So Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn made it into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. That's an exceptionally rare honor but it's one that both players deserve fully.
Not so for Mark McGwire, the home-run-bashing, low-average slugger for the Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals who made a truly pathetic spectacle of himself a few years back during a ridiculous and illegitimate Congressional hearing on the dread menace of steroids in sports (as former Reasoner Matt Welch, now of the LA Times, put it eloquently, "Congress has no business examining baseball's urine"). I never liked McGwire or the teams he played for, and his blubbery performance (in every sense of the word) was embarrassing to say the least. Yet as Gene Lyons and others point out, McGwire, who used performance-enhancing substances during his career, has never been charged with, much less found guilty of, breaking baseball's rules at the time he was playing. (Things have changed since then.)
Just based on his stats, which are excellent, but not immortal-level excellent, I don't think McGwire deserved entry on a first-round ballot. It's not clear whether McGwire will get into the Hall in a later vote, though it's quite possible. ESPN this morning gave a list of five comparable players who had to wait pretty long stretches, including a 10-year span for old Dodgers slugger Duke Snider, who is roughly similar in profile to McGwire. For the record, Tony Gwynn says he should.
I'm not sure anyone should care too much about that outcome. But it is worth recalling the larger context of this debate, which has a lot to do with the way drugs are discussed, debated, and vilified throughout society. As I wrote in March 2004, when "the steroids are killing the national pastime" was in full bloom,
There's a double standard when it comes to drugs that I think stems more from a reflexive distaste for pharmaceuticals as somehow being "unnatural"–as if there's anything pristine about the rigid and highly contrived diet and exercise regimens that pro athletes undertake. There's an unexamined sense that if you use "drugs" (though not vitamin supplements, which are "natural," right?) to become better at something, you're cheating. Even in sports where the suspect substances are not officially or completely banned (MLB, for instance, bans steroid use if the player doesn't have a prescription and various 'roid-like supplements are still not officially banned).
Bonus highlight reel: A defense of 'roid-ripping, Viagra-poppin' former slugger Rafael Palmeiro.