Topic: Sports &
Mark McGwire: Unfit
for the Hall of Fame
Watching sportswriters deal with ethical
issues isn't pretty, but at least it appears that this time around they
will be making the right choice regarding slugger Mark McGwire's worthiness
for Baseball's Hall of Fame. McGwire, for all you non-baseball fans out
there, was a home run-hitting first baseman who surreptitiously used illegal
anabolic steroids to inflate his biceps and statistics, then managed to
retire before the proverbial excrement, in the form of former team mate
Jose Canseco's vengeful expose, hit the fan. McGwire shattered Roger Maris's
single season home run record, which he held until an even more egregious
steroid user, Barry Bonds, surpassed it. Bonds will eventually be indicted,
rather than inducted, for his conduct, as sure as crocuses bloom in May.
McGwire's punishment will be more symbolic.
McGwire not only cheated, but he cheated to break one of baseball's most
hallowed records. According to printed reports, it was McGwire's steroid-fueled
success that inspired Barry Bonds to become a user. He was a role model,
and he corrupted the game with his status, earning millions of dollars
for accomplishments that he could not have achieved playing by the rules.
The Hall of Fame is for players who were a credit to the game. Pete Rose
isn't there because he risked the game's integrity by gambling on his
own team's games while he was managing. Shoeless Joe Jackson isn't there,
despite one of the best lifetime averages of all time, because he accepted
a bribe to throw the World Series in 1919. And Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco,
Raphael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and any other players involved
in distorting their bodies and the record books with illegal substances
(always while denying it indignantly) should be kept out of the Hall permanently.
A disturbing (though hardly surprising) number of baseball writers and
players don't comprehend this. Luckily (for them, not us) they have an
eloquent and outspoken mouthpiece in MSNBC sports commentator Mike Celizic,
who uses so many ethics fallacies to defend McGwire in a recent article
that his wife should check his collar for lipstick stains, his poker buddies
should make him roll up his sleeves, and MSNBC should independently confirm
every line of his resume. This guy never met an ethical rationalization
he didn't like.
But just for variety, he begins his argument for McGwire with a major
factual error, and a common one:
"I've said this before, but since so few people seem to understand
the logic of the situation, I'll say it again: McGwire didn't do anything
that was against the rules of the game of baseball."
Surprise, Mike: breaking the law and using substances banned by the U.S.
government is forbidden by Major League Baseball. Do you really think
every profession has to ratify the law for it to apply? Even though it
was unnecessary, baseball did in fact institute a rule in 1979 absolutely
prohibiting the use of any substance banned by Federal authorities. Look
Now on to the rationalizations!
- "McGwire almost certainly isn't the first player who "probably"
used steroids to be on the ballot, and when and if he gets in, I'd lay
my house against a burger-flipper's paycheck that at least one of the
people in ahead of him also used sports' magic potion".
Translation: if one person got away with it, everyone should get
away with it. Great rule, Mike. I guess all wife-killers should get
to play golf for the rest of their lives, because O. J. can. If the
Hall of Fame gets tricked into honoring one cheater, honor them all.
You know, teenagers read this unethical, illogical garbage and think
that because it's in print, it has validity as an argument. Some opinions
are so ill-considered that they are actually toxic, and Celizic's is
one of them.
- "The Hall is already the home of dozens of players who took amphetamines,
a drug just as illegal as steroids, but one that the game started testing
for only this past season. Mickey Mantle took them. Willie Mays took
them. Darned near everybody took the pills known as "greenies" and kept
in bowls like M&Ms in every trainer's room in the game."
This is more of the same, but without any basis for a legitimate analogy.
There is no evidence that amphetamines, which were frequently prescribed
legally by team doctors, affected the performance, ability or statistics
of players in any way. In 2006 baseball tightened its ban on their use.
Players drank more coffee, and there was no change at all in what happened
on the field. Bottom line: amphetamines, so matter how much they were
used, did not damage the integrity of the game. Comparing them to steroids
- "Other players cheated their way into the Hall. Don Sutton was
one of that ilk, as was Gaylord Perry. So was Whitey Ford and who knows
how many other pitchers who cut, scuffed, lubricated and otherwise did
things to baseballs that would make them curve in ways not intended
This is yet another version of Celizic's core argument, which is that
if any player ever profited from cheating without being penalized it
precludes the punishment of any other wrongdoer. But the "spitballs
equal steroids" line of argument keeps popping up, so here is the Scoreboard's
explanation of why it is 100%, unadulterated, ethically bone-headed
balderdash, from the 3/15/06 essay "Learning From Bonds' Defenders":
"…It is hard to overstate the Scoreboard's contempt for this line of
reasoning. Why? Because the fact that others get away with
unethical conduct never justifies their actions or mitigates any else's.
Why? Because it's impossible to punish those who aren't caught,
but those who are deserve the punishment they get. Why? Because
some forms of cheating are worse than others, and using steroids is
right at the top of the list. It puts pressure on other players to do
the same to compete; it pollutes the game's integrity; it substitutes
drugs for dedication and practice; it encourages young players to endanger
their lives; and it's illegal, unlike spitballs and corked bats and
stealing signs. Yes, lots of players have cheated, but the vast majority
of players have not, and a cheating player who rises to the pinnacle
of the sport like Bonds threatens to make cheating the norm rather than
And there's one more reason. Every time a prominent, popular, powerful
or successful figure inspires large portions of the public to twist
their values and principles into pretzels in order to defend him or
her, it distorts those individuals' ethical judgement and leaves them
vulnerable to bad choices and bad conduct of their own. Clinton, DeLay,
Martha Stewart, Bonds, Michael Jackson, Brad Pitt, Marion Barry, Dan
Rather…these are all leaders of one kind or another, and like all leaders,
their conduct has a disproportionate effect on our culture. They force
their supporters to choose between perceived disloyalty and ethics-busting
rationalizations, and as the unfolding drama of Barry Bonds shows, too
many choose the latter…"
Celicik's next "point" isn't so much an ethical error as jaw-dropping
- "So the objection to McGwire can't be about using illegal substances
or cheating. Neither of those activities has ever kept anyone else out.
Why should they keep Big Mac out? I know the answer: McGwire broke the
most sacred record in baseball's hallowed book; he hit more home runs
than anyone had hit before."
Two time honored tactics of desperate advocacy are on display here.
First, when you can't support your central argument, state that you
have. Second, cry conspiracy. Most baseball fans' memories aren't as
short as Celizik seems to believe. No player has ever been more joyously
welcomed into the record books than Mark McGwire was when he broke Roger
Maris's home run record. Fan resentment only surfaced much later, when
it became obvious that McGwire's good-guy façade hid a lying
This manifestly dishonest argument shows why this sports journalist
is so quick to excuse McGwire's lack of integrity: he has none himself.
Now here's a classic:
- The game wanted a lot of home runs, and he obliged it. Along the
way, he pulled in fans in record numbers and helped restore the game
to health after the 1994 strike."
Yes, it's that oldie but baddie, "the end justifies the means." We knew
you couldn't resist that one, Mike. And finally…
- "OK, he embarrassed himself in front of Congress, but that was
four years after he retired. It's irrelevant."
Irrelevant? Testifying in 2004 before Congress on steroid use in baseball,
McGwire repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about whether
he used steroids and other banned performance-enhancing drugs. All that
was required was a "no," but McGwire was under oath, so instead he dodged
the question. He was obviously ashamed, though Celizik claims he had
nothing to be ashamed of. He lacked the courage to be truthful, even
though his demeanor and words left no doubt that he was guilty of violating
the rules of the game, the laws of the nation, and the principles of
sportsmanship. And Mike Celizik writes that this is irrelevant to the
question of whether Mark McGwire should be enshrined with the game's
On the day McGwire enters the Hall of Fame, if that day ever comes, sportswriters
like Celizik will have made the statement that the honest, fair, responsible
and courageous athletes immortalized in Cooperstown are no better than
a coward, cheat and fraud like Mark McGwire. If I were Cal Ripkin, Carl
Yastrzemski, Stan Musial, Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, Ryne Sandberg or any
of the other exemplary individuals who won election there without chemical
assistance I would resign my membership…and I think it's likely that some
of them will. Defenders of cheaters like McGwire, those who neither appreciate
the importance of ethical values nor understand them, are always trying
to denigrate fair play and deride playing by the rules as the obsession
of suckers. Whether or not McGwire gets elected to the Hall of Fame will
tell us a great deal about whether the Mike Celiziks of the world are
going to shape the culture of America's pastime, or if the sport still
believes that integrity and honesty are as important as money, championships,
and TV ratings.
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