In the 2011 Hall of Fame voting, Mark McGwire received 19.8% of the vote, far short of the 75% required to gain admission to the Hall. His 583 career home runs are the most of any player that is eligible for the Hall (retired 5 years), that has not been enshrined. For many years that honor belonged to Dave Kingman and his 442 home runs. In McGwire’s first year of eligibility he received 23% of the vote. For right now, the trend shows that Mark McGwire will never be elected into the Hall of Fame.
Neither will Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro is one of four players to have 500 career home runs and 3,000 hits. The other three are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray. In his first year of eligibility, Palmeiro received 11% of the vote. No one has ever made the Hall after receiving 11% of the votes. Palmeiro and McGwire are exhibits A and B for the steroid era sluggers making the Hall of Fame. Both of them are confirmed users. Both have incredible, HoF-worthy numbers. Neither will be enshrined in the near future.
Why do I bring this up? Because this week Tony LaRussa retired. He retired after an emotional run to his third World Series championship. He retired after what was a mixed-bag of managing. In the Series he made some world-class gaffes as well as incredibly shrewd moves. There is little doubt that LaRussa is a Hall of Fame manager. He has won three World Series titles, including wins out of both leagues. He has won division titles with three teams. He has won the manager of the year twice (and will likely win it again this year). He is third on the all-time list in managerial wins behind only legends Connie Mack and John McGraw (and is second all-time in losses).
Shortly after he retired the accolades, congratulations, and well-wishes came pouring in. It seemed like every news source and commentator was fawning over his incredible achievements and his already paved route to Cooperstown. I just want to say, “Hold on a second.”
While McGwire and Palmeiro sit outside Hall, we’re going to let LaRussa stroll right in? No, he never used performance enhancing drugs, but he certainly benefited from them. It has been argued that LaRussa is the most complicit manager of the steroid era. Tony LaRussa managed Mark McGwire in two different stops – his two most successful, I might add. McGwire has finally admitted to using steroids, first in Oakland in 1989, and again in his famed run toward 73 home runs with the Cardinals in 1998. His manager both times? Tony LaRussa. He claims that LaRussa, who has time and again defended McGwire, didn’t know anything about it.
At best, it seems hard to believe that LaRussa knew nothing – twice. At worst, he was a complicit participant in the greatest systematic cheating scandal in the history of the game. Some go so far as to say that he was actively covering up the steroid use of his players while at the same time berating any reporters with the gall to ask questions. And according to Jose Canseco, the guy who has been proven right over and over again despite being ridiculed and insulted when he first made his accusations, LaRussa knew everything.
I’m not saying that LaRussa shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but it seems clear that a standard about the steroid era has been set. It will be interesting when 2013, when Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens become eligible for the first time. If any of them get in, it will surprise me. Interestingly enough, because managers are voted into the Hall differently, LaRussa will first be eligible (along with Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Bobby Cox) in, how cool is this, 2013.
So it turns out 2013 will be an interesting year for the Hall of Fame and the steroid era. Three known users and two managers that benefited greatly from the era (Torre managed A-Rod, Clemens, Giambi) will all become eligible.
I’m not passing judgment on LaRussa’s resume, but I’m surprised that almost all national media outlets have been completely silent on LaRussa’s less than sparkling involvement in the steroid era. It seems to me that there is a double standard. If the players don’t go in, why would their managers?
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