To Asterisk or Not to Asterisk…
In 1961, Major League Baseball commissioner Ford Frick stated that Roger Maris' accomplishment of breaking Babe Ruth’s single season home run record would be recorded with an asterisk, a caveat that the record was broken within a 162 game season as opposed to Ruth setting his record in the span of only a 154 game season. With the very real possibility that another home run record will be broken, Hank Aaron’s career record by Barry Bonds, many fans and pundits argue that Bonds accomplishment should also carry such an asterisk, except this time the footnote should be for steroids.
It might be best to get the messy details out of the way at first. As of the moment of this writing, no one has proved to any rigorous standard that Barry Bonds has used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs knowingly. He has never been suspended, and he has yet to be convicted. Do many people still believe that he used some sort of illegal performance enhancing substance? Sure they do. But that does not matter. In fact it does not matter if Bonds did or did not use steroids.
If Bonds breaks the home run record and is found guilty the next day, either by baseball or the courts, that should have no impact on his record. Why? Because he did break the record. He was on the field, at bat and hit the home run. If you are going to take the record away from him, then you might as well wipe out the outcome of every game he played in as well. If you let him play, then you must live with the results of that play.
If baseball does not want Barry Bonds to break the career home run record then they must find some reason to make sure that Bonds does not get the chance to break it. They must remove him from game prior to the record. Suspend him, banish him, whatever. Just make sure it is justified or else Bonds will have every right to use legal action to allow himself to play.
Like always, you can look to the NFL to see how to handle a situation right. Many football pundits and fans pondered whether San Diego linebacker Shawn Merriman was worthy of the defensive MVP award despite missing four games. In the twelve games that he did play in he amassed 63 tackles, an interception, 8 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles and 17 sacks. If you prorate his sack total over a full 16 game season, he breaks the single season sack record by a fraction of a sack.
Whether Merriman would have broken the sack record or won the defensive MVP if he played the full season is left entirely to speculation. This is because those four games that he missed was for an illegal performance enhancing substance suspension. The NFL saved themselves the headache and the bad PR of awarding a steroid user because they were able to test him, and then suspend him before he got on the field and potentially broke records or won awards. The NFL once again leads the way and provides a perfect example of how to keep your sport’s records somewhat legitimate.
If Major League Baseball, the commissioners office, the United States Justice Department or the San Francisco Giants cannot justify prohibiting Barry Bonds from playing baseball, then he must be allowed the chance to break the record. If they allow Bonds on the field, and he smacks number 756 off some scrub reliever then baseball and the fans must now live with the fact that Barry Bonds is the all-time career record holder for home runs.
But chin up! Baseball might just get lucky and Bond’s record may not last all that long with one or more of the trio of Alex Rodriguez, Andrew Jones or Albert Pujols each having a legitimate chance at setting their own record in the not so distant future. In the mean time, baseball fans can just remind themselves that Japan’s Sadaharu Oh holds the world baseball career record with 868 home runs and Negro League slugger Josh Gibson is thought to have hit around 800 or so round trippers as well.