By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
In three years as a coach, Mark McGwire has achieved something he long wanted: he’s just a guy doing his best to help the team win. McGwire does his work — quite successfully the past two seasons — and stays out of the spotlight.
Even with a move from St. Louis to Los Angeles, the famously private McGwire is no longer a star attraction for reporters. He was a huge story when he was hired by the Cardinals prior to the 2010 season, but with each passing year his profile has lowered.
That McGwire made the move from the place where he is most beloved tells a lot about the former slugger. McGwire, now the Dodgers’ hitting coach, chose to be close to his family rather than remain in Cardinals country, where he remains an icon.
McGwire’s lower profile as a coach coincides with him no longer being the near lock for enshrinement in Cooperstown that he appeared to be 10 years ago. Then again, he’s also no longer the lightning rod that he was two years ago after admitting to steroid use.
These days, the iconic slugger is one of many names under consideration, so far receiving more than enough support to stay on the ballot but not enough to put himself in the picture for future induction. Entering his seventh year on the Hall of Fame ballot, the question is whether McGwire will start the kind of climb that could get him into the Hall by the time his allotted 15 years on the ballot are up.
McGwire, who retired as the No. 5 home run hitter of all time (he’s now 10th), looked like he could be headed for Cooperstown immortality when he called it a career following the 2001 season. Since then, the subject of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball became a front-burner issue, and McGwire was the first casualty in Hall of Fame voting.
When McGwire returned to the game to be the Cardinals’ hitting coach in 2010, he repeatedly apologized for his use of steroids. Although some argued that he didn’t go far enough, McGwire came forward in a way that few of his contemporaries have. And yet he stepped backward, rather than forward, in the voting.
The 2011 results — the first after his public admission — saw McGwire receive a lower vote total and vote percentage than in any of his previous years on the ballot. McGwire received 115 votes, 19.8 of the electorate, after holding steady at 21 percent or more in his first four years. He dropped slightly again in 2012, to 112 votes, good for 19.5 percent. That was the 10th-highest total among last year’s candidates.
His first time around, “Big Mac” was named on 23.5 percent of ballots, ranking ninth among all candidates. McGwire’s second year on the ballot, 2008, saw virtually the same result. Once again he finished ninth in the balloting. He received 128 votes, or 23.6 percent.
In McGwire’s third year as a candidate, his vote total and percentage both dropped, but he bounced back. In the 2010 balloting, McGwire once again returned to exactly 128 votes, which this time was good for 23.7 percent of the vote. Then he dropped off in ’11, and a little more in 2012.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible Baseball Writers’ Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Barry Larkin was the only BBWAA inductee in 2012, receiving 86.4 percent of the vote. Jack Morris (66.7 percent in 2012), Jeff Bagwell (56.0 percent) and Lee Smith (50.6 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year’s ballot.
The odds for McGwire grow longer in 2013 because of an influx of prominent names on the ballot. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza all are on the ballot for the first time. Voters are permitted to support no more than 10 players, so the addition of qualified candidates affects the vote totals of holdover players.
During his playing career, McGwire admitted taking androstenedione, a steroid precursor, but nothing stiffer than that. In January 2010, he stepped forward, admitting to steroid use and apologizing for it. McGwire staunchly maintained that his statistics were not inflated by his use of the drugs, but his contrition was hard to miss.
“I wanted to talk about this five years ago, but I wasn’t in position to do it,” McGwire said after his nationally televised admission. “I think everybody that’s a human being has held something in that they wanted to release for quite some time. … I’m ready to turn the page and move on with my life. It’s something that I totally regret. I can’t say that I’m sorry enough to everybody in baseball and across America, whoever watches this great game.”
As a player, McGwire was a true offensive force and, perhaps, an under-appreciated fielder. He was a 12-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner in 1990 and he finished in the top 10 in Most Valuable Player balloting five times.
He ranks eighth all-time in slugging percentage, 10th in home runs and first in at-bats per home run. McGwire played on six playoff teams, three pennant winners and the 1989 World Series-champion A’s. His .263 career batting average argues against induction, but by most other numbers, his was indisputably a Hall of Fame career.
“For me, there isn’t anything that’s changed about, No. 1, how much I believe in him, and No. 2, what that means as far as his career and his production and some of the historic things he did,” said Tony La Russa, who managed McGwire in both Oakland and St. Louis. “I’m hoping that he gets that honor sooner rather than later.”
When McGwire made his full-season debut in 1987 for a young and emerging Oakland team, he was a phenomenon, hitting 49 homers, most of them mammoth and majestic. He drew 71 walks, showing the strike-zone judgment that would be nearly as much a part of his profile as his power. And he did while playing his home games in a brutal hitter’s ballpark several years before the offensive explosion of the 1990s.
McGwire followed that up with 32, 33 and 39 homers for the pennant-winners from 1988-90, then struggled badly in ’91. A rebound brought 42 homers in ’92, but McGwire battled injuries throughout ’93 and ’94.
When McGwire returned healthy in 1995, though, he was a force like never before. He hit for a higher average than he had in the past. He drew even more walks. And he hit homers at a rate even he hadn’t previously managed. From 1995-2000 — his last really effective season — McGwire went deep 316 times, an average of once every 8.06 at-bats.
McGwire was a dominating force in the lineup until injuries finally took him down. He struggled through 2001 before hanging it up at age 38.
SectionsFeatured Story, MLB, Sports, St. Louis Cardinals
TopicsCardinals, Clarksville Sports Network, Cooperstown, Dodgers, Hall of Fame, LA Dodgers, Mark McGwire, MLB, MLB Hall of Fame, St. Louis Cardinals, Tennessee
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