Raffy and Big Mac – Together Again

Now that another Hall of Fame candidate has been put front and center in the ongoing steroid controversy, what might it mean to Mark McGwire and his chances?

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro's ten-game suspension for violation of Major League Baseball's performance enhancing drug policy is Monday's biggest story. In fact, it is the biggest story of the 2005 baseball season to-date, the shock waves of which may be felt around the game for years to come.


It didn't take long for Palmeiro to fall from grace. Though he is 40 years old and first came up to the major leagues in 1986, it was just last month when Palmeiro reached his career pinnacle to date and was the toast of baseball fans everywhere. The celebration of his 3000th career hit was universally celebrated as a heartwarming story of a good guy who finally was receiving his just due.


After all, despite having been accused of having been personally shot up with steroids by the man who tells all he knows and likely much more, Jose Canseco, Palmeiro had never been in any trouble during his 20 years in the game.


Now that it has come to light that Palmeiro has done much more than take that little E.D. aid that his doctor said was "right for me", all that 20 years of good has come into question and debate.


It also calls into ridicule the dog and pony show also known as the Congressional Hearings this spring in which Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Canseco, Curt Schilling and others testified. At least a few of them must have had their fingers crossed behind their backs at the time. Either that or they thought they were talking with a group of insurance salesmen instead of members of the United States Congress.


Still, on the field, Palmeiro's 3018 hits and 569 home runs and counting are stats that should put him alongside the game's past greats in Cooperstown some day.


To many, that bottom line seems to be is all that matters. In fact, three ESPN Hall of Fame voters, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark, seem to represent the prevailing view of this situation around baseball. Each has come to the quick and seemingly firm conclusion that they will still vote for Palmeiro when the time comes, five years after Raffy hangs up his spikes for the last time.


In his ESPN column Monday, Stark makes it clear there are too many vagaries and inconsistencies about this form of cheating to sway his vote and he doesn't feel it is his role to police the game. In fact, Stark plans to vote for Raffy on his first and every HoF ballot thereafter.


Fair enough.


But, what about the most famous player in Washington D.C. that day, who by refusing to talk about the past, tarred and feathered himself in front of that same Congressional kangaroo court simply because he had the audacity to try to avoid having to lie?


Of course, I am talking about Mark McGwire, who was actually an ex-player at that point in time. As the result of his clumsy debut appearance on Capitol Hill, Big Mac became the lightning rod for the sudden 180 degree steroid change in direction literally forced upon MLB after years of winking indifference. All that focus was on Mac despite him having officially and completely having retired from the game over three years prior.


There may be many more players identified as steroid users between now and when Big Mac's name first comes up for formal Cooperstown consideration. But in Palmeiro, at least one other with numbers that should also get him there has now been formally implicated, this time with hard evidence, a dirty test.


Will Palmeiro's misfortune, that of getting caught, provide an inadvertent advantage to McGwire's own Hall chances?


In other words, does Monday's news mean McGwire may face an easier ride to his date in upstate New York than first expected? Remember, despite having been only fingered by Canseco and himself in the case of androstenedione, the March hearing turned the tide of public opinion firmly and sharply against Mac.


I believe the arguments that Stark and others use in defense of Palmeiro's Hall worthiness apply as much or more to Big Mac, too. Monday night, I asked Stark his opinion.


"I feel no different about voting for Palmeiro than I feel about voting for McGwire. If baseball had cared enough about this problem to deal with it 10 years ago, we wouldn't need to have this discussion. So, my stance is that I'm just going to vote on what I saw on the field", said Stark.


Stark minced no words in reiterating his support for Mac.


"I'm going to vote for Mark McGwire, who was the most thrilling slugger I've ever watched, and the guy who broke baseball's most romantic record while representing his sport with class and reverence for the magnitude of the feat."


Like many of us, Stark does have some reservations, though they are limited.


"I won't feel as good about casting that vote as I would have before those Congressional hearings, just as I won't feel quite the same about that vote for Palmeiro after what happened Monday. But if baseball didn't choose to police itself, it isn't my job to police it now, all these years later", Stark told me in closing.


In a couple of years, will all this furor be old hat, anyway?


I think so. Until it happens, of course I can't prove it. But I do believe that when McGwire is reluctantly pushed back into the spotlight in a couple of years that he will feel less heat that he would have otherwise.


A final thought. Don't you think that somewhere in California Monday evening, in celebration, Balco Barry Bonds hoisted into the air a glass of champagne or whatever cocktail he puts into his body?


All because of Raffy. If he had only stuck to that little blue pill…


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net

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