[Pictured: The man Tony La Russa says “screams integrity,” Mark McGwire]

While much of the baseball world focused this week on the incremental gains in votes that brought Jim Rice and Andre Dawson closer and closer to the Hall of Fame finish line, one player is watching his votes shrink faster than his own testes on steroids.  That would be Mark McGwire.  Even the Cards’ own web site notes that “McGwire received 118 votes in results announced Monday, good for 21.9 percent — a drop from 128 votes in each of his first two years on the ballot.”  Tony La Russa, who managed McGwire with the A’s and Tards, and had no idea about steroids, made the following argument for McGwire’s inclusion:

“This steroid issue, that’s a matter of integrity,” La Russa said. “That’s one way to describe it, right? Well, it occurred to me, I know that I’ve never spoken much about it at all, but this guy did something that screams integrity. … He had a contract in his hand for $15 million over two years, and he walked away from it because he didn’t feel like he could play to that level. That, to me, there’s a certain integrity for the sport, for self-respect and everything.”

As paper thin as that argument is, nothing beats Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat who trashes every other Hall of Famer of the past 50 years with his argument that everybody cheats, so why not vote in McGwire.  That is, the Hall isn’t about ethics, so who cares how the player got in?  In totally conflating the ancient Stats v Off-The-Field Morality debate that we’ve heard since Ty Cobb, Cohn twists it to the point where cheating on the field (assuming using steroids was cheating) is now a valid way into the Hall.  Did I mention he actually calls his blog The Cohn Zone?  Says Cohn:

In the 1970s and 1980s players used amphetamines, commonly known as greenies. Major League Baseball was a greenies drug lab. Everyone knows that. Players from that era were edgy and ornery and rude. I used to think it was because they didn™t go to college or maybe they came up through the minor leagues. I had all kinds of theories which I now believe were ridiculous. Many players from that era were half-crazed because they prepared for games by popping greenies. It was the prevailing baseball culture, end of story.

And that means great players like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron who played into the 1970s, and even Rickey Henderson, may have used amphetamines. Am I accusing those three Hall of Famers of cutting ethical corners? Absolutely not. Am I saying they definitely did not use greenies? Absolutely not. I am saying it™s impossible to know one way or another.

I also am saying if it was wrong for a player to use performance-enhancing drugs in the 1990s, it also was wrong for a player to get up for a game with amphetamines in the 1970s. There are no degrees of wrongness ” both are wrong, both are cheating, both stink.

If you want to ban McGwire, you also must ban superstar players from the prior era who freely used uppers.