B. The Asterisk
Many baseball writers and fans believe there should be asterisks placed by records believed to be tainted in some way.[i] This advocacy for the use of asterisks in the official record book is a tool used to strengthen the dominant group (white) narrative. Almost always, the asterisk is mental, as opposed to the actual placement of an asterisk printed in the record book. In baseball's history, there have been three primary instances when fans have advocated for the use of asterisks: when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record, when Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwire's single season home run record, and when Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's career home run record.
First, in 1961 Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and broke Babe Ruth's record (60) for most home runs hit in a single season.[ii] However, it took Maris 161 games to break the record that Ruth set in a 154 game season.[iii] There exists debate as to whether an asterisk ever was put next to Maris' record, but the debate over the asterisk raged on for decades.[iv] Eventually, Commissioner Fay Vincent stepped in and removed the asterisk from the record books.[v]
The uproar over the asterisk displays baseball fan's reverence to the record book. Ruth's record was cherished and is still a part of baseball lore. For many, the singular fact that Maris played more regular season games warranted a lessening of his achievement by the fixture of an asterisk.
Maris' record of 61 home runs in a single season stood until 1998 when Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs.[vi] McGwire's record stood for only three years when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001.[vii] Not long after Bonds breaking the single season home run record, sports media began to report on the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Following these reports, Major League Baseball began drug testing players and implemented a performance enhancing drug ban.[viii]
The pressure for an asterisks near Bonds' home run totals increased substantially after he broke Hank Aaron's career home run record in 2007.[ix] In fact, Bonds' 756th home run ball (from the home run that broke Aaron's record) was sold for $750,000, brandished with an asterisk, and given the Baseball Hall of Fame.[x]
The proposition of asterisks reiterates the important role that statistics, especially records, play in the telling of baseball's history. Statistics allow fans to compare players and teams across generations, because the rules of baseball are essentially the same today as they were in 1900. However, these instances where commentators and fans have proposed asterisks next to certain records display a inequality in this comparison. Essentially, playing more games in a single season or using performance enhancing drugs that inflate statistics makes the otherwise (supposed) like comparisons different.
[i] Brad Berkowitz, The Sports Asterisk, Examiner.com, http://www.examiner.com/article/the-sports-asterisk (last visited 04/07/14).
[ii] Charles A. Sullivan, The Under-Theorized Asterisk Footnote, 93 Geo. L.J. 1093, 1116 (2005).
[vi] Mark McGwire, Baseball Reference, http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mcgwima01.shtml (last visited 04/08/14).
[vii] Barry Bonds, Baseball Reference, http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bondsba01.shtml (last visited 04/08/14).
[viii] MLB, Drug Policy Event Timeline, MLB.COM, http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/news/drug_policy.jsp?content=timeline (last visited April 9, 2014).
[ix] Barry Bonds, Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Bonds (last visited April 9, 2014).
[x] Associated Press, Designer to brandish asterisk on ball; Hall of Fame to accept it, ESPN.COM, http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3036756 (Sept. 26, 2007).