Asterisks & Baseball’s Self-Righteousness

By Chris Murray
Updated: November 14, 2007

Barry BondsPHILADELPHIA — There are days when I find myself saying I’m through with baseball and those who write about the sport. It may be hypocritical on my part because I cover the game for my paper in Philadelphia. I love baseball as a sport, but it’s not as fun as it used to be.

For the last 15 years or so where there has been strikes, alleged steroids usage, overpaid super stars, Pete Rose’s gambling scandal, declining numbers of African-American players, sanctimonious, holier than thou sports announcers and writers, and the rise of sports talk radio, baseball has been hard to enjoy.

The worst thing is the ugly hypocritical self-righteousness that has plagued virtually every aspect of the sport.

The latest thing that has me looking at baseball with a jaundice eye is the whole issue of Barry Bonds’ 756th home run ball being marked with an asterisk to symbolize Bonds alleged use of steroids on the way to hitting historical home run.

Fashion designer Marc Ecko, who bought the ball from the guy who caught it, came up with the idea of placing the asterisk on the ball and Baseball Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey said he would be “delighted” to have the asterisked ball.

Bonds said he would boycott his Hall of Fame induction if the ball comes with an asterisk. I don’t blame him at all and Bonds is right when he called Ecko an “idiot.”

All of this is the result of the constant vilification of Bonds as a steroids user even though no one had actual evidence other than a leaked grand jury testimony, and a book written by two reporters who partially relied on the testimony of a scorned ex-girlfriend.

While “Game of Shadows” may have produced compelling evidence that he was juicing, the time frame that Bonds was supposedly using the drugs Major League Baseball had no official policy banning the use of steroids nor did it have any testing procedure for anyone we’ve accused (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa et al) of using steroids.

Let’s also consider the idea that the owners and those who run the game knew the players were using performance enhancing drugs and looked the other way while they counted the money as homeruns flew out and the game was reeling from the strike of 1994.

Us media folks also looked the other way even after players like former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs after barely averaging 15 throughout his career.

I’m not going to even talk about the androstenedione that was seen in Mark McGwire’s locker. By the way, the Associated Press reporter who put that out there was criticized by his colleagues.

Then, Jose Canseco comes out with a tell-all book about the widespread steroid usage in baseball. Folks in the media attacked Canseco for having an agenda and putting it out there because he was down and out and in need of money.

Canseco did what we in the media should have done years ago, but didn’t. Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell was the only journalist to point out that Canseco was on steroids.

And then you had the BALCO scandal and everybody in our profession got on the trail to root out the “evil doers” namely Bonds when his name came up in the BALCO investigation.

Misplaced moral outrage was at an all-time high in heavy trading. It was like the Pharisees in the time of Christ yelling, “What need of we of witnesses, Caiaphas, crucify him.”

While the world, including several colleagues of mine were accusing Bonds of being a fraud and every scoundrel in the earth, the real criminals — those who run Major League Baseball — Bud Selig and company got off light thanks to everyone’s hatred of Bonds.

No one pointed out that former commissioner Fay Vincent warned the owners that steroids would be a problem back in the early 1990s and even issued a memo about steroids (which the owners ignored) that some media pundits say is proof positive that baseball didn’t allow steroid use as a weapon against who said there were no rules against steroids.

As far as I’m concerned all the records during so-called steroids are legitimate whether you’re talking McGwire, Sosa and Bonds because there were no rules and testing procedures.

If you put an asterisk on any of their records, put one on all the homeruns and batting averages after 1968 when the pitcher’s mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches.

That year only six players batted over .300. You might as well put an asterisk on everything before 1947 when African-Americans weren’t allowed to play.

My point to all of this is if this asterisked ball goes into the Hall of Fame and Bonds says screw the Hall of Fame, it will be another sorry episode in a sport that has allowed hypocritical moral outrage to go way too far.

It is bad enough that the game’s all-time leader in hits, Pete Rose, is being kept out of Baseball’s Hall of Fame for gambling on baseball — after his career as a player on the field was over.

To me, Rose got his just punishment by not being allowed to ever manage a team again, keeping him out of the Hall of Fame is just a case of sanctimonious piling on.

He had an outstanding career as a player and I think the Hall of Fame should consider a player’s success on the field and not his failings as a human being after his playing career is over. By the way, gambling is a sickness and should be viewed as a mental health issue, not as a person’s moral failings.

When Rose finally admitted that he bet on baseball in another one of those tell-all books, folks in our profession then chided him for not being sincere and doing it for the money.

I suspect that Jesus Christ will forgive Rose long before any of us who are also with sin will let him in the Hall of Fame. Would confession to a priest suffice? For his penance, he shoud say 50,000 Hail Marys and 50,000 Our Fathers, and endless “Acts of Contritions.” (you have to be catholic to understand what I’m talking about here)

How would that make baseball look with two of its greatest players not in its Hall of Fame?

Baseball with its greedy owners, overpaid players and its overly sanctimonious chroniclers of the sport have done more damage to the sport as America’s past time. Baseball and its holier-than-thou pundits need to get over their craving to be self righteousness.

At some point, baseball has to come to grips with the idea that it purposely overlooked its players using performance enhancing drugs. You have a rule and testing policies in place, so hopefully it doesn’t happen again. Bonds hit his 762 homers within the existing rules of the game at that time.

You can’t retroactively punish a guy for a rule that wasn’t in place. With Rose, let him in, too. How long you do you keep punishing a guy?