While perusing MySpace, exploring with amazement the number of bands that come from Lithuania that want to be my “friend,” I came across the Barroid Bonds* page.
Also known as “The Virtual Asterisk Petition Page,” the Barroid Bonds site acts as an online petition in favor of placing an asterisk on the homerun record set recently by Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants player who has turned his body into a veritable punch bowl of banned performance-enhancing drugs.
The question as to whether asterisking juiced ball players is a good idea will be discussed later in this column; however, the question as to whether Barry Bonds is a great big stinking cheating cheater is no question at all.
The Bonds’ supporters argue that it takes more than strength to hit a ball out of the park. They say hitting a homer is about timing, vision, bat speed, concentration and a slew of other abilities that anabolic steroids don’t improve, which makes me wonder if the Bonds supporters weren’t all attending the National Convention of Total and Utter Idiots on the day God was passing out brainpower.
Steroids improve all of those things.
“Steroids increase strength and stamina,” says self-described baseball historian Jamie A. Capria on his virtual-asterisk blog, “which in turn creates bat speed [and] bat power and [reduces] fatigue.”
Why this isn’t obvious to every human on the planet is beyond me. More strength equals more bat power equals more and farther hits–no duh. But it’s the “reduces fatigue” part that really brings it home.
Fatigue affects every aspect of hitting: Fatigue diminishes concentration. Fatigue diminishes vision.
Fatigue diminishes bat speed. Fatigue diminishes batter timing. Fatigue diminishes the stamina of a player near the end of the game. Fatigue diminishes the stamina of a player near the end of the season. And fatigue diminishes the stamina of a player near the end of his career.
Fatigue plays a huge role in every aspect of the game, thereby giving juicers a distinct advantage over juice-free players, and it just seems that that should be noted somehow.
But for me, the most fascinating part of this debate isn’t whether we should officially asteriskerize Bonds’ homerun record; rather, whether the whole asteriskerization concept should be introduced into the record books at all. Because doing so would open a huge can of worms. For one thing, you’d have to identify all current and past steroid stackers.
Secondly, cheating is not limited to the chemical variety. There are numerous ways to fleece the game, and if you are going to punish stackers, then you’d have to punish the bat-corkers, too–as well as ball-scuffers, point-shavers and sign-stealers–which means, you’d have to go all the way back to the beginning of baseball and scrutinize each player individually.
Also complicating matters is the varying degrees of cheating. Since some flimflams are worse than others, we’ll probably have to come up with different symbols to denote the differences between the flims and the flams.
For instance, it wouldn’t be fair to give Norm Cash–the Tigers infielder whose corked bat helped win the ’61 batting title–the same symbol as Barry Bonds. Corking doesn’t give you nearly the advantage that stacking steroids does, which means, if fairness is what matters, we’d have to come up with different symbols for different offenses. If I were in charge of the process, for example, I’d give the bat corkers an asterisk and give the steroid-users an asteroid–like one of those floating little boulders from the old Atari arcade game–to denote his rock-like muscle mass.
Of course, I’d have to give Sammy Sosa an asterisk and an asteroid for being a steroid-injecting, bat-corking cheating cheater not worth a piece of petrified dogturd impaled on the cleats of Ernie Banks.
I’d put a smudged asterisk next to former Dodgers reliever Jay Howell for pitching with pine tar in his glove. I’d put the @ symbol next to Joe Niekro’s name to represent the extra movement his knuckler enjoyed via a nail file. I’d put a dollar sign next to Pete Rose’s various records, which, while not flattering, would at least denote that he wasn’t doing the kind of cheating that inflated his numbers or his overall athletic amazingness. And I’d have to put a little frowny face emoticon next to every white player who set a record while blacks were still playing in the Negro Leagues.
The point is, the whole process could get really ugly . Confusing too. Not that the rewards wouldn’t be profound. For one thing, the new system will provide deterrence. With a potential blemish on looming over his name, a player would have to make a conscious decision whether to take a chance on cheating–also known as an aster-risk. Another advantage is that it would make statistics truer and more informative, which is crucial, I think, because if a statistic isn’t informative and true, then what does it even want to be a statistic for?
Incidentally, you might find it hypocritical that such a staunch supporter of drug legalization would come out against steroids. I have been pondering that hypocrisy myself. Here’s how I have chosen to justify it: Baseball is a contest, contests have rules, and rules provide equal footing among players. I couldn’t care less if somebody takes steroids recreationally, so long as he excuses himself from the contest of Major League Baseball. For all the players who want to play baseball and take steroids, let them start up their own all-steroid league and knock themselves out until their limbs fall off and they start shitting organs. But Barry Bonds isn’t taking steroids recreationally. He takes steroids to have an advantage in the contest, which is a bullshit maneuver that must be called out. The only question for me is, is the asterisk system the way to do it?
Hard to say. I’m not entirely sure it’s worth it, or that anyone would even want to pursue such an endeavor. The good news is that even if the asterisk is never introduced, there will always be an implied asterisk–one that will hover over Barry Bonds’ records like a DEA surveillance helicopter and make us murmur and snort whenever his name is mentioned. And for that reason alone, he will never truly get to sit back and revel in his astonishing accomplishment–not like Babe Ruth did, or Hank Aaron. Not a chance.
Other Relevant Links
Ruth vs. Bonds (Dispelling the Myth)
Do Steroids Improve Hitting (NY Times article)
Bonds’ Documented Steroid Use
*[Authors Note:The Barroid Bonds link at the beginning of this article is not functioning properly. This is because, shortly after the article was published, MySpace shut down Capria's page. They did not convey a reason to him, but my guess is they were worried the Bonds camp might sue; to which I utter a resounding "Bleah!"]