You may have heard that Mark McGwire did not make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ve been somewhat torn over McGwire and baseball steroid issue for a while now. Line56.com had an interesting article that uses McGwire’s situation as a market analogy:
“If baseball fans hadn’t salivated over the McGwire-Sosa home run derby, and appreciated Ichiro’s style of baseball more, steroids wouldn’t have taken over the big leagues. If we remained willing to pay $22 for DVDs, Wal-Mart workers wouldn’t be paid minimum wage. Why should Mark McGwire and Wal-Mart suffer for our greed?”
That’s essentially how I feel about this whole issue. Let’s face it, we’re taking McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, and others down for basically giving us what we wanted. Often the 1998 McGwire-Sosa home run chase is credited with saving baseball. I don’t know if I’ll go that far, but it did serve as a huge turnaround. Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci has become the resident watchdog for purity in baseball, but even he was not immune. When recapping the ’98 season he called McGwire’s 70 home runs “good for baseball.” Yeah, we were all turning a blind eye to the obvious.
Still, I’m glad the Hall of Fame voters stood up and erred on the side of ethics. What we value one moment and what we honor for a lifetime are two different concepts. Baseball, for better or worse, is a game of tradition and a game of comparison. Perhaps most of all, it is a game of purity and innocence. Or, at least, we’d like to think it is.
When San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman failed a performance-enhancing drug test earlier this season, he was suspended four games. He came back and was elected to the Pro Bowl. When baseball’s Rafael Palmeiro committed the same gaff, we knew his legacy was destroyed.
But football has a much shorter memory. As rules and records are broken, the game moves into the future, fixated on next Sunday. Baseball, on the other hand, looks to the past. It is linked in our minds to history. Knowing what we know now about the use of steroids in baseball, it is not hard for fans to extrapolate backwards to Mark McGwire.
He may have saved baseball, but his day in Cooperstown will have to wait.