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Monday, January 18, 2010

McGwire and irrational thought.

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SATURDAY, MAY 9, 2009 MLB should allow performance enhancing stuff. _________________________________________

Last week Mark McGwire announced that he had used steroids and human growth hormones, mostly late in his career. Of course, the baseball media and some incredibly old fart fans became irrational about this. Ho hum. I watched Bob Costas interview McGwire for an hour on the MLB network. Costas is a worse interviewer than I had thought. He failed to follow up and eventually let his St. Louis residence influence him into consoling the crying McGwire. Among other things McGwire stated that he had called the widow of Roger Maris whose single season home run record McGwire broke in 1998. If McGwire did nothing wrong as he claimed then why did he feel guilty toward the widow Maris? He would be more sympathetic and less pathetic if he had a personality and some spine. Why the heck was he crying so much during that interview?  Did he make his announcement because he replaced Hal McRae as the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2010 season? Enough on the cry baby McGwire.

The big point that Costas and the rest of the unimaginative media missed in that interview was that McGwire stated that his attorneys sought and failed to get immunity from the Congressional committee and that committee chairman Waxman and minority leader Davis both reached an understanding with McGwire's attorneys that McGwire would not explicitly assert his fifth amendment rights but would repeat the incredibly wimpy "I am not here to talk about the past". The other committee members did not appear to have been briefed on this. At the time I was outraged that none of them insisted that McGwire take the fifth or be held in contempt of Congress. McGwire's announcement came shortly after the sports writers made their most recent mistake by electing Andre Dawson to the Hall of Fame. Naturally, McGwire's measly 23% vote in that election (75% is required) became the focus of discussions about McGwire.

There is no more deadly combination for unleashing an explosion of irrational thought in sports than steroid use by a home run hitter and election to the Hall of Fame. It makes spirits rise from the dead to join in. The case against McGwire being elected to the Hall of Fame is basically: he's not a Hall of Famer, he's not, he's not! The case for McGwire being elected to the Hall of Fame is just a bunch of stinky old facts.

Some people seem to really hate McGwire aside from his steroid use. He is accused of being, not a specialist, but of being one dimensional. OoooooH. Maybe like Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Ralph Kiner?

The main case against McGwire seems based on low batting average (BA): .263 career. After all these years it's the same thing that was held against Roger Maris in 1961 when he broke Babe Ruth's record. Roger batted only .269. McGwire actually batted .299 in 1998 when he broke Maris's record. McGwire hit 245 home runs from 1996 through 1999, an average of 61 for each of four seasons, something that had never been approached. The gaudiness of both the number and distance of McGwire's homers troubles many. Had he been more modest in his accomplishments maybe he would be less ridiculed.

What if he had hit 235 homers and averaged only a slightly less gaudy 59 homers and not ever broken the record? Would his sins be less egregious? What if McGwire had averaged 41 homers over those four seasons? That's twenty fewer per season and certainly a reasonable feat for a batter who holds the rookie record of 49. That would be 80 fewer. Would that be enough of a steroid penalty to satisfy the zealots who are without sin? That would leave McGwire with 503 home runs. Would that be enough to get him, a one dimensional player, into the Hall of Fame?

Before you dismiss this notion consider Fred McGriff.  McGriff hit 493 home runs. If McGriff had McGwire's 503, McGriff would be elected to the Hall of Fame despite having OPS+ 134, tied at number 114 with non deserving Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Joe Medwick and Paul Waner who were more dimensional than McGriff. McGwire's OPS+ 172 is number 12. 7,660 PA. 1,596 SO. Ralph Kiner's OPS+ 149 is number 34. 6,256 PA. Harmon Killebrew's OPS+ 143 is number 51. 9,831 PA. 1,699 SO.

Most homers in a season: McGwire 70, Kiner 54, Killebrew 49, McGriff 37. What if McGwire hit ten percent fewer homers in his best season? That would give him 63. Would his record have more or less validity? Steroids and HGH help add muscle mass, which helps the batter hit the ball further. McGwire was already capable of hitting the ball a long way. How much further would the steroids make the ball go? There are physical limits. What's the difference if a home run travels 450 feet or 420 feet? It's still one and only one home run. How many homers do you recall McGwire hitting that barely cleared the wall in 1998 and may have been steroid assisted? I recall one, maybe number 62, I do not recall the number. How many other "cheap" home runs do you recall McGwire hitting from 1996 through 1999? If the answer is few, then why all the fuss?

During those seasons McGwire was making more contact than his .263 career BA: 1996 .312 1997 .274 1998 .299 1999 .278 Maybe he had become a more mature hitter as he claims. He certainly appeared to be locked in. McGwire was 34 when he had his career high in home runs. Both Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron were 37. Aaron was also 37 for his career highs in slugging (second best 39), OPS (second best 39) and OPS+. You can improve with age.

I don't particularly like Mark McGwire, in part because he was one dimensional, but I like irrational thought even less, especially in the form of a witch hunt. It is still mistakenly thought by many that an asterisk had been attached to Roger Maris' home run record because the season had increased from 154 to 162 games. The records were simply listed separately. Are we now to add a real asterisk to taint Mark McGwire's record? And Barry Bonds, too? How tacky. Why not just celebrate? It was fun watching them do it. Why spoil it now? Remember, many pitchers used, too.

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