Asterisk

I was at work whenever the news came over the wires that Barry Bonds hit number 756 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park last night (August 7, 2007) to beat Hank Aaron’s storied record.

What struck me about this record is how long it took someone else to beat it; what struck me more is the person who did.

Go figure that he’d have effectively stopped the game for the home-plate crossing with son and godfather Willie Mays at his side, the thank-you’s, the video from the legendary Aaron himself, the cheering from the hypnotized Giants fans (even Barry was quoted as saying he was hoping to have broken the record in a home game where he was assured of a friendly reception).

Conspiciously absent were Aaron himself, and baseball commissioner Bud Selig, though the latter did talk with Bonds via telephone and issued a statement afterwards.

OK… so Barry smacked number 756 and no doubt for the remainder of the regular season, will only add to that number, making it all the more interesting for someone else to break in future seasons. What’s all the fuss?

The fuss is that the record is suspect; that the achievement may be drug-induced, and that baseball may never be the same.

OK, so maybe the last statement is extreme, but I do have reservations about this so-called historic milestone. My personal concern, and I believe the concern that is at the heart of this controversy, stems from recalling his days as a wiry leadoff batter with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986. In a matter of a very short few seasons, he went from a run-of-the-mill batter with Pittsburgh, to being a bulked-up slugger once signed free-agent with the Giants in 1993. This seemingly all-too-quick transformation in batting and running (base-stealing) power seemed almost unheard of in major league sport, unless (as has already been demonstrated in other situations) the athletes were using some sort of steroid. That Bonds improved his game at an age when virtually every other player of such age declines, is even more suspect for the use of anabolic steroids.

Barry Bonds has consistently denied “knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs”.

Never mind that Bonds has been implicated in the infamous BALCO scandal, and that his own testimony to the grand jury included comments that he “may have unknowingly been given ‘the clear’ and ‘the cream'”, claiming he was told the substances were flaxseed oil.

What I think most people just don’t believe is that how all-stars like Yankees slugger Jason Giambi (and presumably his brother Jeremy, who also admitted to using steroids during his career) can get THG (“the cream” and “the clear”) from BALCO with the full knowledge of what these products were, yet Barry could have supposedly missed the point altogether, and BALCO told him it was all just “flaxseed oil”. Duh.

What I presume will happen, beyond the generic, limp-wristed comments of congrats from Bud Selig, Hank Aaron, and others in the sport, will be the absolute silence from Barry’s colleagues elsewhere outside of San Francisco. I suspect that rather than place themselve on the potential wrong side of public opinion, baseball’s other greats and near-greats will rather call Barry and say “congratulations” and leave those well-wishes off-camera and off-microphone.

I maintained to my friends and work associates interested in baseball, that what major league pitchers SHOULD have done is intentionally walk Bonds on every at-bat, so he could never reach this point. Sure this probably would have drawn the ire of MLB administration, but the pitchers could have passed it off as simply not wanting to risk additional HR’s or RBI’s in their games (heck, Barry’s also a notable walk-at-bat king in his career, so what would have been a few more?). And sure it would have drawn the ire of Giants fans, but… what was the point there about caring what Giants fans feel?

Now that the dirty deed has been done, what Major League Baseball SHOULD do, is what San Diego fans did a little while back, mirroring what no doubt a majority of baseball fans around the world feel: use the asterisk. This number should be noted on the record books with an asterisk and an explanation about how this record is “in dispute due to ongoing debate regarding Mr. Bonds’ alleged use of performance-enhancing agents.”

In the meantime, all we can hope for is that this so-called “record” won’t hold for another 33 years. Perhaps, in the interest of preserving baseball’s image as untarnished as possible, all the pitchers in the next season or two who face Alex Rodriguez should intentionally throw home run-capable balls to him, so he can hit a single-run homer at every such at-bat, and he can shatter Bonds’ so-called “achievement” soon. Go A-Rod, at least you’re not rubbing “flaxseed oil” all over ya.