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Bud Selig is not going to take Barry Bonds out of the record book

Apr 21, 2011, 4:39 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants, Game 3 Getty Images

We’re all entitled to believe what we want to believe. There are people out there who insist that Roger Maris is still the single-season home run champ and Hank Aaron is still the all-time home run champ.  I hold no more of a grudge against people who think that stuff than I hold for someone who thinks that Dick Sergeant was the better Darren on “Bewitched.”  As long as they concede that it is only their opinion, and not a matter of fact or official standing, no worries.  Which, in the case of Bonds and the record book it is not, nor will it ever be according to Bud Selig:

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will not consider changing Barry Bonds’ records following the slugger’s conviction on obstruction of justice last week … “In life there’s always got to be pragmatism,” Selig said Thursday at his annual meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors. “I think that anybody who understands the sport understand exactly why.”

We understand it because, even before there were steroids, there were differences in context across eras. Some that just sort of happened (big ballparks, dead balls), some were imposed by the wrongdoing of men (steroids, segregation).  While we can make a lot of adjustments, we can’t quantify the exact amount that any given record was affected by different conditions with anything close to precision. The margin for error in such adjustments is larger, in most cases, than the differences between two similar accomplishments separated by decades. In light of this, to mess with the record book in any official way is madness. Appropriate to its name, let it simply record what happened.

By the same token, it is madness to insist that the record book represents the Alpha and Omega of player analysis and appreciation.  Intellectually I can acknowledge that Barry Bonds’ accomplishments were artificially enhanced to some degree. I can even conclude that Hank Aaron’s accomplishments — by virtue of his era, the challenges he faced and what I believe about his drug use — were more impressive than Bonds’.  But that doesn’t mean that Bonds’ feats weren’t amazing to watch, nor does it mean that they were 100% illegitimate. They were what they were and we have all manner of means to put them into context, be it statistically, aesthetically, morally, anecdotally or any other “ly” you can think of. And the “lys” that have less to do with the raw numbers and more to do with the narratives are the things that interest me the most anyway.  Let’s talk about the difference between Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. Let’s not just compare numbers and veto those we don’t like.

Barry Bonds happened. So did Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. So too did Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the guys who manufactured baseballs in 1904, the chemist who first came up with an anabolic steroid and whoever it was that decided the mound needed to be 20 feet tall in Dodger Stadium in the 1960s.  The record book is the least interesting thing to me in all of that.

  1. Mark Armour - Apr 21, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    I agree with this. The disconnect happens when “we” glorify the specific number — 500 home runs, 3000 strikeouts, whatever — and then turn around and say, “well, of course, the number means nothing without understanding this huge context in which it happened.

    Sadly, I do not know how many home runs Barry Bonds hit. I bet many other baseball nuts don’t either. I know how many Mel Ott hit, how many Willie McCovey hit, but not the record holder. (I just looked it up, so I know now!) Really though, his total is basically a trivia question at this point, and ceased to mean anything to most people a long time ago. I watched Aaron break the record when I was a kid, and can remember the chair I was sitting in. It is not Bud Selig’s that the record has no meaning to me anymore.

    The all-time record for most home runs in a season is Barry Bonds with 73. This is the God’s honest truth. He did this the same year Sammy Sosa hit his 64th (his third time over 60), and the same year Luis Gonazlez hit 57 (third in the league, Luis, good job). These are facts. We are each free to deal with the facts as we choose.

  2. nightman13 - Apr 21, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    No cheater should be recognized in any capacity other than a cheater. They get to keep the money, the fame, the memories and the glory they got by cheating at least take the unearned record away.

    What’s the downside to roiding up? Even if you get caught you just miss games, there is no black mark, no banishment, all your records count, your contract is still guaranteed and apparently if you’re Manny Ramirez you are cheered as a hero in LA when you get back from your suspension.

    If we’re just going to turn a blind eye to cheating, might as well get rid of the umps and use the honor system. Let’s get rid of official stats and just let the players report their own. Why don’t we just get rid of all the rules completly while we’re at it?! Just anarchy in a stadium and once that’s done we can all take turns defacating on pictures of the players that had integrity and only used their talents to play the game instead of a chemistry set.

    Sounds wonderful.

    • tomemos - Apr 21, 2011 at 6:26 PM

      Lighten up, Francis. Shouldn’t you be you out in front of the Hall of Fame, gathering signatures to expel Gaylord Perry?

    • fanoredsox - Apr 21, 2011 at 7:09 PM

      I, like you, could not stand that an egotistical neanderthal like Bonds was the “King”. I have finally started to realize two pertinent ideas: 1.) You can take the juice, but you still have to have the ability to actually hit, and Bonds did! 2.) Bobby Knight said that every athlete cheats every game. His definition was that, “every player that drinks Gatorade is cheating because it introduces things that your body naturally expends”. I guess by that rational my 3 year old daughter is a cheater!
      Where do we draw the line? Most draw that line when someone does something that the media deems unconscionable. Everyone has cheated in some way, We just need to realize that everyone was doing it, which makes his numbers even better. I still despise Bonds!

      • nightman13 - Apr 22, 2011 at 11:09 AM

        Not everybody was doing it and even if they were it still doesn’t make it right. Yes it still takes natural talent to succeed in baseball, but to say the roids weren’t that big a help is assinine.

        Bonds’ stats got better after he turned 30 so when natural age should have begun to take its toll, instead he artificially kept himself in better shape than he ever had been. Thus giving him the longevity and added performance to break the records. It’s like a marathon runner being allowed to hop on a bike to finish the race one he hits the 20 mile mark. Would anybody think that’s fair and the win should count?

        Steroids are illegal not just in baseball but to everybody unless they are prescribed to treat a medical condition. So not only was he cheating but he was breaking the law.

        The Gatorade analogy doesn’t stand up because anything you eat or drink during a game is replacing something that the body expends. Gatorade is also legal and the only effects it provides is preventing dehydration, it doesn’t make you hit harder or improve hand eye coordination.

        Hank Aaron set the most prestigious record in baseball without any artificial substance and in the midst of racist death threats and his heroic triumph was one of the best stories in all of sports. He has been replaced by a science project who is not only a cheater but a HORRIFIC human being on top of it. The fact that more people aren’t outraged is a telling sign of how sad America has become that we are so desensitized to cheating.

      • tomemos - Apr 22, 2011 at 12:25 PM

        I’d still love to get your take on Gaylord Perry…

  3. michaelcee - Apr 21, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    Remember, all the pitchers were on steroids too. Playing field level, record stands.

  4. nightman13 - Apr 21, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    All the pitchers? Riiiiight.

  5. mikedi33 - Apr 21, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    agree with you 100% nightman13… bonds wasn’t even ever suspended;so what price has he paid?

    • iftheshoefits2 - Apr 22, 2011 at 7:38 AM

      Mikedi33- quick, cite me Joe Jackson’s stats……

      Yeah, he’s paying a price. Not in the record books, but theres a price.

      QED

  6. metalhead65 - Apr 21, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    in most cases it might be hard to tell when players started cheating but in the case of bonds that should not be a problem. just start when he started hitting over 60 homers a season since he had never hit more than 48 a season before he started juicing. nobody is saying roids made him a better hitter or player,his stats before he started juicing were impressive but the roids he took made him stronger enabling him to hit balls that would have been outs before he juiced to go out of the park. only a idiot would deny the roids made him stronger enabling him to hit more homers.do the same with sosa to,before he juiced what were the most homers he had in a season? see it is pretty simple to know when they started,you just do not go from hitting 40 to 70 in 1 season.

    • Joe - Apr 22, 2011 at 9:37 AM

      By this logic, you might conclude that when Babe Ruth went from 29 to 54 (+25) homers, or when Roger Maris went from 16 to 39 (+23) to 61 (+22), they must have been taking steroids.

      Bonds did, but jumping from 49 to 73 (+24) isn’t “proof.”

      • helloplayername - Apr 23, 2011 at 3:14 PM

        Are you really going to be that ignorant?

        Ruth and Maris’ jumps were early in their careers, when they were 25-26 years old. By contrast, Bonds was at least a decade older (36) when he hit 73 home runs. Production does not increase so dramatically at that age.

    • genericcommenter - Apr 22, 2011 at 12:04 PM

      I guess this would also show that Jose Canseco introduced steroids to MLB prior to the 1987 season. I just wonder why all those players only used them for 1 season and then took a decade off. It’s obvious Wade Boggs and Rickey Henderson, among others, were using that year.

  7. yahmule - Apr 22, 2011 at 2:27 AM

    The overweening need Bonds’ supporters exhibit while constantly burnishing his accomplishments (and excusing the methods that obtained them) is reminiscent of the shine job Ronald Reagan’s supporters did on his image over the last two decades.

  8. garlicfriesandbaseball - Apr 22, 2011 at 2:38 AM

    Bonds didn’t need steroids. In the year 2000, he hit .306 with a slugging percentage of .688 and hit 49 home runs in just 143 games; he was walked 117 times. Barry Bonds was walked 611 times while he was still in Pittsburgh. Bud Selig is not taking Bonds out of the record books, because he belongs in the record books. You’ll have to ask Barry Bonds if/why he took steroids. But his records speak for themselves. Get over it.

  9. oldpaddy - Apr 22, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    Howard sterns penis!

  10. Detroit Michael - Apr 22, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    1) Records tell us what happened, not why they happened.

    2) Is there even an official MLB recordbook still? Who cares? I go to baseball-reference.com if I want to look up any records. Bud Selig doesn’t have the power to expunge our knowledge of what happened anyway.

    • garlicfriesandbaseball - Apr 22, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      Good Comment. History is not meant to be “selective”. It is what it is! Records are a part of history.

  11. nicosamuelson2 - Apr 22, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Joe, you’re the man.

  12. gmsingh - Apr 22, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    There is another point that goes along with Selig’s comments: baseball needs a new commissioner in the worst way.

  13. twinkyz1979 - Apr 23, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    Just don’t remove them from the books and leave Bonds up there by himself. They should use an asterisk by their names and denote the differences like enhancements drugs, and difference in the baseballs themselves (speaking of their make up/internals). I think this should be done even though I don’t like the fact of the whole Bonds thing. I think he did use steroids or something to that effect. I think pictures of him before the Giants and pictures of him afterwards prove my point. I would’also like to mention take a look at his stats with the Pirates compared to the ones with the Giants. I would have to say without taking a drug test or admitting to using steroids or some other substance the facts speak for themselves.

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