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Sunday, December 11th, 2016

EVERY BASEBALL RECORD NEEDS AN ASTERISK

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I get a laugh out of the indignant sportswriters and sports talk callers/hosts who bemoan the state of baseball and insist that records are tarnished and deserve an asterisk. This subject came up again with the news that Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for steroid use.

It’s short-sighted to rail on today’s players–many of whom have not been proven guilty of taking steroids–and not take a look at baseball’s not so glorious past. We might want to place an asterisk near many records, and perhaps some plaques already on display at Cooperstown.

A few examples:

Gaylord Perry. Known as the “Vicar of Vaseline” and the “Sire of Spitballs”, Perry admittedly illegally doctored baseballs to enhance his perfomance. He is in the hall of fame.

Bob Gibson. Nothing against Gibson–surely one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. But his 1.12 ERA in ’68? Maybe it should have an asterisk because he pitched on a higher mound in huge parks with a huge strike zone.

Pre-1947. Before the color barrier was broken. Certainly the competition was nothing like it was after it. Maybe all those records should have asterisks.

Pre-1920. Spitballs were actually legal then. Not to mention the ball was mush. No night games. Astersisks for all!

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game Streak. Once a teammate was afraid he would hit into a double play so he asked the manager if he could bunt. He did indeed sacrifice and Joe belted a double. There were also some very questionable scoring decisions made that enabled the streak to continue. In the link above, one pitcher tells how he couldn’t walk Joe D even though the situation called for it. Asterisk.

Lou Gehrig’s Consecutive Games Streak. This has been broken by Cal Ripken Jr., but Gehrig repeatedly played in games for one inning just to keep the streak going. Battling an injury on one occasion, Gehrig batted leadoff and was listed on the lineup card at SS. He batted in the 1st and left. Jonathan Eig’s “The Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig” describes such situations. It is an excellent book–highly recommended. But Lou gets an asterisk.

Ichiro’s 262 hits. Played a lot on turf and in a 162-game season. Sisler did it all on grass and in 154. Asterisk.

We could do this all day. Here is an excellent article that describes the inaccuracy of many records, and some shoddy plays that helped them achieve them. This is not to say today’s power numbers are not tainted. It’s obvious there have been many whose numbers were pumped up by being juiced up. But it’s just like any other era. Sammy Sosa didn’t become a great player because of steroids. They might have helped and helped a lot. But Sosa became a great player when he learned to manipulate the count to his advantage and draw walks and hit to RF instead of trying to pull everything. Mc Gwire hit 49 dingers in his rookie season. Is it really a stretch to think that experience and better conditioning could have enabled him to break Maris’ record, which of course, also had an asterisk? Even without roids? How do you go about deciding whose records receive an asterisk and whose do not? How many homers/strikeouts/consecutive games were due to chemical enhancement and how many were not?

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