Monday, March 13, 2006

By Ben Valentine

This is a call to everyone who believes in the integrity of baseball. A rally for everyone who believes Barry Bonds has destroyed the pure pastime we all grew up watching and deserves to be stricken from the record books. I call to you, baseball purists, lovers of the game, before you place that asterisk next to Bonds, McGwire or any one else in this juiced era, you need to do one very important thing.

You need to put that same asterisk next to every career statistic Babe Ruth ever put up.

Same with Joltin Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gerhig (well except the consecutive games streak, he can keep that), Mel Ott, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, and anyone who accumulated any mark of significance before say…1947. That, for those of you who don’t know, is the year Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It’s ridiculous to think Ruth’s mark of 714 homers is taken so seriously in this modern day and age. I mean come on, he did it against a limited field of competition. Some of the best baseball players in the United States weren’t allowed on the same field because of the color of their skin.

Yes it seems silly, almost sacrilegious to suggest such a thing. Put an asterisk next some of baseball’s hallowed marks? 714? .400? Crazy, simply crazy. The dilution of talent couldn’t have had that drastic of an effect on the game right?

Well let’s imagine what baseball would be like today if there the rules were like back when Ruth played. There would be no Barry Bonds. Yes I know a bunch of you are relishing that thought but there would also be no Alex Rodriguez, or Albert Pujols. Forget Miguel Cabrera, Vlad Guererro, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Dontrelle Willis, Johan Santana, Mariano Rivera. They’d all see “no colored people allowed” and be told to hack it in the Negro Leagues.

Is there any way to know for certain if those Negro Leaguers were on par with the Major Leaguers? Nothing is absolute, but to assume otherwise suggests an inherit inferiority in the minorities playing sports at the time. Plus it also lacks common sense. It isn’t as if black people suddenly learned how to play MLB level baseball when Robinson broke in.

But wait, how can you fault Ruth and the others for just going along with the rules at the time? First of all, some had little problem with it, namely one Ty Cobb. Secondly, while it was legal at the time, “separate but equal” was clearly struck down by the Supreme Court as inherently unequal back in 1954 with Brown vs. the Board of Education. Thus, since we can all agree keeping people off the baseball fields based on the color of their skin was morally and is now lawfully wrong, why can’t we now go back and take all of those records and statistics with a grain of salt? I mean what are we teaching our children? That you can go along with racist and morally corrupt policies and get the same treatment as those who don’t? Do you want that message being told to our kids now a days?

If you think I’m exaggerating the effect the color barrier had, remember, if Willie Mays had been born some 10 years earlier, he wouldn’t have gotten the chance to become arguably the best player in baseball history. He might have been Jackie Robinson, but never mentioned in the same breath as Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle and Aaron. Oh yeah, same thing goes for Hammerin Hank too.

And where would Josh Gibson rank in that pantheon had he been allowed to play with Major Leaguers? According to the “unofficial” sources, Gibson hit more professional homeruns than anyone else, including Ruth and Aaron. Some totals have that number in the 900’s, but obviously that has to be taken with skepticism. However, what can be verified, over at Baseball Library, is that Gibson, not Ruth, owns the longest home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. As a catcher who showed that much offensive pop and fire power, who’s to say we wouldn’t be calling Gibson the greatest player in baseball history right now if he had been allowed to play with whites?

Or what about Sachel Paige, who despite coming into baseball at the advanced age of 42 was still a competent pitcher for four of his five years in the majors? Imagine what his stuff was like at 35, let alone 27 or 28.

While I name the most obvious players, there were plenty of other minorities who were good enough to play in the majors and were denied because of the color of their skin. And that led to an inferior level of competition in both leagues. Thus, shouldn’t it be only fair that just as statistics from the Negro leagues are not looked at as equivalent, major league statistics suffer a similar fate? Just imagine, instead of C.C. Sabathia facing Mark Teixeira, we got Sean Henn instead. Think that might add a few more homers to Teixeira’s career total?

Ruth, DiMaggio, Williams, Cobb and the greats from that era were just that, great. But it is impossible to know how much their statistics were boosted from playing inferior competition as the result of society’s morally bankrupt policies which extended into MLB at the time. And because of that, their numbers should all come with a little asterisk, denoting quite clearly “Records accumulated pre 1947 were not accumulated against the same level of competition as post.”

After all, we may not know how much steroids affect baseball, but we do know this; baseball without Aaron, Mays, Joe Morgan, A-Rod, Vlad, Pedro Martinez, and yes, even Barry Bonds, would be incomplete. Just having white players wouldn’t tell the whole story. It’s why the asterisk is clearly needed.

That’s the only way to properly honor the greats past and present and show the true integrity of the game. Don’t you agree?


Blogger David Arnott said...

Hell, 1947 was just the first drop in the bucket, as it were. Let's try 1959 as the dividing line: when the Red Sox put Pumpsie Green on their roster. Seriously, though, on a practical level, racism and pressures of race exert their influences on the game even today. Note how many African American starting pitchers there are in MLB right now (Dontrelle, and... Sabathia?). Somehow, I don't think it's a fluke related to declining African American numbers in the game as a whole. Look at how many people refer to "Ruth's record" when it's not his damn record anymore. It's all fine and good to heavily emphasize MLB's scarred past and to acknowledge that, as with every other major trauma in American history, the echoes still affect us today. In the most simplified terms: slavery begat Civil War begat Reconstruction begat Jim Crow begat ghetto culture. Exclusion begat Willie Mays begat Barry Bonds. #25 is trying to stick it to White America with every breath he takes, every move he makes, every bond he breaks, and they're watching him.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Not to be the crusading defender of all things white...but you can look at a few of those guys, at least (Williams comes to mind most of all) and see that they remained productive hitters after blacks were allowed into baseball. But I understand your point...just as we don't know what increased competition would have done to Ruth and others, we don't know what steroids did to the home run totals of Bonds and others.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Well to be fair, I excluded Williams to a degree because of the years he played in the 50's. However .400 did take place before the color barrier. In any case, as David points out, even though Robinson broke the barrier in 47, it wasn't as if MLB was instantly integrated. I mean the Boston Bruins had a black hockey player befor the Red Sox had a black baseball player!

In any case, my point was to show how there is just a legitimate reason to question stats in other eras besides this "steroid" one. I would also agree with David that there is sort of an underlying racism that exists to this day. Ask many black people who the best player of all time is and they'll say Mays. Ask a lot of white people, they'll say Ruth. Hell if I listen to the WFAN, I can hear people claim DiMaggio was a better player than Mays.

There doesn't have to be an asterisk next to anyone's name or era. But if you're putting on next to Bonds, then you've got to do it to Ruth too.

11:04 PM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

Ben - simple question.

How many teams were in the major leagues when Ruth played compared to now?

You want to talk about inferior talent - talk about how expansion has diluted it.

Did Ruth have an advantage not having to play against black and latin players? Sure.

He also played in a dead-ball era, in huge ballparks, a non-expansion era, with inferior bats to the players today. He hit more homeruns than entire teams, something that has not been done since.

You cannot blame Ruth for the way America was then - and take something away from his record for something he had no control over. Not fair.

If we do that - then you can asterisk ANY record for some reason or another, whether expansion or anything else.

The only reason a player should recieve an asterisk is if the integrity of the game is somehow effected by the player. The state of the league as a whole - and even the society as a whole - can't be held against the individual player.

IN the same light it was a crime when they had an asterisk on Maris' record - it was not under his control that the season was longer when he played.

SOme people are trying to turn Bonds into a race issue. It isn't a race issue. It is a Bonds being a jerk-off issue.

Sorry Ben - this doesnt take.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Conversely, there are now players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Japan, Korea, Venuzula playing. In other words, the pool of players that baseball has to choose from is many times larger than what it was before. Incompetence just makes there seem like there's a dilution of talent. But there are plenty of good players out there who teams like the Kansas City Royals (Doug Mientkewicz starting over Justin Huber at 1b? Allan Baird you are a moron) don't give chances to.

It's clear right now these are the best players in the game. Pre 1947, some of the best players were being excluded. How can that not be noted and taken into account?

Why is it not fair? See this is my problem. People argue that this is about the "Integrity of the game" or the "sacred nature of the home run records," when they really mean "Lets punish Barry Bonds for cheating." Well if it is truly about those things, then the fact that MLB's racist policies kept great players from competing SHOULD be noted among those records. It isn't about punishing Ruth for not playing with black or latino players. It's stating a simple fact, during the era in which Ruth played in, he did not face all of the best players, which does cheapen his accomplishments for me. And that he was outhomering teams leads me to believe that those teams could have used a few Negro leaguers.

We don't know who else has done steroids. How many of those pitchers Bonds hit his homers off of have done steroids? I'd say quite a few of them. So if the majority of players are using, doesn't it take away any "advantage" Bonds had?

You can asterisk any record. You know why? Because A. Baseball players cheat all the time, B. The offensive statistics of the eras differ greatly so you can't really compare Mays annual averages to Bonds or Ruth anyway.

Personally, I'm not in favor of asterisking anything. But I'd be more in favor of doing it to baseball before 47' because I know blocking black players from playing had an negative effect on the product. I don't think you can argue against that.

2:34 AM  

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