ST. LOUIS -- The voters representing the Baseball Writers' Association of America have taken a firm stand on Mark McGwire. He isn't getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame unless he buys a ticket and takes a tour with the family.
McGwire won't be inducted. He's banned substance in Cooperstown. And we'll cite the so-called integrity clause on the Hall of Fame ballot to justify our decision.
The integrity clause is interesting. It doesn't seem to have been consistently applied through the years, the decades, the different eras. It's OK for racists to be inducted. Pitchers who broke the rules and gained an advantage by doctoring the baseball? Sure, come on in. What about star players who padded their statistics and built Hall of Fame resumes during baseball's long, disgraceful period of segregation? They're fine.
And how many resident Hall of Fame honorees popped handfuls of illegal amphetamines along the way to pep up during those long, tiring summer stretches? They're safe at home.
Yes, as the guardians at the door, we may be erratic in imposing our particularly sanctimonious brand of morality. In McGwire's five years on the ballot, he's received between 19.8 percent and 23.7 percent of the vote, failing to come close to reaching the necessary 75 percent approval for passage.
We're many of the same voters who looked the other way and glorified McGwire -- godded him up, really -- when he was filling those stadiums, creating excitement and selling extra newspaper copies in the late 1990s. The struggling print-news industry needed a boost, and McGwire was our performance-enhancing story. His muscle drove home runs and single-copy sales.
And what proud, card-carrying member of the BBWAA wants to be reminded of that now? We've found religion on the steroids issue, and it is never too late to convert.
And what about the serious-minded writers who expressed their willingness to forgive McGwire and vote for him if he'd come forward to admit to using steroids? Well, McGwire confessed last year. And on Wednesday, he received his lowest percentage of the vote, dropping four points from last year. There's your answer.
It's too late for McGwire, the first member of the 500-homer club to be held accountable by the self-appointed steroids police of the press box. But how far do we intend to go with this?
Rafael Palmeiro, who has more than 500 homers and 3,000 hits, is the latest to get blocked. He received only 11 percent of the vote on his initial appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. Palmeiro flunked an official Major League Baseball steroids test after swearing that he never used the stuff.
At least with McGwire and Palmeiro there's something to go on. If voters were legitimately disgusted by the damage that steroids allegedly inflicted on the game's precious ecosystem and record book, at least they could cite hardcore evidence in McGwire's confession and Palmeiro's dirty test.
But where does this end? Jeff Bagwell put up automatic Baseball Hall of Fame numbers in his 15 seasons with the Houston Astros. He's the only first baseman in MLB history to have a combination of more than 400 homers and 200 stolen bases. He's the only first baseman to have a 30-homer, 30-steal season, and he did it twice.
Despite taking half of his at-bats from 1991 through 1999 at the spacious, pitcher-friendly Houston Astrodome, Bagwell put together a 12-year streak of having an adjusted OPS (onbase plus slugging) of 130 or higher. (Among first basemen, that puts Bagwell right there with Lou Gehrig.) Bagwell had six consecutive seasons of at least 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored. For his career, he drove in more than 1,500 runs and scored more than 1,500 runs.
And for all of that, Bagwell received only 41.7 percent of the vote as a first-time Hall of Fame eligible this year. He never failed a steroids test. He wasn't mentioned in the Mitchell Report. There was no Jose Canseco type, a peer, to come out of the shadows and accuse Bagwell of using or sharing steroids.
Voters seem to have shunned Bagwell because (A) he had powerful muscles, and (B) amassed big numbers during the steroids era. And based on vague suspicion -- but no evidence -- Bagwell was adamantly shunned by the electorate.
How is this fair? How is Bagwell, who retired in 2005, supposed to prove his innocence? He's denied using steroids, but that seems to have been rejected. So where do we go from here?
We're way deep into a ludicrous phase of Hall of Fame voting. We're assuming that players from the steroids era are guilty even if there's no proof to support the smear.
To flip this argument around, we're also assuming that other esteemed players of the era are innocent of using steroids, when we have no way of ever knowing, with certainty, how many players were caught up in this junk. And I hate to break it to the moralizers, but just because a player has an average body type doesn't mean he played clean. No more than it proves that huge forearms are the product of steroids.
As always, we're being finicky about targeting certain people. We've zeroed in on power hitters. And usually we cite a spike in home run totals as one of the reasons -- completely ignoring the reality that there have always been unexplained power surges by players in every decade, every era of baseball history.
We have, to this point, ignored the likelihood that the steroids era included pitchers who were juicing, fast runners who were juicing, spectacular fielders who were juicing, and .300-plus hitters who were juicing.
We're throwing around guilty verdicts based on hunches. I know that this isn't a court of law, but whatever happened to the benefit of the doubt in the absence of actual evidence? And before you dismiss that, let me ask you this: How would you feel if your boss or a co-worker falsely accused you of doing something improper, committing a fireable offense, based on nothing more than a gut feeling? I'd imagine that you'd be outraged.
And that's what we're doing to Bagwell. And the problem will only get worse. Just wait until obvious steroids cheats are voted in, which will fully expose the hypocrisy and the whimsical application of ethical standards.
The Baseball Hall of Fame vote has turned into a ridiculous self-important, self-righteous Kangaroo Court. This hopelessly flawed process must be reformed. As much as I hate to admit this, the writers are clearly incapable of sorting all of this out in a coherent, consistent way. Little did we know that there was another fallout to baseball's steroids eras: It caused some of the writers to lose their minds.