Monday Oct 01, 2007

Rules Changes Noted by Asterisk

I've been following Mark Ecko's on-line poll about the disposition of Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball with significant interest. If baseball is the fan's sport, then the fans should have some say in how the much-discussed record-breaking home run ball is displayed in Cooperstown (if at all). It will be one of the only votes the fans get, as the plaques lining those hallowed halls are officially decided by baseball writers, not decidedly baseball official fans.

I voted for stamping the ball with an asterisk for a very simple reason: it's how changes in the rules or the game have always been noted in the record books. Why not affix one to the most-challenged accomplishment in the last decade? Roger Maris has a star next to his 61 home runs, signifying a change in the number of games played in a season. There are footnotes and indices aplenty noting the lack of a World Series in strike-shortened 1994. Turns out I'm not the only one; about 47% of the votes Ecko collected were for branding the ball, and that's how it will make the trip to New York State.

Defacing the ball also stimulates inspection of exactly what rules were defaced: the ignorance of steroids in the game, the refusal of record-holders to come clean about their intentional or (supposedly) accidental use of performance enhancing substances. Several writers have argued that with even chemical boosters, Bonds, McGuire and Sosa all had to launch their own rockets over the fences. If they got an edge outside of the enforced rules of the game, then it's fair to assume pitchers had the same edge, and an edge is an edge, whether it's a longer season or bigger muscles. For me the argument comes down to respect for the game; the discussion to have with young athletes is about sportsmanship. Records broken with out of band assistance are as ugly to me as hockey tournaments won by teams dropping a band to handily beat weaker opponents. There are physical reminders of the accomplishment, but mental questions about the path traveled to reach them.

When young fans walk by the ball in the Hall of Fame, and see the Mark of Ecko, I hope they'll question how it came to be there and look at their own views of the game. Only through the inspection of each generation can baseball recover its integrity and the respect of the fans.

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