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Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

Basic Biittner : How to deal with history

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mark McGwire "came out" on Monday - no, not that way. No, the former major league home run champ admitted publicly that he has used steroids off and on for 10 years or more - including during his the record-breaking season of 1998, when "Big Mac" sent 70 balls out of the park in a season-long duel with the Cubs' Sammy Sosa - probably the most exciting individual duel in baseball since the similar 1961 Mantle-Maris home run race.

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Big Mac, who famously refused to talk about the past before the United States Congress at a 2005 hearing and who has basically been out-of-sight in the ten years since he retired, came forward Monday for at least two reasons. Number one, he has been hired by his former team, the Cardinals, to serve as the team's hitting coach for this coming season, and the team said he would make some kind of statement before the season began; and number two (my opinion), the Hall of Fame released its latest baseball writers' vote last Wednesday, and McGwire, despite home run stats that would normally garner him enough, or nearly enough, votes to gain induction into the Hall, mustered his usual low number of votes. I don't remember exactly what percentage of writer's votes he received, but it was in the 20 -25% area, as it has been for several years. It may be that McGwire thought the only way he'd ever be seriously considered for the Hall is if he 'fessed up to his drug use. I don't know. I will say this - McGwire's confession hardly shocked anyone, just as a confession of murder from O.J. Simpson after all these years would not send anyone into a state of shock.

It does, however, bring up a much larger subject, which is, How will history deal with the ever-growing list of celebrities - sports stars and others - who - though not convicted in a court of law - have obviously broken some laws and set some poor moral examples for their fans , particularly those of a tender age?

In a pre-steroid, pre-tabloid era, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds would be obvious first-ballot Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. In this era, though, despite their sterling on-the-field credentials

over a long period of time, the four are pretty much considered pariahs.

When visitors go to the Hall in Cooperstown now, something which is an unforgettable experience, which I, personally, have been fortunate enough to experience three times in my life, they will not see plaques listing the accomplishments of 1) the all-time leader in games played and base hits (Rose); 2) the all-time leader in home runs and bases on balls and a multiple choice as his league's Most Valuable Player (Bonds); and the pitcher who was probably the most dominant hurler in the majors for 20 years (Clemens).

Likewise in golf. Though Tiger Woods probably has many more years of competitive golf ahead of him, just what he has accomplished on the course to date would be more than enough to get him elected to his sport's Hall. O.J.' s not in the Pro Football Hall, either.

Before you read any further, let me say this. I certainly don't condone the actions which have left these stars' careers tainted. The bottom line for me, though, is that honors like the Hall of Fame are meant to recognize what the athletes accomplished on the field of play. Babe Ruth was hardly a model of deportment. Though as marvelously skilled as anyone who ever played the game of baseball, Ruth was also an overweight, womanizing, alcohol-swilling (illegal alcohol during most of his playing days), Ruth was one of the initial class of five players elected to baseball's Hall of Fame. So was Ty Cobb - a perpetual league batting and stolen base champion - an also, by most accounts, a bigot and thoroughly despicable man, whose funeral had virtually no representation from the sport in which he became a star. In the years since, while many Hall of Famers have also been upstanding citizens, there have been several others who weren't great role models. In their day, though, there were not anywhere near as many media outlets as there are today, and of the few that there were, many reporters chose not to share players' private peccadilloes with the public.

I guess what I am saying is that I feel all of the sporting Halls of Fame should concentrate on having the outstanding players of the era be a part of the Hall.

I do think, though, that an appropriate notation should also be a part of the player's plaque. After their notable on-field achievements are listed, there should also be a brief note at the bottom such as : "Admitted using performance-enhancing drugs;" "Was convicted and jailed for tax evasion, and also admitted to betting on baseball games when he was a Major League Manager" or "Admitted to agreeing to throw the 1919 World Series, though his performance on the field seemed to contradict that intent."

Then open the Halls to all who earned it - on the field of play.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner