Ripken Is Elected Into Hall of Fame
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Hall of Fame voters yesterday validated the career of Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken, with all its enduring blue-collar appeal, as one of the most admired in the sport's history, while emphatically repudiating that of disgraced former slugger Mark McGwire, in the first Cooperstown test case of the "Steroids Era."
Ripken, whose record streak of 2,632 consecutive games played stands as one of the landmark sports achievements of his generation, was elected overwhelmingly to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, having been named on 537 of the 545 ballots cast (98.5 percent), the highest vote total and third-highest percentage in history. He will be inducted in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 29 with former San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, who was named on 532 ballots (97.6 percent).
"It's a wonderful moment right now," Ripken, 46, said in a conference call with reporters. "It's almost more an extension of a boyhood dream. Sometimes maybe you fantasize you'll be good enough to make the Hall of Fame, but it's such a fantasy, you don't really think about it."
The symbolism of the Ripken-Gwynn pairing, at the exclusion of McGwire and all other candidates, is clear: The two players, the 197th and 198th major leaguers to enter Cooperstown, were bound not only by their great, overlapping careers, but also by the fact they spent the entirety of those careers with their hometown teams and were admired as much for their comportment and willingness to be ambassadors for the game as for their prodigious on-field achievements.
"To go into the Hall with a guy like Cal Ripken is unbelievable because he really embodies to me what it's about when you go to work every day," Gwynn said. "When you think about a guy like Cal . . . to me, I think, 'Here's a guy who just did it the right way.' "
However, the coronation of Ripken and Gwynn was overshadowed, at least to some degree, by the controversy regarding McGwire, whose prolific career -- which includes 583 home runs, the seventh-highest total of all time -- was tainted by allegations that he used steroids. As expected, his first-time candidacy was dealt a powerful blow by voters, only 128 of whom -- 23.5 percent -- named him on their ballots, well below the 75 percent required for election.
McGwire's total, in fact, ranked ninth in the balloting, behind not only Ripken and Gwynn, but also Rich "Goose" Gossage, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith and Jack Morris, all of whom also fell short. Former slugger Jose Canseco, an admitted steroid user whose 2005 tell-all memoir pegged McGwire and others as fellow users, received six votes (1.1 percent), below the 5 percent threshold required to remain on the ballot in future years.
Following their retirements after the 2001 season, Ripken, Gwynn and McGwire seemed destined to enter Cooperstown together, but McGwire's ties to baseball's steroids scandal climaxed on March 17, 2005, when, in a nationally televised hearing, he dodged questions from a congressional committee investigating performance-enhancing drugs in sports, saying repeatedly, "I'm not here to talk about the past."
McGwire's paltry vote total calls into question whether his exclusion was a one-time protest by voters unwilling to make him a first-ballot electee, and whether he will ever gain election during the 15-year window during which players are eligible. It also suggests other steroid-tainted superstars, such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, could face difficult paths to Cooperstown when they become eligible.
"I think he will get in," Gwynn said of McGwire. "I don't mind saying I think he's a Hall of Famer. I do. I know we have rules now that are in place about steroids. I'm not saying he did [use], because I don't know. But in the 1990s, we had no rules. I tend to focus more on the field, and what he was able to do . . . that carries some weight for me. I hope that one day he'll get into the Hall of Fame because I think he deserves it."
Typical of the public cautiousness he displayed during his career -- which stood in stark contrast to the candor of Gwynn -- Ripken once again declined to take a stand on McGwire yesterday.
"I know it's an important story for baseball, and I know it needs to be debated, and it's part of cleaning up the sport," he said. "I know [steroid use] existed. It doesn't bother me that it's a story one bit. But I don't think it's my place to cast judgment."