Thursday, May 11, 2006

What do Roger Maris and Barry Bonds have in common?

It is that time of year, folks. Fruit trees are showing their blossoms, people are no longer wearing heavy sweaters in this hemisphere to and from work and other places, the sun is out for a longer period of time. Plus it is that time when baseball takes center stage on the sports pages [that is unless of course your local basketball or hockey teams are involved in those never-ending playoffs]. As this is being written, there is a major controversy that is simmering, having to do with the potential of Barry Bonds to overtake Babe Ruth's position on the Major League all-time home run list.

When this does occur [as I write this and as you are reading this dispatch, there is the possibility that it will happen this week against the Dodgers -- an interesting irony which will be explained later], Bonds will be in the history books, but he will in the minds of many have the same denotation that Roger Maris did in his records for some time. That is the asterisk.

An asterisk. A simple punctuation mark known as '*', which for years was in all of the books next to the Maris record, because of the year he broke Babe Ruth's record for home runs hit in a single season. While he did break the record in 1961 with 61 home runs, [in fact he did so on the last day of the season at Yankee Stadium], the record keepers said it was not a fair comparison. Why? This is because the number of games in the season that Ruth set the record in were fewer than the length of the season that Roger Maris had played in. It was not Roger's fault, the season was expanded...this was due to balancing the schedule [and later on newer franchises].

While not trying to engender any sympathy for him, keep in mind that this haunted Maris for years, even when he ended his career with two World Series appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 60's. He did this in an era before drugs became prominent, 24 hour sports channels...when it was still [for better or for worse] -- was still a game that people played and returned back to regular lives after the season was done. This record was and is as legitimate as any other at that time or since.

Now flash forward to present day. The person whose name may [and I stress may because anything can happen] be at the top of the home run leader list, Barry Bonds is doing this with an assist. A cheat. Not with aluminum bats, not with loaded or 'juiced' baseballs...but because he was in steroidal based supplements which caused him to bulk up. In taking these 'medications' [a la Canseco or McGuire] he turned into a baseball version of a mini Frankenstein, with a temper to match. When the records are tied or when he passes Hank Aaron on the all time list, he will have an asterisk, if not on the records kept in Cooperstown or by the Elias Sports Bureau, but also in the minds of the fans. Plus there is one other difference - he does not have the class or even any of the dignity that Aaron or Maris have or had. That will be part of the Bonds legacy...if there is one.

[About the Dodgers and the irony of the Ruth record - Bonds this week, once again as this is being posted - may set his record in the same fashion that Hank Aaron did, again against the Los Angeles Dodgers:

'The largest crowd in Braves history (53,775) watched Hank Aaron break the record on April 8, 1974 with a home run in the 4th inning off Los Angeles pitcher Al Downing. The ball landed in the Braves bullpen where reliever Tom House caught it. While cannons were firing in celebration and Aaron rounded the bases, two college students appeared and ran alongside, congratulating him before security stepped in.' - From Wikipedia

Yep, he hit a nice, fat 3-2 fastball off of Al Downing that night in front of not only a packed house but one of the largest television audiences for a baseball game, ever. Curt Gowdy did the call and for that moment once again we all saw that even something that was considered out of reach was now attainable and surpassable. Done by someone who did it the right way]