B. Robinson: Don't give McGwire Hall pass

December 03, 2006|By RICK MAESE

Brooks Robinson is expecting a record crowd to converge on Cooperstown, N.Y., in July to watch Cal Ripken Jr. join the game's immortals in the Hall of Fame.

"They'll break the all-time record with attendance at this one," Robinson said. "When I was inducted in '83, the whole state got behind it. We wowed them up there. They ran out of hats, shirts, everything. I think they'll be prepared for this one."

Robinson will be there, of course, along with about 50 other past inductees. And thousands of fans from Maryland and beyond will surely make the trek. In fact, there's only one person Robinson is pretty sure he won't see at the induction ceremony: Mark McGwire.

Ballots were released Monday, and about 575 voters will decide whether McGwire will join the aging cast of baseball's best. Think of it like artificial arms meets artificial hips.

Robinson joined a growing chorus last week, saying in an interview that he doesn't think McGwire's name should be near those of the most hallowed hitters and pitchers.

"I guess you have to ask yourself, does he really deserve it and did he play the game the way it's supposed to be played?" Robinson said.

An Associated Press poll of more than 125 voters indicated that McGwire is probably a long shot to gain entry. It's a complex issue, and many think slamming the door on McGwire foreshadows an indictment of an entire era of sluggers.

Oh, the problems they must be pondering up in Cooperstown right now. This is the biggest conundrum Hall officials have wrestled with since figuring out where to display Ty Cobb's fake teeth.

"Maybe we should create an entire 'roids wing. We could have an interactive display where the kids can poke a needle into the best tushes to ever grace the diamond."

"Do ya think we could get Barry Bonds to donate a game-used syringe?"

"Will we even be able to fit Mark McGwire's head on a plaque if he's voted in?"

Robinson adds a layer of intrigue to the discussion by invoking the name of Pete Rose. If McGwire eventually gains entry, how can anyone justify leaving Rose out in the cold? Put simply: Is what McGwire is assumed to have done really worse than what Rose has admitted to doing? Robinson doesn't think so.

"If you judge Pete by what he did as a player, he sure looks like a Hall of Famer," he said.

Robinson points out that if McGwire took steroids - and at the very least we know he used androstenedione before it was banned - his success and playing career were assisted by artificial means. Rose, on the other hand, confessed to gambling during his days as a manager but has admitted to nothing that would cast doubt on his accomplishments as a player.

Rose was never allowed on the writers' ballot, and if he's to ever gain entry, it'll be at the discretion of the veteran's committee, which isn't likely.

McGwire, however, will see his ticket punched if 75 percent of the writers agree that he's Hall material. (In the Associated Press survey, only about 25 percent of respondents said they'd vote for McGwire.) Robinson said it will be several years before McGwire receives serious consideration, and by the time sluggers such as Bonds and Sammy Sosa become eligible, the growing evidence might help dissipate the murkiness.

"I think there's a lot more to come out soon," Robinson said. "I think we'll be better informed when all the facts come out."

Instead of facts, the majority of voters will use innuendo, gut sense and speculation to justify leaving out one of the game's top statistical sluggers, and we should all be OK with that.

Voting is supposed to be subjective and, whether we're talking about McGwire, Tony Gwynn or Dante Bichette, each voter is weighing pros and cons that he or she thinks matter most. We're not talking about a criminal court here. The standards and the burden of proof are not set in stone. If you believe Albert Belle had the numbers, you give him a vote (and then visit a shrink). If you believe McGwire's accomplishments could've been written by Aesop, you leave him out.

"The guys who should be upset are the home run hitters," Robinson said. "To see these guys go past some of those great ones - the 500 club - that's upsetting."

And they are upset. Frank Robinson, who has dropped from fourth to sixth on the career home run list in recent years, has adamantly spoken against steroids in baseball. He echoed the thoughts of many fellow Hall of Famers, saying there's no room in their club for the artificially enhanced.

"Let's take Barry Bonds," Frank Robinson told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "You don't get better as you get older."

Well, some people appear to get better. From ages 36 to 39, Frank Robinson hit 91 home runs. Over the same age period, Bonds blasted 209 - en route to four Most Valuable Player awards.

"We don't know what [taking steroids] really does for you," Frank Robinson told The Enquirer. "I've been told you can bounce back from injuries quicker. Your eyesight gets better. Your reflexes get better."

But your chances of entering the Hall of Fame get worse.

You can hear in Brooks Robinson's voice the pride that goes along with being a member of an elite club. Ripken will know that feeling soon, too. Gaining entry into Cooperstown is one of sport's biggest honors, and there's no place in there for those who've dishonored the game.


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