Better baseball through chemistry isn't how you get into the Hall of Fame.
Invoking, in essence, the Fifth Amendment, isn't how you get into the Hall of Fame.
Making promises you're unable -- or unwilling -- to keep isn't how you get into the Hall of Fame.
And yet, Mark McGwire will be eligible for induction into the HOF Class of 2007, which is like Joe Paterno being asked to deliver the keynote speech at the annual NOW convention.
I don't have a Hall of Fame vote (those are reserved for members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with at least 10 years of active service), but if I did, McGwire's name would be written on my ballot right after I jotted the Phillie Phanatic's name, followed by Black Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, and Marv Throneberry of the 120-loss 1962 New York Mets. I wouldn't let McGwire within a solar system of my No. 2 pencil, not until he quits hiding behind the law firm of, I'm Not Here To Talk About The Past & Associates.
That's what he said last March during his testimony -- if you can call it that -- before the House Government Reform Committee. When asked repeatedly if he had used steroids, McGwire answered, "I'm not here to talk about the past." It was as if the phrase were pine-tarred to his vocal cords.
Other McGwire reliables included: "My lawyer has advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself." And: "Like I've said earlier, I'm not going to go in the past and talk about my past. I'm here to make a positive influence on this."
But entry into the Hall of Fame is determined exactly by what McGwire fears the most: the past. The past is where his 583 career home runs reside. The past is where he broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record. The past is where he took the then-legal Androstenedione, and who knows what else. Whatever he took, McGwire was so terrified to talk about those substances last March that he humiliated himself in front of a congressman from St. Louis, and did so on national television.
The past is what BBWAA members must use to judge McGwire's worthiness for the Hall of Fame. Right now, McGwire's bronze plaque would feature him wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap with eyes closed, mouth shut and hands covering ears.
McGwire's silence is more revealing than his March madness performance. It's the reason I'd be stunned if he joins no-brainer inductees Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. in the Class of '07. And until he's willing to end his self-imposed gag order, I wouldn't even consider McGwire for '08, '09, '0-whenever.
There are hitters in the Hall of Fame who likely used corked bats on occasion to add to their numbers. There are pitchers in the Hall of Fame who almost certainly loaded up the ball once or twice (or more) during their careers. But prescription baseball is a level of cheating so obscene, so arrogant in nature (and yet, conveniently ignored by MLB and the players union during glorious 1998), that it prompted a congressional hearing.
I wouldn't vote for McGwire. I wouldn't vote for Sammy Sosa when he became eligible, not just because he suddenly forgot how to speak English at those congressional hearings, but because time has created more questions than answers about his career numbers (a 36-homer/34-stolen base guy in 1995, a 66/18 guy in '98, 64/0 in '01, a 14/1 guy in '05?). And I wouldn't vote for Barry Bonds, who uses the Ignorance Defense when it comes to steroid use. In short, he says he didn't know the "flaxseed oil" given to him by his trainer was really steroid cream.
If I had one of those precious votes, I'd rather be safe than sorry.
You can argue that steroids weren't banned by Major League Baseball until the 2003 season. McGwire first broke Maris' record in '98; Sosa, too. Bonds hit his 73 dingers in 2001, the same year McGwire retired. So the juice was legal until then, but was it ethical?
You can say -- as Jose Canseco (who also is eligible for the 2007 HOF ballot) has maintained -- that steroid use wasn't uncommon on many MLB rosters. One big-league team executive told me of the time he saw a perennial All-Star with back acne so severe (a steroid giveaway) "that it looked like his back had been been on fire and somebody put it out with track shoes."
But since when does the "more-than-a-few-players-did-it" argument justify entrance into something as sacred as the Hall of Fame? Once you're in the Hall of Fame, you're in. No player has ever been booted after the fact, though Section 9 of the HOF election rules allows for amendments.
There's a line in a Tom Clancy movie, delivered after Harrison Ford's CIA character confronts a scheming government official. The official accuses Ford of being a "Boy Scout," of seeing everything in "black and white."
"Not black and white," Ford says. "Right and wrong."
McGwire's candidacy is a Hall of Fame referendum on right and wrong. Right is being candid with the people who cheered you in 1998. Wrong is stonewalling the past and then failing to follow through on a vow to fight steroid abuse.
I wish McGwire would give me a reason to believe him, or more important, to believe in him. But that's the problem when you refuse to talk about the past. Nobody knows how many of those 583 home runs belonged to you, or to better chemistry.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.