Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Baseball, Statistics & Disappeared Histories by Louis Evan Palmer

It's apparent that Barry Bonds took steroids and as a result of that there is a steady chorus from those who wish to ostrasize him and to asterisk his record. They are probably the same folks who wanted to put an asterisk beside Hank Aaron's home run record. But really if you want to scratch the surface of these records you'll find that we should putting asterisks beside all the records because there's something wrong or peculiar with all of them.

Babe Ruth's home run record of 60 was set in 1927 not long after rules were introduced that resulted in a harder baseball and shorter outfields. That's one asterisk. In Babe's day, there were no brown-skinned players in the majors yet teams from the negro leagues won about half of the exhibition games they played against the white majors teams. There were also no hispanic players. In other words, many of the best players were not in Babe's major league. That's two asterisks. There also can be no doubt whatsoever that the calibre of player back then was lower than the calibre of player now. Just looking at the Olympic records will confirm that observation. That's three asterisks. In 1920 the spitball was banned but pitchers who were using it could continue. That obviously had a huge impact on hitters and home runs. Asterisk #4. Scuffed balls or foreign substances like pine tar were also banned in later years.

In light of the above, statements to the effect that "the 1927 Yankees was the greatest baseball team ever" are unadulterated balderdash.

The other glaring truth of the matter is as Mark McGwire stated, in baseball it was not specifically against the rules to use steroids. That came in 2002. Steroids are legal for medical purposes. In 1990 in a very politicized debate, the USA put steriods on its schedule III even though it did not meet the requirements of that designation - that is, being addictive. In 2005, "prohormones" were added to that prohibition. In most other advanced countries, steroids are legal with a prescription but if found in possession of them without a prescription, it is not a serious offence (no jail time involved). Barry Bonds started his major league career on May 30, 1986. Mark McGwire started his career in 1987.

The other truth is that you can put all the muscles you want on someone without talent and it will not enhance their performance enough for anyone to notice - their physique but not their ability.

Barry Bonds deserves his records just as much as Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. It's doubtful Babe Ruth would have been very successful today with all his drinking and womanizing, he probably wouldn't have gotten the chance. Also, against much better players from all over the world and from the old negro leagues, he definitely wouldn't have fared as well.

The rules and evironment of a given sport are always in flux - in baseball, for example, the composition of the balls, the bats, the dimensions of the field, permitted and banned substances. We care about these things because we care about the games we play and watch and we care about their histories. Yet, vast swaths of them are illusions. The negro baseball leagues had many of the best players and yet records are hard to come by and while they are getting cobbled together, it's painfully slow. It's another of the disappeared histories of which we as a society seem to bury with remarkable frequency.

Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were caught up in the heavily politicized and phony war on drugs. Steroids is not even close to crack. However, it's a convenient way to denigrate a current player's achievement and to harken back to a misrepresentation of a past.

Baseball, Statistics & Disappeared Histories, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be, http://twicb.blogspot.com
Copyright 2007 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


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