Stephen Brunt of globesports.com, generally considered the sharpest person writing about sports in Canada today (just read Searching For Bobby Orr), recently declined his ballot for the 2008 Baseball Hall of Fame elections. It would have been remiss not to ask, so I did, and he responded:
"Happy to explain my decision. Didn't write about it because I didn't want to appear to be grandstanding -- I talked to (Bob) McCown about it briefly on the show (Prime Time Sports), but then deep sixed the topic for the same reason. To my mind, this is purely personal, not more grist for the mill.
"Last year, I filed my ballot as usual, which included Mark McGwire. I know there are guys who say they didn't vote for McGwire for pure baseball reasons. Fine, but I couldn't see doing that with his numbers.
"I also retain a very strong memory of the great home run derby, and especially of the baseball-writing community's reaction -- or non-reaction -- to the andro story. I was at the first McGwire press conference the following spring training (in 1999), and one guy in the room had the balls to ask a question about andro. The rest of the writers looked at him as though he'd farted.
"Anybody who has a HOF vote now was writing then. Also I recall that when I wrote about McGwire and andro, wondering why we celebrated him while crucifying Ben Johnson, the fan/public response I received was almost one hundred per cent negative. Leave McGwire alone, they said. Totally different thing. Don't wreck a great story.
"So the same writers who were celebrating Big Mac back then, and pissing on the reporter who wrote the andro story, suddenly got religion last year. I got sick reading all of those 'what will I tell my children if I vote for him' columns.
"To my mind, baseball created the working conditions under which players felt comfortable using steroids, amphetamines, and god knows what else. There were 'rules' and there was a law -- but with no testing and no enforcement, that was like posting speed limits with no radar.
"After the fact, I am not willing to stand in moral judgment, deciding who gets in to Cooperstown and who doesn't. I didn't sign up for that. And I think it's wildly hypocritical for anyone else to do it, given how willfully blind they were, but that's up to them. (The whole idea of sports writers standing in moral judgment of anyone is a bit hard to take.)
"So I opted out. Wrote a little note on my ballot saying I declined to participate, and sent it in. Don't know if they'll send me another one next year, but I can't see getting back into the voting unless baseball somehow rules that alleged drug use should not be taken into account.
"The great irony is that had McGwire lied to that congressional kangaroo court rather than awkwardly taking the Fifth, he'd be in Cooperstown now. There's a great moral lesson for the kids."
Editor's note: It is a bigger loss for Cooperstown and the archiving of baseball history if Brunt is not voting for the Hall of Fame, while the likes of Tracy Ringolsby are.
(Thanks again to Stephen Brunt. Fellow raines30.com contributor Tom Tango also provided a link to the N.Y. Times piece.)
Mark McGwire's Cooperstown candicacy: Next stop, the moral high ground (Jan. 9, 2007)