Forum Spin Doctor
NEW YORK - Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame bid was met with a rejection as emphatic as his upper-deck home runs. While the door to Cooperstown swung open for Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn on Tuesday, McGwire was picked by less than a quarter of voters - a result that raises doubts about whether Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or other sluggers from baseball's Steroids Era will ever gain entry.
McGwire, whose 583 home runs rank seventh on the career list, appeared on 128 of a record 545 ballots in voting released Tuesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I hope that as time goes on, that number will increase," Gwynn said. "I hope that one day he will get into the Hall of Fame, because I really believe he deserves it."
The 23.5 percent vote McGwire received represented the first referendum on how history will judge an age when bulked-up players came under suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball didn't ban steroids until after the 2002 season.
"We knew," Gwynn said. "Players knew. Owners knew. Everybody knew, and we didn't say anything about it."
Gwynn, with an infectious laugh and smile, and Ripken, with cool professionalism, were different on and off the field. They both said they knew McGwire would take some attention from their elections, but while Gwynn was open with his opinion on Big Mac, Ripken was guarded. Ripken said Goose Gossage and Jim Rice belong in the Hall, but stayed away from whether McGwire should gain the honor.
"I don't think it's my place to actually cast judgment," Ripken said.
He also rejected Gwynn's assertion that steroid use was common knowledge.
"I didn't know," Ripken said. "Looking back, maybe I can be the most naive and most ignorant person around."
As the announcement approached, fans, players and managers voiced their views. Many voters said McGwire was hurt by his 2005 congressional testimony, when he repeatedly evaded questions.
"There's that big black cloud hanging over baseball with steroids," Gossage said. "It's a shame. There are a lot of great players in that era. Who knows what's going to happen?"
Gwynn remembered the way McGwire "was able to really bring a town and a country together" when he hit a record 70 homers in 1998 - a mark Bonds broke when he hit 73 three years later. Gwynn predicted McGwire eventually will be elected.
Jim Milner, McGwire's business representative, did not return telephone calls. McGwire, who lives in a gated community in Irvine, Calif., has made few public comments in recent years.
Commissioner Bud Selig declined comment on McGwire but readily praised Ripken and Gwynn.
"I have enormous affection for both individuals," he said. "They not only obviously had historic achievements on the field, but they represented the sport as well as it could be represented."
Ripken and Gwynn were rarities in the age of free agency, each spending his entire career with one team. They will be inducted during ceremonies July 29 at the Hall along with anyone elected from the Veterans Committee vote, which will be announced Feb. 27.
Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles shortstop who set baseball's ironman record, was picked by 537 voters and appeared on 98.53 percent of ballots to finish with the third-highest percentage behind Tom Seaver (98.84) and Nolan Ryan (98.79).
Gwynn, who won eight batting titles with the San Diego Padres, received 532 votes for 97.61 percent, the seventh-highest ever, also trailing Ty Cobb, George Brett and Hank Aaron.
If he had been picked by two of the eight voters who didn't select him, Ripken would have set the percentage record, but he didn't mind. Two voters submitted blank ballots.
"All I wanted to hear was, `You're in,'" Ripken said. "I really didn't get caught up in wanting to be unanimous or wanting to be the most."
Gwynn worried that he might get 100 percent.
"For the last month, I think, that's all I could think about, hoping that I didn't get near that number," he said. "We've never had one, and so I sure didn't want to be that guy who was closest."
Bill Shannon of Sports Press Service, who also does freelance writing for The Associated Press, omitted Ripken and Gwynn because he wanted to vote for 10 other players - the maximum allowed.
"I thought they were such obvious candidates they didn't need my vote," he said. "I wasn't thinking in terms of a 100 percent."
Ripken, a 19-time All-Star and two-time AL MVP, played in a major league-record 2,632 consecutive games to break Lou Gehrig's mark of 2,130. He also set a new standard for power-hitting shortstops with 431 home runs and 3,184 hits.
His hot-water heater didn't work Tuesday morning, making him laugh and recall starting his pro career at Bluefield in 1978.
"I was sitting there remembering the cold-shower days," Ripken said.
Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star, compiled 3,141 hits and a .338 batting average during his 20-year career with the San Diego Padres. He woke up at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, couldn't get back to sleep and was fidgety and nervous before he received the call from Jack O'Connell, the BBWAA secretary-treasurer.
"I broke down right away," Gwynn said. "My wife came over and put an arm around me."
Gwynn hit only 135 homers - matching McGwire's total in 1998 and 1999 - and joked that he'd be the "Punch and Judy" spokesman for the next few months.
"For me, it's kind of validation because the type of player that I was doesn't get a whole lot of credit in today's game," he said. "I didn't win any championships. I didn't hit a whole lot of home runs. I didn't drive in a whole lot of people."
Gossage finished third with 388 votes, falling 21 shy of the necessary 409. His percentage increased from 64.6 to 71.2, putting him in good position to reach the necessary 75 percent next year. The highest percentage for a player who wasn't elected in a later year was 63.4 by Gil Hodges in 1983, his final time on the ballot.
"It kind of feels weird to be that close," Gossage said. "Hopefully, next year will be the year."
Rice was fourth with 346, his percentage dropping to 63.5 from 64.8 last year. He was followed by Andre Dawson (309), Bert Blyleven (260), Lee Smith (217) and Jack Morris (202).
McGwire was ninth, followed by Tommy John (125) and Steve Garvey (115), who was in his final year of eligibility. Jose Canseco, who accused McGwire of using steroids, received six votes in his first appearance and will be dropped from future ballots.
Pete Rose, the banned career hits leader who has never appeared on the ballot, received four write-in votes.