A Kick in the Asterisk

Barry Bonds broke the record. As the Onion reported, “Destruction of National Pastime Given Two-Minute Standing Ovation.” I am not a Barry Bonds fan; not at all. But I am a baseball fan which is why I suppose that I’m interested in this debate whether I want to be or not. To some extent I am conflicted, like many St. Louis Cardinal fans, because I was one of the idiots jumping up & down screaming in my bedroom when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ record by poking his 62nd homerun of the season over the left field wall of Busch Stadium in 1998. I was one of the guys defending ol’ Marco Solo when questions arose about performance enhancing drugs. I was even appalled at the low Hall of Fame vote count that he received last year. So now that similar accusations & controversies are swarming around the big B, do I defend him too? My initial reaction is, “no – I don’t like Bonds – I did like McGwire.” But how valid is that?

The truth is he broke the record. So, maybe it was done a little differently than Hank Aaron did it. It’s a different time – a different era. I don’t know that that makes is right or not, but in the homerun crazy time of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, et al, the use of many performance enhancing drugs was NOT against the rules. It could’ve also been enhanced by differences in the balls, bats, ballparks, or a myriad of other factors. One can even argue that the big homerun record chase is what saved America’s pastime from the black cloud it had been under since the big Strike of 1994. I have also wondered what it is exactly that steroids are supposed to accomplish. The bulkiness or musculature of a man has very little to do with whether or not he can drive a 95 mph fastball out of the park. A feat like that would also take a combination of timing, focus & natural ability. The few guys that I’ve been around that I knew were shooting ‘roids had none of those qualities. They were just strong & mean.

When Takeru Kobayashi broke onto the Competitive Eating circuit, literally doubling the previously held record by devouring 50 Hotdogs & Buns in a staggering 12 minutes, he did it by using an odd new method. Instead of just eating the hotdogs by chewing and all of that nonsense, he used what was quickly dubbed the Solomon Method by his fans. He removed each dog from its respective bun, broke it in half, shoved both halves in his mouth simultaneously, his throat basically becoming a little conveyor belt, & dipping the bun in a glass of water before shoving it in too. For Kobayashi this method worked. No one has been able to master it with any success since. It clearly gave him an arguably unfair advantage. But has his record been appended with the all-powerful asterisk? Does it make the record any less valid? Wouldn’t “Mastering the Kobayashi Solomon Method” make a great rock album title?

By the same token, Cy Young who holds many of MLB’s pitching records & even has an annual award named in his honor, is thought of to be one of the sport’s greatest pitchers of all time. But when he started his career; he pitched underhanded, fouls were not counted as strikes, the mound was closer to the batter, he didn’t wear a glove for his first 5 seasons, pitchers were allowed to physically manipulate the ball with scuffs, saliva, etc, they would use the same ball until it literally started to unravel, and he pitched in what is commonly referred to as the “dead ball era.” So, what happens if his records are broken? Who gets the asterisk? Things are different now. Rules have changed. What do we do?

I’ll tell you my opinion of what we should do. We conform to our pre-defined criteria for what constitutes the record. Once the record is broken, it’s too late to change the rules. And if it’s broken – it’s broken. Give the man his award, and move on. Don’t stop in the middle of the game for the player to make some stupid speech. Clap for the guy, let him tip his cap, and get back to the game. Throw the asterisk out the window.

As for respect, well that’s a whole ‘nuther can-o-worms now, isn’t it?

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