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1/08/2007 05:29:00 PM

Does Big Mac Belong in the Hall of Fame?

McGwire
In 16 major league seasons with Oakland and St. Louis, Mark McGwire hit 583 homers -- ranking No. 7 all-time.
AP
By John Donovan, SI.com

We've been debating the Hall of Fame worthiness of one Mark David McGwire for years now. His numbers, compared to those players already in the Hall. The ever-present rumors and innuendo swirling around the big red head against the cold, hard facts. Our hearts, in some cases, vs. our heads.

It doesn't look good for Big Mac this first time around. If you put any stock in the polls of voters that several news organizations have been conducting over the past weeks, in fact, it looks downright bleak for him.

Still, the debate continues. So before the balloting is announced, let's take one last stab at the case for, and against, McGwire's enshrinement.

First, here are Five Reasons Why Mark McGwire Should Be in the Hall of Fame:

1. We know, we know. Five hundred home runs isn't what it used to be. But it's still a ton of home runs. Everybody eligible for the Hall of Fame who has cranked out at least 500 homers has been selected. Plus, McGwire didn't just squeak over the 500-homer barrier, remember. He blew right past it, smacking 583 of them, seventh all-tme.

2. No one ever hit more home runs in fewer chances that McGwire did. He missed huge chunks of four seasons with injuries. But when he was healthy, or close to it, he could hammer the ball.

Most home runs, 8,000 or fewer plate appearances

1. Mark McGwire 583 HRS, 7,660 PA
2. Jim Thome 472 HRS,7,891 PA
3. Manny Ramirez 470 HRS,7,783 PA
Source: Complete Baseball Encyclopedia www.baseball-encyclopedia.com

3. It figures, then, that no player in baseball history hit homers more often than McGwire did. The numbers say it all.

Most home runs per plate appearance, minimum 7,500 PAs

1. Mark McGwire 0.0761 HR/PA
2. Babe Ruth 0.0673 HR/PA
3. Sammy Sosa 0.0623 HR/PA
4. Barry Bonds 0.0605 HR/PA
5. Manny Ramirez 0.0604 HR/PA
Source: Complete Baseball Encyclopedia www.baseball-encyclopedia.com

Fewest at-bats per home run

1. Mark McGwire 10.61 AB/HR
2. Babe Ruth 11.76 AB/HR
3. Barry Bonds 12.95 AB/HR
4. Jim Thome 13.58 AB/HR
5. Albert Belle 13.96 AB/HR
Source: www.baseball-reference.com

4. McGwire was not the one-dimensional, Kingman-like, homer-or-nothing hitter that many revisionists want to make him out to be. The 12-time All-Star led the league in walks, twice, and in on-base percentage twice. He's in the top 50 in on-base percentage, all-time. And of the 20 members of the 500-homer club, he is seventh in on-base percentage (.394). He never struck out more than 159 times in a season, never led the league in strikeouts and he was in the Top 10 in strikeouts only twice during a career that spanned parts of 16 seasons.

5. This is important: No one, anywhere, has ever proven that he took performance-enhancing drugs. He has been charged and convicted in the court of public opinion because of a bottle of androstendione that was spotted in his locker in 1998 (it was a legal substance at the time), allegations in a book by one-time teammate Jose Canseco and his own poor performance testifying in front of a Congressional committee in the spring of 2005.

Now, here are Five Reasons Why McGwire Shouldn't Be in the Hall of Fame:

1. Sure, he could hit home runs, but he simply didn't stay healthy long enough during his career to put up the other numbers that a Hall of Famer needs. He had only 1,626 hits, for example, which would rank him dead last among those who have hit 500 homers.

2. For all the home-run prowess and all the walks that he took, McGwire hit into a lot of outs. (He ranks 23rd all-time in making outs, among players with fewer than 6,300 at-bats.) He didn't hit for average (.263 during his career). He hit only .201 in 1991. Other members of the Hall of Fame have had worse career batting averages. Harmon Killebrew and Reggie Jackson, among members of the 500 home run club, had worse. But .263 is not exactly inspiring, is it?

3. He won one Gold Glove at first base, in 1990, but he wasn't a particularly adept fielder. And as a runner … hoo boy. Not good.

4. McGwire was sorely ineffective in the postseason, hitting .217 in 42 playoff games, including .188 in 13 World Series games. He had a .669 OPS in the postseason, more than 300 points lower than his career OPS of .982.

5. This is the big one, and the one that will probably keep him out of the Hall, at least for this year: Everything -- from the andro in his locker to Canseco's chillingly accurate book to a refusal to defend himself on Capitol Hill in 2005 (or at any time since that memorable spring afternoon) -- screams that McGwire used illegal performance-enhancing drugs to gain an advantage during at least some of his career.

So, discuss among yourselves. The Baseball Writers Association of America has had its say. The results of the balloting will be announced Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET.

And we will all, I'm guessing, be right back here in 2008.
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