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Gaming The Hall of Fame

Cross-posted at

Tony LaRussa is in the news today, saying his "dream" is to see new Cardinals hitting instructor Mark McGwirepinch-hit in a game this season

Never one to miss a trick, Rob Neyer pounces on the deeper meaning of LaRussa's pie-in-the-sky gesture. As things stand, McGwire has little to no support for getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. The big obstacle, of course is baseball backlash's against performance-enhancing drugs, and McGwire's status as a poster child for the PED era. As Rob explains, if McGwire gets into a game this season, his Hall of Fame eligibility clock is temporarily stopped, and he doesn't go back on the ballot until 2016. By pushing the timeline back five years, McGwire could benefit from a more accepting attitude among voters, as the BBWAA welcomes in new blood and PEDs in general potentially lose some of their stigma.

I would LOVE for this to happen.

First off, I think voters should elect Hall of Famers primarily for their accomplishments on the field. Players like McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez all possess overwhelmingly good numbers - so vote 'em in. If we start disqualifying players for taking advantage of the loopholes of a given era, you can toss everyone out of the Hall of Fame. Players of Willie Mays' era dipped into giant bowls of greenies, proudly displayed in every clubhouse. Players of Babe Ruth's era played against white players, and not even the best white players; with no scouting and no farm systems around, happenstance was many players' ticket to the big leagues, and many big potential talents probably never got a shot because they were never discovered. If LaRussa's gambit helps McGwire get in the Hall of Fame, great. He's a big part of baseball history, and should be acknowledged as such.

But there's another reason I'm for LaRussa's idea. There are many enlightened, thoughtful people in the BBWAA, people who take their jobs seriously, and put a great deal of effort into selecting players for induction. But there are also some voters who game the system, whose cognitive dissonance and egos drive them to make up arbitrary rules about who should and should not get in based on their own whims. Forget PED-linked players for a second. We see players fall short because some voters don't find it proper to vote in anyone but Hank Aaron on the first ballot. Other voters decide they're moral watchdogs, so they're going to make one of the greatest second basemen of all-time wait, because he once did something rude and insulting on TV. I especially enjoyed the story told by @SportsByBrooks on Twitter today, noting that one BBWAA member wouldn't vote for Bert Blyleven this year because he wanted to stick it to the ex-pitcher for lobbying on his own behalf. There's nothing in the rules against gaming the voting system, so they're going to do it.

Splendid. So Tony, go ahead and use Mac in some meaningless September game this season, and extend his Hall of Fame clock by five years. It might result in voters' attitudes toward McGwire improving in time for his election – or it might be viewed as a stunt and actually backfire. But it would certainly send a statement about power and responsibility, that if one faction wants to bend the rules to their advantage, another faction can do the same. In fact, Tony, don't just send Mark McGwire up to pinch-hit for his one plate appearance of the 2010 season.

Have him bunt.