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We don’t need to celebrate Barry Bonds, but we should avoid whitewashing baseball history

Apr 9, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT

Bud Selig

I realize that approximately 95% of you think I’m out to lunch on this whole “Don’t call Hank Aaron the Home Run King” thing I’ve been posting about over the past couple of days. I get that I am not changing any minds. I get that everyone hates Barry Bonds, I get why they do and I get the love for Hank Aaron. But what’s setting me off here isn’t some unholy love for Bonds or a vendetta against Aaron. It’s about baseball’s troubling tendency to whitewash history.

We see this all the time, especially when Bud Selig is involved. One thing he has learned very well over his 20 years as commissioner is that if certain people assert things often enough, people start to repeat it and then, most of them anyway, start to believe it. This is not something anyone can do, of course, but when you are the speaker and the leader, you get that privilege. We’ve seen it with presidents and we see it with Selig too.

Selig has been allowed to distort labor history via his characterization of the 1994-95 strike as something that just sorta happened as opposed to a strategy that he and a group of small market owners actively put in place before Fay Vincent was even deposed. We’ve seen him talk about the PED epidemic as something he long wanted to deal with but couldn’t because of player intransigence when, in reality, it was never a priority for him or the league. Many of the innovations he has championed — the All-Star Game determining home field advantage, instant replay — were things which resulted directly from his failures or failure to act, yet are portrayed as his leadership. Indeed, he and those who work for him have actively tried to erase those failures from history at times.

Again, this is not some special or evil trait of Bud Selig’s. It’s something all leaders tend to do, either intentionally, accidentally or half-passively because they’re allowed to without having anyone call them on it. It’s somehow seen as rude to call politicians, executives and leaders out on their mistakes and inconsistencies. They’re aware of this, so they simply assert that Things Are Just So, and thus they tend to become As So.

We’re seeing this happen with an entire era of baseball. Players who starred from the early 90s through the mid-2000s will be the least represented of all eras in the Hall of Fame. Records set during that time are not being recognized. The great bulk of what shaped the game over the past 20-30 years — PEDs, labor issues, financial issues and the lot — are brushed aside because they don’t fit too comfortably with a retiring commissioner whose legacy seems to matter an awful lot to an awful lot of people.

I think Selig’s legacy is a pretty good one, actually, and have argued the case before. But it’s certainly not a flawless one, and the consequences of that legacy mean that we have some uncomfortable truths to wrestle with. Things like the all-time home run champ being a cheater. Things like one of baseball’s charter franchises playing in a ballpark full of raw sewage. I think we should acknowledge those things just as much as we acknowledge the sepia-toned highlights of baseball’s past.

By writing Barry Bonds out of baseball’s history the way a lot of people, the Commissioner included, would prefer to write him out, we fail to do this and we go way too far into whitewashing history as opposed to dealing with it. That’s why I bristle when I hear the stuff I’ve heard the past few nights.

122 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. theebbandflow - Apr 9, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    Seems to me the whitewashing occurs for the same reason there’s so much pageantry and deferral to old traditions – it’s just trying to make a sport something more than it is. The players aren’t superman and aren’t mythical. They’re just athletes.

    Some people like to paint them that way though and no one likes tales of great deeds that are ruined by the insalubrious fact that the narrative has to include some guy jabbing his buttock with a needle full of chemicals.

  2. sumkat - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    Craig,

    We get it. You don’t care that guys cheated. it makes no difference to you.

    The people on the site that agree with you will continue to, the ones that don’t, won’t. Why do you insist on ramming it down people’s throat 20 times a week?

    • dcarroll73 - Apr 9, 2014 at 9:21 PM

      Pretty simple – it is HIS blog. You did know that you don’t have to click on every post, right?

  3. thebadguyswon - Apr 9, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    Bud Selig is and will forever be the worst baseball commissioner of all time. He is a liar and a two-faced phony. I too, understand why people want to consider Aaron the HR king. But Bud Selig should never, ever weigh in on the matter. Especially when he turned a blind eye to PEDs in the late 90s.

  4. sometimesimisscandlestick - Apr 9, 2014 at 4:16 PM

    I have watched Barry since his high school days (even played against him in one game) and he was one of the most electric hitters to watch. I once saw him hit a grand slam off the scoreboard at Jack Murphy stadium. Was he my favorite Giant? Not by a long shot, but he was the one player that would make you stay in your seat even knowing the line in the bathroom was only going to get longer.

  5. disgracedfury - Apr 9, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    Bud Selig is the second worst commissioner(Landis stopping integration) and who created people like Bonds and yet he throws A-Rod under the bus and made to take the whole PED era just as the poster child even while giving the world series MVP to Ortiz another steroid user.

    Bud Selig always thinks of the owners first (Red Sox was bought by friend Henry in a backdoor deal) and now he throwing everybody under the bus and call them a villain when he was the one who wanted money like these players and looked the other way.

    Bud Selig went on national television and said A-Rod did the worst thing in 50 years.That counts Braun,Bonds and people who killed other people and illegal drugs like coke.

  6. jimbanks02 - Apr 9, 2014 at 7:14 PM

    I am actually indebted to Bud Selig. His machinations culminating in the 1994 strike and subsequent cancellation of the world series taught me an invaluable lesson. Prior to that, I was a fan. I watched games as if they actually mattered to me. I poured over box scores and sports pages with the fervor of a true believer. Then, no World Series in ’94! The Horror! On the day after that, however, the sun still rose in the east. I now am able to enjoy a game and appreciate the excellence and artistry without the hysteria. Pro sports are entertainment, no more and no less. All the rest is nonsense.

  7. mpzz - Apr 9, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    Actually, the only “whitewashing” that’s being done is by those who want to pretend the steroid era never happened, and that the cheaters who destroyed the baseball record book should be recognized just like the players of old who didn’t cheat.

    • dcarroll73 - Apr 9, 2014 at 9:28 PM

      Oh, you mean that generation who used amphetamines (arguably way more performance-enhancing than steroids or HGH – yes, Henry Aaron, we now are calling out your name as King.)

      • mpzz - Apr 11, 2014 at 9:30 PM

        It’s really stupid to even pretend to think amphetamines are even remotely equivalent to steroids at enhancing athletic performance. Amphetamines are a short-term pick-me-up. Steroids turn a man into a bad tempered superman. Bonds was a far better hitter at age 42 than he was at age 32. In athletic competition, that simply DOES NOT happen.

  8. raysfan1 - Apr 9, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    I made this comment on yesterday’s post, but if the post can be repeated so can the comment.

    Barry Bonds holds the record for most career home runs.

    However, “Home Run King” is a label/honorific. Fans can decide whoever they want deserves that title. The record and the honorific are not the same. Home Run Baker was still called Home Run Baker even when the a Dead Ball Era ended and Babe Ruth blew away his records.

  9. musketmaniac - Apr 9, 2014 at 10:36 PM

    The sun most be rough on you, get a little shade ray. and why bring griffey jr in on the conversation the guy was an overrated bumb

  10. skinsfanwill - Apr 10, 2014 at 1:49 AM

    Well if whitewashing history is at stake, then all the records produced when no blacks were allowed to play the game should be erased as well. After all, the negro league used to kill the mlb players when they played. No one ever speaks about erasing those inflated records though.

    Also, if Ryan Braun breaks the HR record, will his achievements be recognized? I highly doubt anyone would argue that it shouldn’t. Selig included.

    • mpzz - Apr 11, 2014 at 9:37 PM

      Of course they won’t be. His career is steroid-enhanced. That’s why anyone who uses steroids should be banned permanently, first offense.

  11. Fantasy Football Consultant - Apr 10, 2014 at 9:36 AM

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

  12. Fantasy Football Consultant - Apr 10, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Bonds was Eric Davis at best until PEDs.

    • clemente2 - Apr 10, 2014 at 2:21 PM

      No

      • stoneygroove - Apr 14, 2014 at 11:37 PM

        Joke. Please put the keyboard down and step away.

  13. jkcalhoun - Apr 10, 2014 at 5:24 PM

    If you can’t celebrate Henry Aaron’s legacy without setting Barry Bonds’ legacy aside, you’re not doing it right.

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