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Why McGwire’s Hall of Fame vote total dropped

Former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire is losing ground in his Hall of Fame candidacy.

In the 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame voting announced Wednesday, former St. Louis Cardinals home run hero Mark McGwire saw his total drop under 20 percent for the first time in his five years on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.

In the 12 months since the previous vote, McGwire had been more active than in the previous four years combined. He came out of a long seclusion, admitted steroids use in his past and returned to the game as hitting coach for the Cardinals.

So much has already been written on the subject that I had not planned to add to it today. However, I read a pre-announcement piece by Derrick Goold at the Post-Dispatch today that moved me to comment.

Goold analyzed the McGwire situation, past and present, in considerable detail, but in my view, painted Big Mac’s steroids admission and reaction to it in black and white terms.

My read is that by insisting that his steroid use did not affect his results on the field, McGwire left a gray area, effectively negating his admission. The way his words were chosen was seen by some as being less than fully sincere and honest. There was also no mention of the carefully-crafted public relations campaign behind McGwire’s return.

These important aspects of the situation and their potential impact on Hall voters were not explored in Goold’s article.

The 2011 Hall of Fame results would seem to confirm that coming out – or at least the way McGwire chose to come out – was ineffective in terms of him gaining support among the ten-plus year members of the BBWAA.

Goold also discusses Houston’s Jeff Bagwell, suspected by some of steroid use, but never caught at anything. Bagwell recently felt the need to come out and deny the rumors directly, something Big Mac and Rafael Palmeiro once did as well.

The writer predicted that due to the suspicion alone, Bagwell would only “get a slim percentage of the vote” this year, his first time eligible. That did not turn out to be the case.

Bagwell received 41.7 percent support. While far short of the 75 percent needed for election, it was a solid showing. McGwire finished with 19.8 percent, a drop of almost four percent from 2010. Interestingly, former Cardinal Larry Walker debuted at 20.3 percent, just ahead of Big Mac.

Palmeiro, with Hall of Fame-caliber numbers, but also a failed drug test and a hollow denial as major black marks against him, had just 11 percent support in his first year on the ballot.

Had McGwire been a normal case, one would have expected to see his vote total rise over time, but as we know, this is not business as usual. It is a very unique situation, different from Bagwell, Palmeiro and all the others.

There is one fact that cannot be debated. McGwire’s Hall trajectory is not positive. He seems to be running out of chances to try to make it right.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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