That all seems pretty trivial now.
The former slugger was picked by only 23.5 percent of voters his first time on the ballot, leaving him a long way from Cooperstown and confirming that he tarnished his legacy by stonewalling Congress two years ago amid accusations of steroid use.
Tony Gwynn said that's unfair, given baseball's stance on the subject for most of McGwire's career. He thinks McGwire, who broke Roger Maris' 37-year-old home run record in 1998, deserved to join him and Cal Ripken Jr. in the Hall this summer, and he was surprised to hear of the low vote total.
"In the late 1980s and early '90s, we had no rules," Gwynn said Tuesday on a conference call. "We knew, players knew, owners knew, everybody knew, and we didn't say anything about it.
"As a player I kind of focused on what was going on on the field, and as far as I'm concerned he dominated an era."
Ripken was more circumspect.
"It doesn't bother me that it's a story one bit, but I don't think it's my place to cast judgment," Ripken said. "It saddens me that baseball had to go through this.
"Unfortunately, all of the stories haven't been told yet."
McGwire has had little to say since his testimony in March 2005, during which he repeatedly said, "I'm not here to talk about the past."
One of McGwire's representatives, James Milner, did not return repeated messages seeking comment.
McGwire is seventh on the career list with 583 home runs — the most of any player not in the Hall of Fame. He led each league in homers twice, and in a fifth year, 1997, he led the majors while splitting time between Oakland and St. Louis. He was a 12-time All-Star.
During his then-record 70-homer season in 1998, during which he dueled with Cubs star Sammy Sosa, McGwire was credited for helping revitalize baseball. A stretch of highway near downtown St. Louis was named in his honor.
"During my tenure as president, I have never experienced as much excitement as the night he hit his 62nd home run," Cardinals president Mark Lamping said. "That really puts it in perspective."
Shortly after McGwire's testimony, a St. Louis congressman moved to have McGwire's name stripped from the highway. The Cardinals commissioned a McGwire sculpture to join others outside Busch Stadium, but thus far have elected not to display the finished product.
McGwire appeared on 128 of a record 545 ballots in voting released Tuesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, though he received strong support from eligible writers in St. Louis.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a column defending his vote for McGwire and on Tuesday criticized baseball writers who appoint themselves "morality police."
"I saw what happened in 1998, I saw that it was good for the game, I saw the baseball establishment all approved of it, even though we all looked at McGwire and had some doubts about the source of his strength," Miklasz said. "I just don't believe a relatively short time later he should have to wear the scarlet letter."
Rick Hummel, another Post-Dispatch writer who will be inducted into the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame this year, also voted for Big Mac.
Hummel wasn't surprised McGwire won't be joining him in Cooperstown, judging by the results from surveys the past few months. He considered McGwire a borderline candidate because of his relatively low total of 1,626 hits, rather than the aspersions cast by the steroid accusations.
"I don't have any evidence, and you are innocent until proven guilty," Hummel said. "Are his stats worthy of the Hall? I think they are.
"But I think Rich Gossage and Jim Rice will be in the Hall of Fame a long time before Mark will."