Under Cloud, McGwire May Miss Hall in 2006

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Former home run king Mark McGwire is now eligible for Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. But suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs are likely to keep him out of baseball's shrine, at least during this year's balloting. If not for the shadow of drugs, McGwire would be a certain Hall-of-Famer.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Ballots are on their way to about 500 baseball writers across the country. They contained the names of 32 players eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. This is an annual election and it's usually something the writers look forward to, this year, not so much. For the first time, they're being asked to vote on players linked to baseball's so-called steroid era.

Here's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN: Imagine for a moment, your average veteran baseball writer opening the envelope and scanning down the 2007 Hall of Fame ballot. Wow, look at this list, eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn and two-time most valuable player Cal Ripken Jr., both fan favorites, both great ambassadors for the game. Both are getting my vote. That was easy.

Let's see, who else?

Uh, oh, Mark McGwire - Cooperstown, we have a problem.

(Soundbite of a congressional hearing)

Mr. MARK McGWIRE (Former MLB Player): Well, sir, I am not here to talk about the past.

GOLDMAN: Despite his 583 career homeruns, putting him seventh on the all-time list. Despite his enthralling 1998 single-season homerun duel with Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire is now known more for his evasiveness before Congress last year, when he and other players were grilled about steroids in baseball.

(Soundbite of a congressional hearing)

Unidentified Man: Were you ever counseled that the precursors or designer steroids might have the same impact?

Mr. McGWIRE: I'm not here to talk about the past.

GOLDMAN: For many, McGwire's testimony on top of past steroid allegations was as good as an admission of guilt clouding his great on-field accomplishments. McGwire may have wanted to forget the past, but now baseball writers are being forced to confront it, along with McGwire, two admitted steroid users, Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti, also are on the ballot. Suddenly the writers' votes have become a forum on ethics in sport.

Professor KEVIN GRACE (University of Cincinnati): They're going to have to decide what they can consider important in terms of the integrity of the game.

GOLDMAN: Kevin Grace teaches a course on the social history of baseball at the University of Cincinnati.

Professor GRACE: And they're going to have to justify their vote, I think.

GOLDMAN: Some already have. An Associated Press poll of 125 veteran baseball writers found that only 25 percent of those who gave their opinion said they'd vote for McGwire. It takes 75 percent to get into the Hall. For most voters, it appears to be an easy decision, not so for ESPN senior baseball writer Buster Olney.

Mr. BUSTER OLNEY (Writer, ESPN): My quandary is how do I not vote for Mark McGwire, and what do I then do with the many stars who I believe - I can't prove it but I absolutely believe that most of the great stars in this era are also took steroids. What do I do with their candidacy?

GOLDMAN: Olney will vote for McGwire and his decision already is causing some personal discomfort.

Mr. OLNEY: When I told my mother that I was going to vote for Mark McGwire, she yelled at me. And said how can you vote for someone who cheated.

GOLDMAN: Olney says what he tries to keep in mind is that there are many culprits in the steroid story. The baseball officials who he believes looked the other way as drug use spread. The baseball writers, many of the same ones who are casting Hall of Fame no-votes for McGwire who did nothing to expose the problem in the past.

The voting results will be announced January 9th, the news will stir up the steroids debate but it won't end there, as more and more of the best players from the era become eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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