McGwire – a product of the era Selig led – share the stage with him on induction day.