By BOB KLAPISCH
If you enjoyed the steel-cage match between Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage this week, just wait until 2007 when Mark McGwire, the human pharmacy, stands before the Cooperstown jury.
Actually, Mac and his muscles (most of which have melted away in his post-juicing days) won't have to wait that long to hear this verdict: for starters, he won't be on our 2007 ballot and may never get our vote until he comes clean on steroids.
We're not holding our breath. Given McGwire's sorry performance before Congress last March, where he had the audacity to dodge questions about his tainted records, he'll probably hold onto his lies forever. In that case, McGwire will have to campaign elsewhere for his votes.
Surely, McGwire must have understood the risk of stonewalling America. With a dirty asterisk next to his 583 career home runs, he has as much chance at induction as, say, Gregg Jefferies. Even with those homers, Mac barely stays even with Jim Rice, who still can't get into the hall.
McGwire's .263 average is 35 points lower than Rice's. He had 826 fewer hits and never won a most valuable player award. Rice, who was the Red Sox' best hitter in 1978, won the MVP that year.
Of course, McGwire's apologists will point out he finished No. 6 on the all-time homer list, and that not one of those homers has proven to be chemically assisted.
To which we say, right.
If Mac had nothing to hide, why did he repeatedly tell the House committee, "I'm not here to talk about the past."
Why, in fact, did McGwire even bother showing up? Not only did he soil his own reputation, he took Tony La Russa down with him, as well. As McGwire's former manager in Oakland and St. Louis, La Russa had been championing his slugger's innocence for months, claiming his enormous physique and monstrous blasts were the result of hard work and diet.
Right, we said again. La Russa was smart enough to know better. Still, McGwire had the chance to take his friend off the hook with a full-blown confession. La Russa would've been allowed to slink out the side door, claiming he knew nothing. America would've given him a pass on that one.
Instead, McGwire showed up with his rehearsed statement, which was only slightly less slimy than Rafael Palmeiro pointing his finger at the congressmen, insisting he, "never, ever" juiced.
All it takes is one rotten home run to spoil the entire body of work. If McGwire cheated once, Cooperstown's doors should remain closed to him -- at least for the first year. His fate on the 2008 ballot and beyond is up to him. Tell the truth and he'll get what he deserve: the same consideration of any borderline candidate.
NEWS ITEM: Gregg Jefferies receives Two HOF Votes; Walt Weiss receives one.
Anyone who has so little respect for the Cooperstown voting process or for the Hall itself deserves to be investigated. So we called Jack O'Connell, the Baseball Writers Association of America secretary-treasurer, asking for the names of the pranksters.
We knew full well that Cooperstown officials mandate a secret ballot, so O'Connell was powerless to help us. But anyone who think Jefferies and his .289 average belong in the Hall (or Weiss and his .258 mark), should be forced to justify his or her vote.
As it is, the BBWAA took a public relations hit this week, electing Sutter while mindlessly turning its back on the more deserving Gossage. The votes cast for Jefferies and Weiss only deepened the scandal.
The solution, of course, is to make next year's balloting public, the same way the BBWAA announces the individual voters' choices for the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player. Only then will the election process be taken more seriously.
O'Connell does rightfully point out that, "you're allowed to vote for anyone on the ballot."
Still, he said, "it raised my eyebrows" to see the boxes checked next to Jefferies' and Weiss' names.
"I'm not embarrassed by the votes," O'Connell said. "But I think the individuals should be."
If we're demanding full disclosure from McGwire, it should go both ways. Whoever cast those votes should step forward.
NEWS ITEM: New Yankee Stadium moving along (with some bumps).
Yankee officials were forced to listen to a loud and raucous reaction during a public hearing held this week for the Bronx neighborhood where the new ballpark will be built.
Opponents say the Yankees are taking 22 acres of green space and replacing it with a parking garage. Still, there's virtually no chance the protests will derail the Stadium's unveiling, which is set for 2009.
The City Planning Commission, which has already unanimously endorsed the project, will officially vote on it on February 22. The City Council then has 50 days to issue its final approval, which is practically a guarantee, Yankee officials say.
So what, exactly, was all the noise about at the public hearings?
"It's the same 50 protesters who show up at every meeting," said one official. "There were more construction workers who showed up in favor of the ballpark. They need the jobs."