1987 AL Rookie of the Year
3 Silver Sluggers
1 World Series Ring
1 Gold Glove
7th All-Time in Home Runs (5th at time of retirement)
Led his league in
Home Runs 4 times
Slugging Percentage 4 times
On Base Percentage 2 times
Bases on Balls 2 times
Runs Batted In 1 time
At first glance, one might wonder why I would even debate whether "Big Mac" belongs in the Hall of Fame. With an incredible display of power, a 70 home run season, a 65 home run season, a career OPS of .982 and a career AVERAGE of 50 home runs per season (162 games played), what's to discuss?
Steroids, that's what.
Mr McGwire had an incredible career, breaking in with the A's in 1987 by setting a new home run record for rookies, and later capturing the hearts and minds of the nation with his chase toward Roger Maris in 1998. There would be no need for debate, the phone would ring from Cooperstown on Mark's first day of eligibility, if not for "My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family or myself." On March 17, 2005 the obvious became not so obvious for many when Mr McGwire refused to discuss his alleged involvement in baseball's steroid culture.
That lack of candor begs for immediate debate, but first, a look at the events that made him a true Hall of Fame candidate in the first place...
Professional baseball nearly began for McGwire in 1981 when the Montreal Expos drafted the 18-year-old in the 8th round. Mark chose not to sign, enrolling instead at the University of Southern California, where he set the school's career home run record. Power like that always brings attention, and it certainly did, scouts followed McGwire everywhere. One of the teams that got a good eyeful was the Oakland A's, who chose Mark with the 10th pick overall in 1984. After a stint with the '84 U.S. Olympic team, Mark signed, reaching the major leagues within three years.
Mark's career took off from the start with the A's, beginning with an unheard of 49 home runs as a rookie. For the most part, things went very well for McGwire through his first six seasons. During that time, he averaged 36 home runs per year, and played in three World Series with the A's, winning in 1989. This takes us through age 28, to this point McGwire is a huge star, with tremendous home run power... "The sky was the limit."
That all changed abruptly during the 1993 season, Mark began to break down physically, appearing in just 27 games that season, then 47 games in 1994. Persistent problems with his legs and feet landed McGwire on the disabled list repeatedly, and dropped him from public consciousness. In '95, although appearing in just 105 games, McGwire hit 39 home runs, an astonishing one home run for every 2.69 games played. Big Mac was back!
At this point in his career, Mark's power numbers took a major step forward, and his body began to hold up- enough for him to play in 130 games in 1996. The extra AB's allowed for his first ever 50 home run season, Mark finished his last full season in Oakland with a new career high 52 round trippers. By now, McGwire was a major story again, LONG home runs seemed routine, his arms were enormous, the force with which he drove the ball was positively lethal. No one from my generation had ever seen such power, of McGwire's 132 base hits in '96, 73 were for extra bases, he hit 52 home runs that year