Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame Worthiness

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        NA

An 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          143

Again, 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         206

McGwire 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       219

One 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     143

McGwire 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      278

When 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      154

McGwire 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      278

Again, 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            278

Resources: Total Baseball Encyclopedia, Eighth Edition

References & 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.

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