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Volume 21 No. 43
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Crafting a symbolic nod to pre-steroid era

As slugger Barry Bonds eclipses Henry Aaron’s all-timemajor league home run record, both he and Major League Baseball CommissionerBud Selig find themselves barreling toward an inescapable day of reckoning.Their predicament calls to mind an old African proverb: “The teeth are smiling,but is the heart?”

While the legacies ofBabe Ruth and Hank Aaron loom, baseball struggles with an entangled web ofhalf-truths and hardball that poses a seemingly hopeless dilemma: How can MajorLeague Baseball recognize the Bonds record without demoting the untarnished,pre-steroid achievements of Aaron, Roger Maris and others?

Although yawn-inspiring,the great Bonds home run non-chase of 2007 begs an apparent stalemate betweentruth and suspicion. But is the Bonds conundrum really a dilemma — is there anescape that neither denigrates history nor singles out Bonds?

Baseball is uniquebecause posterity, sooner or later, will always put its stamp on the game. WhenAaron clubbed his record-breaking 715th career homer, he lamented that, untilthen, Ruth’s all-time mark had been regarded as the greatest of all records,but when he broke it, the “greatest” suddenly became Joe DiMaggio’s hittingstreak. The implications were clear: America was neither ready to dethrone itsgreatest team sports icon, nor to anoint a black man as Ruth’s successor. Weare largely over both hurdles today, but his point was made — the ghosts ofbaseball’s past do not surrender easily — and so Aaron will be absent wheneverBonds’ dubious day comes.

Since history’s finalimprint cannot be denied, the real issue now is whether baseball can define howits records are ultimately perceived. Baseball is a larcenous game, atobacco-spitting, win-at-all-costs throwback to robber barons and criminals,entrepreneurs and capitalists; baseball, more than any other game, is reallyus. And what do Americans do when history throws us a curve? Rewrite it, ofcourse.

When a droopy-eyed Maristhreatened Ruth’s revered 60-homer season in 1961, Commissioner Ford Frickannounced that any new record would be forever impugned as the “162-game” mark.The great Maris asterisk was thus born, though the asterisk itself does notliterally exist in the record books. It doesn’t have to, for Frick has alreadyburned it into our national baseball psyche.

The most expedientanswer to the home run quandary would be to slap an asterisk onto the Bondsmark. But that won’t happen because it unfairly singles out Bonds amid a wholeera of bloated sluggers. No, baseball’s indelible legacy demands a morereasoned, if not acerbically poetic solution.

Let baseball assign areal asterisk to both Maris and Aaron. What? After all these years we shouldqualify their marks? Why not?

If the new ones havebeen stolen, then steal the true records back by framing them in thepre-steroid era. What could be more true to baseball’s larcenous legacy ofcurve balls, hidden balls, stolen signs and brush-back retaliation than aneye-for-an-eye countermeasure?

Baseball would berelieved of proving that Bonds stole his record with steroids, while just onebackhanded punctuation mark would automatically abridge all the allegedpost-steroid pretenders without accusing any individually. Confronting thetruth, which most everyone believes anyway, would actually set baseball free,so why not pay permanent homage to both Maris and Aaron with one uncompromisingnotation that reeks of poetic baseball justice: * The last record holder priorto the period commonly known as the steroid era.

If baseball does notexpressly assign such an asterisk to Aaron and Maris, history will be sure toslap one onto Bonds. Yet a judiciously placed real asterisk would assure therightful standing of both Aaron and Maris, and would put Bonds in his place,too. The great steroid era would be contained if not properly laid to rest.

Case closed?                                 

Eldon L. Ham is an adjunct professor of sports, law andsociety at Chicago-Kent College of Law.