McGwire falls well short of Hall of Fame
Former slugger garners 23.5 percent of enshrinement vote
In Mark McGwire's case, the straw polls told the truth.
McGwire's chances for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame were the topic of intense speculation and polling for weeks, and every poll told virtually the same story: McGwire would garner enough votes to stay on the ballot, but well shy of 50 percent, never mind the 75 percent needed for induction.
One voter after another weighed in, online or in print, as to why he or she felt McGwire did or did not deserve induction. McGwire's candidacy was studied with the intensity of a senate race. And the pollsters, it turned out, had a pretty good read on the situation. Polls tended to put McGwire's support at somewhere between 20 and 40 percent.
As predicted, McGwire fell far short of the vote total needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown when the balloting results were announced on Tuesday. The former A's and Cardinals slugger was named on 128 of the 545 ballots, or 23.5 percent. Two other first-ballot candidates, however, will be inducted in July. Cal Ripken Jr. received 98.5 percent of the votes (537 total), and Tony Gwynn received 97.6 percent (532 total), the only two inductees receiving the required votes.
So McGwire will remain on the ballot, having easily cleared the 5 percent threshold to keep from being removed from consideration. But McGwire has a long, long way to go if he is ever to be voted in among the immortals.
Sentiments regarding McGwire and the Hall ranged widely, even within each camp. He is the first serious candidate for induction to have been painted with the brush of the "steroids era."
For what it's worth, though, one of the new immortals believes McGwire should be by his side. Gwynn said in a teleconference on Tuesday that McGwire ought to be a Hall of Famer, and that McGwire has been made a scapegoat.
"You all knew about it," said Gwynn, referring to the media. "The players knew it and the owners knew it. But nobody did anything about it."
Ripken, as he has done throughout the past few months, sidestepped the issue.
"I don't think it's my place [to give an opinion]," Ripken said during his conference call. "I know that it exists, and that it's a story doesn't bother me one bit. But when I sit and look at myself, I don't think it's my place to cast judgment. I honestly believe the truth will be known. But right now we're dealing with an awful lot of assumptions and speculation and not a lot of facts."
McGwire finished his career with 583 home runs, which at the time was fifth on the all-time list. He still stands seventh on the career list, and he is first all-time in the category of fewest at-bats per home run. He retired with a .263 batting average, .394 on-base percentage and .588 slugging percentage. McGwire amassed 1,414 RBIs and scored 1,167 runs. He won a Gold Glove in 1990 and was a 12-time All-Star.
McGwire retired before the advent of baseball's testing program for performance-enhancing drugs, but he has been associated with the scandal. In his book, "Juiced," former teammate Jose Canseco claimed that he and McGwire injected steroids together. McGwire was called to testify before Congress in the spring of 2005, and his refusal to deny steroid usage disappointed many of his supporters.
As a result of the issue, some "yes" voters admitted they did so with hesitation or reservations, while some had little trepidation. "No" votes came with an even wider range of rationales -- some wrote that they could not ever vote for McGwire in good conscience, while others wrote that they were still trying to grasp the greater context of the era. Still others argued that McGwire's performance alone did not make him worthy of the Hall.
McGwire has made a point of being virtually unreachable for interviews during his retirement. He retains some ardent public supporters, however, starting with his former manager, Tony La Russa.
"I'm hoping that he gets that honor sooner rather than later," La Russa said in an interview last November. "I don't know how to tell you the context as far as an answer. I just know there are issues that guys, fans raise, media raise, and however they get sorted out.
"Whether you're a member of the media or if you're a fan, I think everybody looks at it individually and has their own opinion. I have my own opinion, which I've made clear. I've never backed off or changed it."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.