Mark McGwire, like the mythic figure of Babe Ruth, seemed to transcend the game. Massive muscles, topped only by mammoth blasts that reached the upper levels of seats, were his calling card. A huge man who stood 6’5″ while weighing something like 250 (or more) pounds, he was a cartoon character who made pitchers look foolish when they grooved a pitch. He was a generational icon who did what he did – blast long balls – just about as well as anyone who had ever played the game.
Alas, McGwire’s run as a hero to many was destroyed well before it should have been when he was tainted by the whole PED scandal (Performance Enhancing Drugs). I’m not here to say whether or not he did anything illegal, goodness knows there have been reams of articles dealing with that very subject (for my thoughts on the topic take a look at Death of the Hero). The bottom line is that unless you want to exclude every player who suited up from 1995-2005 from the Hall of Fame, you have to make the decision to judge the players based on the merit of their works on the field and not by the suppositions of the masses. If everyone was or wasn’t cheating isn’t the point. The point is we don’t know who was “cheating,” we don’t have anyway of knowing who was cheating, and there will never be a way to prove, one or another, who was cheating. So let’s just examine McGwire through the lens of the men that he played against to see how he ranks, and by extension, whether or not he should be elected to the Hall of Fame in his fourth year on the ballot (I’m under no illusions that he will be selected for enshrinement, he certainly will not).
* McGwire, a pitcher in college at USC, started out his career as an offensive force being moved to third base before finally being shifted over to first base. In his first year in the bigs (1987), a 6’5″, 220 lbs McGwire won the Rookie of the Year award hitting .289 with 49 homers, 118 RBI and a .618 SLG (the HR and SLG led the league).
* McGwire never won the MVP award in his career, likely a result of a career batting average of just .263, but he still finished in the top-7 five different times finishing second to Sammy Sosa in 1998 despite hitting .299 with a then record 70 homers (he also scored 130 runs and knocked in 147 while posting a massive 1.222 OPS).
* Despite the plethora of talented men who played first base during his career, McGwire was named to the All-Star team 12 times. In fact, from 1987-2000 he missed out only in 1993 and 1994 when he was injured and limited to 27 and 47 games.
* From 1987 through his final year in the big leagues (2001), here is how McGwire ranked in a myriad of categories for that 15-year stretch.
McGwire hit 580 homers, the most in baseball (Barry Bonds had 551).
McGwire had 1,405 RBI, third most in baseball (Bonds had 1,494).
McGwire had a .590 SLG, the third best mark in baseball (Bonds and Manny Ramirez led the way at .594).
McGwire had a .985 OPS, fourth in baseball (Bonds at 1.017).
McGwire clearly dominated when compared to his peers, a fact that isn’t lost when we compare him to the immortals of the game. Here are McGwire all-time ranks in a handful of categories.
583 home runs, 8th all-time
1,414 RBI, 66th all-time
.394 OBP, 78th all-time
.588 SLG, 9th all-time
.982 OPS, 11th all-time
Clearly this man was one of the greatest sluggers of all-time, period. To me, that record of achievement deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. I’ll leave the value judgments to others. What was it that Jesus said way back when? “Let he who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” (John 8:7).
To see my thoughts on others in my HOF series simply click on the following links:
By Ray Flowers