Then came the congressional steroid hearings of March 2005, when former Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire sat uncomfortably in a chair on Capitol Hill and repeatedly refused to answer pointed questions about whether he took performance-enhancing drugs.
"McGwire's performance before Congress was disgraceful, and his hermit-like status since hasn't helped his cause," said Tom Haudricourt, baseball writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I would think he has little or no chance of joining Ripken and Gwynn as first-time electees. If he had 'fessed up before Congress, that might be different."
The results of the BBWAA vote will be announced tomorrow at 2 p.m., and while Ripken and Gwynn could challenge the all-time highest vote percentage, McGwire is expected to fall far below the required 75 percent needed for induction.
A small faction of writers believes the omission is appropriate, not only because of McGwire's congressional tap dance, but because his presence on the Cooperstown dais on July 29 would take away from Ripken and Gwynn, two baseball ambassadors with squeaky-clean images.
Of the 169 voting BBWAA members who responded to an e-mail question from The Sun, 162 said that Ripken's and Gwynn's likely induction did not factor into their decision on McGwire. Most said they don't compare one candidate to another while filling out their ballots.
Said San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ray Ratto: "I consider every player separately, since none of them ever stood on each other's shoulders and played in one giant uniform like some weird Little Rascals skit."
But seven voters said it was difficult to think about McGwire's induction without considering how the controversy would affect Ripken and Gwynn.
"There are no doubts with those two guys, and I would think [McGwire] would detract from the atmosphere. It would be all about McGwire," said Don Burke of The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.
View from St. LouisBurke said he likely wouldn't have voted for McGwire no matter who was on the 2007 ballot. The inclusion of Ripken and Gwynn made it that much easier.
"For what Ripken did for the game in '95, he shouldn't have to play second fiddle to anybody," Burke said, "on that day especially."
The man who perhaps most closely monitored McGwire during the famed 1998 home run chase, when the slugger hit a then-record 70 homers, also thinks Ripken and Gwynn hurt Big Mac's Hall of Fame candidacy this year, but not so much because of the "ceremony spoiling" aspect.
Rick Hummel, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's baseball columnist who covered McGwire during his playing days, thinks McGwire wouldn't have been inducted this year even if the steroids issue had never surfaced.
"If he had a perfect, impeccable record, he still wouldn't have gotten in this year," Hummel said.
His theory is based on voting history.
Although voters are allowed to select as many as 10 candidates each year, most don't. So, inadvertently, candidates might end up in competition with one another.
Shades of '99