By Drew Olson Special to Published Dec 16, 2006 at 5:44 AM
With the submission deadline drawing near, the Hall of Fame ballot sits atop a cluttered desk and silently mocks its owner.

It’s not going to mail itself.

At some point during the next week, the boxes next to the names will have to be checked -- or not. The players where checked last year and didn’t reach the 75% total required for induction will be checked again.

The new players will be studied on a case-by-case basis. Some decisions will be ridiculously easy. Others will not.

Cal Ripken, Jr.?


Bobby Witt?


Tony Gwynn?


Dante Bichette?


Mark McGwire?

Well, he’s the reason the ballot hasn’t gone to the post office with a batch of holiday cards. McGwire’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame has caused controversy among fans and soul-searching among electors, all of whom must be 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

McGwire is the trial balloon -- the first nominee from the “steroid era,” even though he never failed a steroid test.

His 583 home runs, 252 doubles, 12 all-star appearances, the 1987 Rookie of the Year trophy, the 1990 Gold Glove Award, the 70 homers in 1998 and the freakish batting practice performances put McGwire in position to earn a plaque in Cooperstown… until an appearance on Capitol Hill torpedoed it. Who can forget the big readhead’s tortured “I’m not here to talk about the past” performance?

How could anyone vote for him after his fumbling non-denial denial, detractors ask? How can anyone omit him without proof, supporters reply.

Buster Olney, a senior writer for and a respected colleague, stated his case in a column three weeks ago. Olney believes that many of the star players in the past several years took performance-enhancing drugs, which damaged the integrity of the competition and changed the landscape of baseball forever. He feels that the baseball establishment – owners, general managers, managers, agents and writers – were complicit in the scandal and that he is left with just two choices: vote for all of the best players of the Steroid Era; or, don’t vote for anybody from the era.

But, the ballot doesn’t have to be absolute. This election isn’t conducted in a court of law. It’s not life or death. Every baseball writer involved takes the Hall of Fame ballot very seriously, but filling it out is an entirely subjective exercise. There are no absolutes, and decisions aren’t often permanent. Voters can – and often do – change their mind about players over time.

Bruce Sutter was elected to the Hall of Fame last summer in his 13th year of eligibility. His stats didn’t get better after retirement, but enough voters changed their mind about the closer’s role and Sutter’s performance for him to take his place among the immortals.

Although McGwire’s induction chances for this year appear slim, the chance of him receiving less than 5% of the vote total necessary to remain on the ballot seems equally remote.

In that case, a “no” vote for McGwire this year could be corrected if information is unearthed to exonerate him. Conversely, a “yes” vote, if delivered by 75% of the electorate, would be hard to overturn. What if McGwire writes one of those “If I Did It, Here Is How It Happened” books that O.J. Simpson was considering? What if evidence is unearthed that proves – unequivocally – that McGwire used illegal steroids?

(It’s a different case, of course, but how did writers who defended Pete Rose feel when he confessed to betting on games while managing the Reds?)

Many voters are wrestling with the slippery slope of “retroactive morality.” They take an “it was what it was” approach to the era before testing and try to vote accordingly. The ballot itself allows for a certain amount of subjective thought on a player’s record. It says: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

Is the fact that a player is widely believed by peers and close observers to have cheated is enough to call his integrity, sportsmanship and character into question?

It’s a fascinating debate. Strong and passionate cases can be made on both sides. There are still a few days to deliberate, but I’m leaning toward leaving the box next to McGwire’s name empty this time.

Nobody has proved that McGwire used steroids. But, nobody has proved that he did not. The fact that he bypassed a chance to proclaim his innocence to the world at that congressional hearing is hard to overlook, but in this case the smart thing to do is to go to the record. McGwire was one of the more dominant power hitters of all-time, but he had enough other weaknesses in his game (.263 lifetime average, three or four very ugly seasons) that, coupled with the steroid controversy, justify a “no” vote this time as long as it is accompanied by the promise to reconsider the facts next year.

Or tomorrow.

The ballot doesn’t have to be postmarked until Dec. 31 and my mailman has plenty of to keep him busy before Christmas.
Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.