Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame Worthinessby J.P. McIntyre
December 05, 2006
Mark McGwire's inclusion on the Hall of Fame Ballot has created a maelstrom of controversy; many voters say they'll refuse to vote for him because of the steroid specter. Before the baseball writers embark on their holy crusades, perhaps they should analyze McGwire's contributions as a player. Lost in the misplaced, idealistic chest beating is the question, "Is Mark McGwire a legitimate HOF Candidate?"
Let's use Win Shares to take a look. Win Shares are not the definitive argument for Hall of Fame candidacy, and yes, Win Shares have slight flaws. However, they certainly help define a player's worth in manner that is not cumbersome. Here is how McGwire's career stacks up against other Hall Of Fame first basemen:
Career Win Shares Lou Gehrig 489 Eddie Murray 437 Jimmie Foxx 435 Willie McCovey 408 Cap Anson 381 Harmon Killebrew 371 Roger Connor 362 Dan Brouthers 355 Tony Perez 349 Mark McGwire 342 Johnny Mize 338 Jake Beckley 318 Orlando Cepeda 310 George Sisler 292 Bill Terry 278 Jim Bottomley 258 Hank Greenberg 267 Frank Chance 237 George Kelly 193 Buck Leonard NAAn adjustment for the 154 and 162 game schedules would put Johnny Mize ahead of McGwire, but McGwire fares pretty well in terms of career as compared to other HOF first basemen. He is nowhere close to Lou Gehrig, and a good deal behind the likes of Eddie Murray and Jimmie Foxx, but he still holds his own against the others.
Now let's look at peak through cumulative seasons of Win Shares:
Five-Year Cumulative WS Seasons Gehrig 204 Fox 183 McCovey 169 Mize 164 Greenberg 163 Killebrew 162 McGwire 159 Murray 152 Terry 149 Perez 146 Cepeda 145 Chance 143Again, McGwire does pretty well, although some of those ahead of him would distance themselves with schedule adjustments and some behind him would catch him.
Now let's look at 10-year cumulative seasons of Win Shares:
Ten-Year Cumulative WS Seasons Gehrig 384 Fox 325 Mize 296 McCovey 285 Killebrew 279 McGwire 278 Murray 273 Greenberg 262 Terry 255 Cepeda 251 Perez 249 Sisler 239 Chance 206McGwire fares a bit better in the 10-year "peak," although, again, there would be some jostling of the numbers with schedule adjustments.
However, McGwire played in an offensive era in which Win Shares were "easier" to amass, plus one could say McGwire played in an age of prolific first basemen. Let's take a look at how McGwire compares to the great first basemen of his time:
Career Win Shares Palmeiro 395 Bagwell 388 Thomas 384 McGwire 342 McGriff 341 Clark 331 Thome 308 Olerud 301 Giambi 284 Delgado 267 Pujols 219One thing that should be noted is that the strike of 1994 denied most of those players a few Win Shares, but McGwire's numbers were not affected by the strike that much as he was still battling injuries. As of now, McGwire is fourth out of 11 in this ranking. However, Albert Pujols has only played in the majors for six years, and according to MLB records, will only be 27 years old next year. At the rate Pujols is playing, he would pass McGwire's career Win Share total after 10 seasons, provided he can sustain his remarkable production. Jim Thome has a chance of passing McGwire's career Win Share total, although he logged a few seasons at third base and is now a designated hitter. Jason Giambi and Carlos Delgado have outside chances of catching McGwire.
In fact, McGwire's career Win Share total, when compared to other first basemen of his time, is hardly a ringing endorsement for Cooperstown. He is only one World Series ahead of McGriff, who probably won't be elected by the baseball writers, and is just slightly ahead of Will Clark, who the writers scorned in brutal fashion when he made the ballot.
Let's look at peak:
Five-Year Cumulative Total Pujols 190 Thomas 172 Bagwell 170 Clark 168 Giambi 168 McGwire 159 Olerud 151 Delgado 150 Thome 149 McGriff 143 Palmeiro 143McGwire drops to sixth in Five Years Cumulatives and behind Will Clark, who now has to wait for the Veteran's Committee to decide his HOF fate. However, McGwire fares better in 10-year cumulatives:
Ten-Year Cumulative Win Shares Bagwell 298 Thomas 298 McGwire 278 Giambi 272 Clark 269 Thome 267 Palmeiro 257 Delgado 253 McGriff 248 Olerud 238 Pujols* 219*six years
Barring something catastrophic, Pujols should easily surpass McGwire (he'd only have to put up four more 15-Win-Share seasons to pass McGwire). Still, McGwire's 10-year cumulative is very impressive.
But how many first basemen from this era will the writers elect? McGwire was middle of the pack in career and five-year cumulatives, and very solid in his 10-year cumulatives. Is that enough to warrant a HOF election?
Before we can answer that question, we need to look at how McGwire compared to superstars at other positions in his time. (Yes, there are some possible problems comparing Win Shares across position because of defensive point assignments, but let's trudge forth anyway):
Career Win Shares Barry Bonds 693 Cal Ripken 427 Craig Biggio 425 Gary Sheffield 404 Tony Gwynn 398 Wade Boggs 394 Ken Griffey Jr 371 Alex Rodriguez 343 Mark McGwire 342 Manny Ramirez 339 Mike Piazza 322 Jeff Kent 317 Chipper Jones 303 Derek Jeter 278When the careers of everyone on the list are finished, there is a good chance that only Mike Piazza will be behind McGwire in terms of career Win Shares. Let's look at peak:
Five-Year Cumulative Win Shares Bonds 244 Pujols 190 A-Rod 176 Thomas 172 Bagwell 170 Biggio 168 Clark 168 Giambi 168 Boggs 165 Sheffiel 164 Piazza 164 Gwynn 162 Ripken 160 Sosa 160 McGwire 159 Ramirez 154McGwire is 15th on that list, and if Ramirez manages a 32-Win-Share season before he retires, he'll catch McGwire. Here are the 10-year cumulatives better than McGwire:
10-Year Cumulative Win Shares Bonds 424 Sheffiel 306 A-Rod 306 Thomas 298 Bagwell 298 Biggio 294 Boggs 291 Piazza 282 McGwire 278Again, McGwire does much better in the 10-year cumulatives, but he is still ninth. Considering everything else, is that enough for the Hall of Fame? Since HOF worthiness is a personal choice, people will make their own decisions based on what types of players should be in the Hall. Personally, I think McGwire would be a marginal Hall of Fame choice. He fares well historically, but not so well against players of his time. While there are many people who would like to keep the Marginals out of the Hall, based on what McGwire did on the field, I would not be upset if he was elected. He certainly isn't an automatic lock for election, which is a stance being bandied around by many writers.
What McGwire illustrates is that people must redefine what constitutes a Hall of Famer in the most modern era. While scribes who romanticize baseball like to think of the sport and its measuring sticks of performance as static, the playing field changes over time. Moral debates over steroids should not dwarf intelligent discussion about overhauling the parameters of Hall of Fame worthiness. Once those parameters are established, then the moral arguments can be made in earnest.
On a closing note, let's compare McGwire to a similar player who put up numbers strong enough to be considered a viable Hall of Fame candidate, but was punished by voters for his actions off the field:
Career 5-Year Cum. 10-Year Cum. Dick Allen 342 181 304 Mark McGwire 342 159 278Resources: Total Baseball Encyclopedia, Eighth Edition
References and Resources
Editor's Note: J.P. says that McGwire "...played in an offensive era in which Win Shares were "easier" to amass..." but that's not true. Win Shares is adjusted for the relative offensive output of any year or era.
J.P. McIntyre is a transplanted Ohioan residing in California and authors the blog Many Go; Few Understand and co-authors Reds and (Blues).com. He welcomes comments via email.