Yes, we’re going there.
It won’t be pretty, and it will be controversial. But it’s time to delve into The Cooperstown Case… for Mark McGwire.
So, the casual baseball fan out there may not know why McGwire is such a polarizing athlete. After all, he (along with Sammy Sosa) had a historic 1998 home-run chase (which we’ll discuss later) that brought fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike. He also was the true bright spot on many average Cardinals teams during the 1990’s.
But for those who don’t know the “elephant in the room”, let’s just make one “minor detail” out in the open:
McGwire admitted to using steroids.
That right there could end the discussion.
BUT, this needs to be said (no matter how much it make be disagreed upon): as long as other steroid users remain on the ballot (and they will for years to come), then McGwire still has a case to be in the Hall of Fame.
The true question is: is it a good case?
While he most famously played for the Cardinals, McGwire played a good portion of his career with the Oakland Athletics. In his rookie season (1987), he hit a rookie record 49 home runs, notched 161 hits and 118 RBI’s to go along with his .289 batting average. He was named the 1987 AL Rookie of the Year.
Over the course of his career, McGwire averaged a home run once every 10.61 at bats: Babe Ruth averaged a home run once every 11.76 at-bats.
In his 12-year career with Oakland, McGwire his 363 home runs, 941 RBI’s, doubled 195 times, and had a batting average of .260. But in addition, he walked 847 times and struck out 1043 batters. His power-hitting duo with Jose Canseco (yes, another steroid user), also was extremely popular with baseball fans.
On July 31st, 1997, McGwire was traded from the Athletics to the Cardinals, who were looking for that one more jolt following a heartbreaking playoff exit in 1996. And despite playing just two-thirds of the season in the American League, he finished ninth in HR.
Following his trade to the Cardinals, he hit 24 more home runs. At the end of the season McGwire led the majors with 58 home runs in 1997. He also finished third in the major leagues in slugging percentage (.646), fourth in OPS (1.039), fifth in OPS+ (170), tenth in RBI (123), and ninth in walks (101).
But it was in 1998 where things began heating up more than ever.
Just a few years removed from their 1994 strike, MLB was looking for something to not only boost ratings, but gain interest from viewers of all ages.
Enter the home run chase.
McGwire of the Cardinals and Sosa of the Chicago Cubs battled it out during the entire season to chase Roger Maris‘ record of 61 home runs in a single season. While Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. was also in on the “home run chase” seeing a Cardinals and Cubs player battle it out for one of baseball’s most treasured records enticed millions to the TV screens. Griffey Jr. would also eventually trail back in the race and the sole focus soon became McGwire vs. Sosa.
All season long, fans tuned in to see these two sluggers chase baseball history, wondering who would reach the mark first… and then it happened.
On September 8, 1998, McGwire hit a pitch by the Cubs’ Steve Trachsel over the left field wall for his 62nd home run. Busch Stadium went absolutely wild. Ironically enough, it was McGwire’s shortest home run (by distance) of the season. Since the game was against the Cubs, Sosa was able to congratulate McGwire up in person. He finished the season with 70 home runs, a record mark that stood until in was broken in 2001 by Barry Bonds.
After 16 seasons in Major League Baseball, McGwire’s career numbers were as follows:
- Games: 1,874
- At-bats: 6,187
- Runs: 1,167
- Hits: 1,626
- Doubles: 252
- Triples: 6
- HR: 583
- RBI: 1,414
- BB: 1,317
- Strikeouts: 1,596
- BA: .263
For years, he was silent about steroid talk and anything close to the subject.
That is, until 2010.
At that time, he told Bob Costas that studying pitchers and making his swing shorter led to his increase in home runs and that he could’ve hit them without PEDs.
“I truly believe so,” McGwire said. “I believe I was given this gift. The only reason I took steroids was for health purposes.”
“It’s very emotional, it’s telling family members, friends and coaches, you know, it’s former teammates to try to get ahold of, you know, that I’m coming clean and being honest,” he said. “It’s the first time they’ve ever heard me, you know, talk about this. I hid it from everybody.”
If he ever does get into the Hall of Fame, it will have to be by the Modern Era Players Committee. He struggled to gain any traction during his 10 years eligible on the ballot, and while other controversial players such as Bonds, Roger Clemens, and more are still on the ballot, others such as Rafael Palmeiro and McGwire are no longer on the ballot for Cooperstown.
After all of these years, however, McGwire continues to receive praise and admiration from Cardinal Nation. In 2017, McGwire was voted by the fans into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, solidifying himself into Cardinals history.
However, it remains to be seen if he will be inducted into Cooperstown in the future. And the only question we can ask is: does he deserve to be inducted?