Will Hall of Fame Voters Ignore McGwire?

The ballots for the 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame were mailed to voters this week. One big question is whether slugger Mark McGwire will be honored in his first year of eligibility. Many voters are put off by baseball's steroid problems. Ron Rapoport, who received a ballot, discusses the McGwire question with Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time now for sports.

Ballots went out this week for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among the names, Iron Man Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles, who's considered as much a shoe in as Fidel Castro is on the Cuban ballots. Eight time National League batting champion Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres, ditto. Roustabout Jose Canseco, the late Ken Caminiti, both of whom were once most valuable players. And Mark McGwire. The glory of his career as the man who beat Roger Maris's home run record in 1998 is tainted by allegations that he used steroids.

Ron Rapoport gets to vote as a member of the Baseball Writers Association. He joins us from NPR West. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Any hanging chads or what are you going to do for Mark McGwire?

RAPOPORT: Well, I'm going to vote for him, Scott, although it's lonesome out here on this limb. You know, the AP ran a poll and only about 20 percent of the people they polled said they're going to vote for him. So he's not going to make it.

Now, let's think for a minute. Here you have the all time leading home run hitter for a period; he broke Maris's record. And he's also seventh on the all time list with 583. Normally he would be shoe-in, but he's not going to make it. But I voted for him for two reasons. One is that whatever drugs he did or didn't take while he was playing were not illegal at that time. And the other is historical, Scott.

Remember when McGwire's homerun battles with Sammy Sosa were widely credited with helping baseball to its current popularity after the fans' disaffection following the work stoppage in '94? Players like McGwire, it seems to me, went a long way toward defining the game when they played. Unless you're going to declare the games they played null and void, I don't see how you can pretend they didn't exist.

SIMON: You know, I really do admire your defense of the indefensible. An account this week from a sportswriter - and forgive me if the name is escaping, because I got it in a pile of clips - but he pointed out that although when McGwire was using steroids, perhaps using steroids...

RAPOPORT: Perhaps.

SIMON: ...earlier in his career, they weren't illegal, according to the rules of baseball, unprescribed steroids were illegal in society.

RAPOPORT: Well, it seems to me, Scott, that what you have here is an indication of what's ahead for the Hall as the players from what I guess you'd have to call the steroids era become eligible. If Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's home run record, which he very well may do next year, is he excluded from the Hall of Fame? Does the Hall turn its back on an entire generation of ball players? From what I'm seeing, the answer is yes.

SIMON: Yeah. You got a problem with that?

RAPOPORT: I do. I do. Again, this is very much a minority view. But my problem, I guess, is that so many baseball writers have set themselves as moral arbiters, you know. We're protecting all those freckle-faced kids out there. I don't see it that way, Scott. I don't think we're defining greatness when we vote. I think we're confirming it. Mark McGwire was a great ballplayer.

SIMON: Aren't there a lot of player who, it must be said, have their pedestals in the Hall of Fame already who think it would just disgrace the game to have a bunch of cheaters go in?

RAPOPORT: In other words, you're defiling those who've made it there fair and square?

SIMON: Yeah, exactly.

RAPOPORT: Well, if my bust is next to yours and you're this great paragon and I'm this terrible guy, does my being next to you diminish you? I guess I don't see it.

SIMON: Ron, who are we kidding? Our busts in the Hall of Fame?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAPOPORT: Well, you can dream.

SIMON: I certainly did as a kid. Ron Rapoport, our Hall of Famer, speaking with us from NPR West. Thanks so much.

RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.

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