Wednesday, August 08, 2007

No Commish Needed To Create Asterisks With Barry Bonds

I wonder how many baseball fans knew of the word "asterisk" before 1961. That's when commissioner Ford Frick deemed that one of those little starry thingies would be placed next to Roger Maris's name in the record books as he chased Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. Frick's reasoning? Maris would be setting the record in a 162-game season, while Ruth clubbed his 60 homers in a 154-game season in 1927.

Maris had a great line about the asterisk and its "justification" by Frick -- a sort of baseball scarlett letter, if you will.

"He says there should be an asterisk because I didn't do it in 154 games," Maris said to the press. "But which 154?"

You can see Maris's version, too -- if you look at how he did it. Maris didn't hit home run #1 until April 26, 1961 -- in the Yankees' 10th game. So Maris, if you want to get technical, hit his 61 in the team's final 152 games -- two less than Ruth in '27.

756 Home Runs

Today, there doesn't need to be an asterisk, or a star, or a small "x", or a tiny agate dagger next to Barry Bonds's name as the game's all-time home run king. Ford Frick's punctuation was force-fed onto an unwilling and confused public -- and on Maris. In Bonds's case, the public is placing its own asterisk onto the whole deal.

The asterisks are practically visible, like in that new cell phone commercial where the young lady shows up at the competitor's store and sees "Dating Game" and "Mike Douglas Show"-like stars all over the place, as reminders that there's always a catch. Ask anyone about Bonds and his accomplishment, and the asterisks start floating around that person's head immediately. You can hear their influence in the person's voice as he tries to explain his feelings about seeing Henry Aaron's 755 fall. Very few people, if any, that I've heard -- from Bob Costas to Joe Fan -- have sounded resolute one way or another. Everyone seems to be having a difficult time getting their arms around this situation. And that ambiguity is probably indictment enough of Barry Bonds.

Me? I didn't stay up to watch Bonds past his first at-bat last night, a double. It's not that I willingly avoided it. I just didn't care enough to tune in. It wasn't until this morning, when I flipped on ESPN, that I found out Bonds had hit no. 756. And even then I didn't have much reaction.

I remember when Aaron was about to surpass Ruth. It was Monday Night Baseball, from Atlanta. The whole world, it seemed, was tuned in with me as I watched in our family room. What other channel was there to watch than ABC, channel 7 in Detroit, that Monday evening?

But last night I was definitely unimpressed -- at least enough to not bother to watch it happen, live. The hundreds of replays were enough to satisfy my minimal curiosity. Like I wrote a little while ago, we won't have to suffer Bonds all that long. Alex Rodriguez will surely pass him before we know it.

There are asterisks galore out there right now when it comes to Barry Bonds. By now we all know what those little starry thingies are called. This time, it didn't take a stilted, jealous commissioner to place them there, as in the case with Ford Frick and Roger Maris. But nor did they appear magically, out of the blue. Bonds himself knows how they got there, even if he refuses to acknowledge it.

Go A-Rod!


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