Debate: Is Mark McGwire a Hall of Famer?

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The deadline for baseball's Hall of Fame voters to submit their 2008 ballots is Dec. 31, and once again they must consider the candidacy of Mark McGwire. In his first year of eligibility a year ago, Big Mac garnered only 23.5 percent of the vote, mostly due to suspicions that he took performance-enhancing drugs during his playing career.

Will the voters be any kinder this year to the controversial slugger? ESPN.com's Jim Caple and Jerry Crasnick offer opposing points of view during an e-mail debate that we've excerpted below.

One thing I'm interested in seeing with this year's Hall of Fame vote is how Mark McGwire does. Thanks to the steroid controversy, his sure-thing election fell way short when he received 23.5 percent of the vote. Were some writers making a one-time statement? Or are their minds made up and they'll never vote for him? We'll see, but if it were up to me, he'd already be in. I voted for McGwire last year and will do so again this year. How about you?

As you know, Jim, I'm not one of those "he's a cheater, so I'll never vote for him" types. But I took a pass on Big Mac last year, and I'm planning to give him the thumbs down again. We're still smack in the middle of this steroid controversy, and if I have reason to be skeptical about the contents of a man's medicine cabinet, I'm commitment-phobic.

I can understand that. But I don't think you can retroactively hold him to a standard that wasn't in place at the time. We knew Mac was on Andro in 1998. We looked at his size and suspected there might be more to it. And we didn't care. We were too busy writing that he was saving baseball. Why are we now so up in arms about this issue? If we thought he was great for baseball then -- and almost all of us did -- then why view him so negatively now when we really don't know anything more than we did?

Sure, there's some hypocrisy involved. But how can you say, ''We don't know anything more now than we did then." We've seen the advent of drug testing, read Jose Canseco's book, "Game of Shadows'' and the Mitchell report, and seen Barry Bonds and now perhaps Roger Clemens go down in flames. And a lot of this stemmed from McGwire, who preyed upon our naivete and made himself a national hero in the process. Until he sat down before Congress, that is.

But the issue is Mark McGwire, not the other players, and we don't know much, if anything, more than we suspected when we were calling him the greatest thing in baseball. And I'm sorry but I'm not bothered by what he said in front of a grandstanding Congress that gave the NFL a free pass in those hearings. The fact is, because for the most part we don't know who did and who did not take steroids (who would have suspected Ryan Franklin before he got busted?), we have to go by what they did on the field.

But there's a problem with that, too. Unlike Bonds, who had 400 homers, 400 steals and eight Gold Gloves when he went on the Victor Conte self-improvement plan, McGwire was the quintessential one-trick pony. Big Mac was a .263 career hitter with 1,626 career hits. Heck, Enos Cabell had more than that.

That's valid. I can see someone seeing him as borderline otherwise. But to completely dismiss his 583 home runs like that is akin to saying that, without her looks, Angelina Jolie is basically Kathy Bates. It kind of misses the whole point. And even without the home runs, it's pretty misleading. I mean, Enos Cabell had a .308 OBP. Mac had a .394 OBP.

I'm certainly not going to dismiss McGwire's 583 homers. We have to be fair here. But even that .394 on-base percentage is a tad misleading. During McGwire's three huge home run seasons in the late 1990s, he drew 101, 162 and 133 walks, which are definitely going to pump up a guy's OBP. It's only natural that pitchers were afraid to face him, when he looked like William Hurt after a few sessions in that isolation tank in "Altered States.''

That's a pretty lame analogy, Jerry. William Hurt? "Altered States"? Have you been to a movie in the past 25 years? (Speaking of which -- could someone please explain the ending to "No Country For Old Men"?) But I get your point. But if size is the main criteria, how come no one suspects Frank Thomas? Not that I'm saying he used the performance-enhancing drugs, but hell, he's enormous, too. Why not just have a height and weight maximum, with a cutout cartoon Bud Selig figure that says, "If you're bigger than this, you can't go on the Cooperstown ride''? Why not? Because it isn't fair. We don't know for sure who took them and who didn't. I respect your right to be dubious -- it's not unreasonable at all -- but I just don't feel comfortable with that imprecise a criteria.

Hey, I certainly don't mean to crush the guy -- because I never know when he might find out where I live and come punch a hole in my siding. In the end, for me, it's all about having complete confidence in my decision. We're so enmeshed in this steroid frenzy -- who used, what they took, what effect did it have on performance? -- that I simply don't know what to think. And I'm afraid of saying "yes'' on a guy like McGwire only to regret my decision later. Does that make sense?

Yes, it does, though really, I don't know what we're going to find out at this point. I mean, they weren't specifically banned by baseball at the time. And to me, that makes all the difference. (And no, just being an illegal drug isn't the same thing as being banned. For one thing, I believe a lot of players who took illegal drugs are in the Hall of Fame.)

Yeah, but if it were so easy, you wouldn't have 500-something Hall voters with 500-something sets of rules. Some voters say every steroid guy is a "cheater'' and should never get in. Others just vote based on the numbers, because it's impossible to determine which players were clean and which were dirty. Unfortunately, I'm part of that great, big, undecided middle. Until that big epiphany takes hold, I'm taking up residence at the waffle house.

Mmmmmmm ... waffles. This is why you should come over to my side. When you base it just on numbers, it becomes easy. (And as far as those voters who won't let in "cheaters'' go, it's interesting that so many voted for Gaylord Perry, who bragged about cheating.) But speaking of Waffle House makes me think of spring training. Only 80 days until pitchers and catchers report! How do you like the Mariners anyway? Think Horacio Ramirez will win 20 games? ...