George Herman RuthI was g-chatting with my buddy Alex the other day. We were having an online conversation about Barry Bonds and Alex was saying that he thought the whole * thing is ridiculous…

Me: Letting Bonds get away with using steroids isn’t fair to players like Ken Griffey, Jr., who are clean.

Alex: I think in an ideal world we would have completely clean players records to chase, and the record would really mean the same thing from one generation to the next, but there is such a huge history of cheating in baseball, and different rules of the game for different eras, that I think Roger Maris’s home run season really should have put an end to any nonsense about asterisks or special rules.

Me: But what about Ken Griffey, Jr.!

Alex: it is unfair to Griffey, but baseball records are not about fairness, they are about watching someone do something (regardless of where, how, or why they do it) that is unprecedented.

I think Alex is right. You wanna talk about fair? Here’s something I dug up while reading about Babe Ruth on Wikipedia:

Another rules change that affected Ruth was the method used by umpires to judge potential home runs when the batted ball left the field near a foul pole. Before 1931, i.e through most of Ruth’s most productive years, the umpire called the play based on the ball’s final resting place “when last seen”. Thus, if a ball went over the fence fair, and curved behind the foul pole, it was ruled foul. Beginning in 1931 and continuing to the present day, the rule was changed to require the umpire to judge based on the point where the ball cleared the fence. Jenkinson’s book (p.374-375) lists 78 foul balls near the foul pole in Ruth’s career, and the research indicates at least 50 of them were likely to have been home runs under the modern rule.

If Ruth had played under the same rules we use today, he would have had about 764 home runs in his career, instead of 715. And Bonds would still be chasing Ruth, rather than about to pass Aaron.

Barry Bonds and his elbow deviceOh, and here’s an interesting piece that appeared in Editor and Publisher. Michael Witte, an illustrator whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Time, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal, says that he thinks Bonds’ elbow pad has helped him as much as the steroids. Witte lists six ways the protective device gives Bonds an unfair advantage. Here’s just one of the six:

The apparatus is hinged at the elbow. It is a literal “hitting machine” that allows Bonds to release his front arm on the same plane during every swing. It largely accounts for the seemingly magical consistency of every Bonds stroke.

Crazy stuff!

Long story short, I think we could come up with a million reasons that Bonds 755 home runs aren’t legit. Does that mean we shouldn’t care about the steroids as much? I can’t decide.

5 Responses to “It’s not about fairness. Clearly.”

  1. Alejandro says:

    Not if my team sucks ass!

    I have so much free time now, it’s actually a pleasant surprise when I check “the bottom line” on ESPN and find out they swept a double-header.

    So nice…

  2. Paul Moro says:

    Bonds’ achievement is “legit”. In Ruth’s day, ground-rule doubles were home runs too. I say accept this as an inevitablity and move on. Cheer for the next guy to break the record. Oh wait. That’s A-Rod…

    Besides, I can’t physically prove that Ken Griffey didn’t cheat. Can you?

  3. Coley Ward says:

    I cannot prove Griffey didn’t cheat. I was just holding him up as an example. And I didn’t know that about ground rule doubles. Interesting.

  4. Paul Moro says:

    The ground-rule double thing was changed in 1930. Prior to that, all balls that go out of play once it bounced fair was considered a home run. But I have no idea how this affected people’s homerun totals. But to balance it out, the centerfield wall of Yankee Stadium in Ruth’s day was something like 490 feet away from home plate. To counteract that, both left and right field fences were less than 300 feet away. What a weird park.

  5. Sarah Green says:

    For more on different home run “eras,” check out this column by Globie Bob Ryan:

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