Meaning of the Asterisk

Barry Bonds homerun baseball stamped with asteriskThe public has spoken, and the majority has ruled that the ball Barry Bonds hit as his 756th homerun will be stamped with an asterisk and sent to the Baseball Hall of Shame … er, I mean “Fame”.

As a baseball purist, I’m loving the decision. The ball will go in not so much as a slap in the face to Barry Bonds as much as a symbol of the era in which he played.

Sure, there are the apologists who still run to Barry’s defense, with ridiculous arguments such as “he never failed a test” (no, but he admitted to taking “the clear”); that “it was legal” (no, it was not — MLB may be exempt from antitrust laws but their players are not exempt from US laws applying to its citizens); or “everyone else was cheating too” (no, we don’t know that, and in any case it doesn’t make it right). Whichever side of the fence you’re on in regard to Bonds — or on the steroid issue — is moot. In the end, the asterisk on the baseball will be a visual reminder of what happened to baseball between the debut of Jose Canseco to the initiation of steroid testing in 2006 — a 20-year period in which we can’t be sure who was on what, and whether any game was purely “on the level”.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, when a young boy walks up to the ball in the glass case with the asterisk on it, and asks his father “what’s that all about”, he’ll be given a history lesson on not just Barry Bonds, but the state of baseball from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s. The story of how fame-seeking, greedy ballplayers juiced. How even greedier owners turned their backs. How all of America was fleeced during the chase on 61 in 1998. How Sammy Sosa suddenly forgot the English language during a congressional hearing. How Rafael Palmeiro perjured himself. Hopefully, the story will end with, “you don’t want to be like those guys”.

Breakfast of Champions

There’s an additional twist to the asterisk on the ball, and fans of Kurt Vonnegut may know what I’m talking about (besides the ironic character flaws that Bonds shares with the novel’s hero Dwayne Hoover).

In one of the first few pages of Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast of Championss, is the drawing of an asterisk. The author, however, describes the sketch as something else — something I can’t re-state here (there are kids reading this blog, after all!). Looking at the asterisk from Vonnegut’s point of view, the stamp on the ball has another meaning — it’s representative of the description many people have for the man who hit it.

Oh, and if we want to play six degrees of separation, “Breakfast of Champions” is obviously the trademarked marketing slogan of Wheaties Cereal. You know, the one that once had Mark McGwire adorned on its front panel?

No doubt the Bonds apologists would argue that a ballplayer could gain 40+ pounds of lean muscle in his late thirties — effectively turn himself into a bodybuilder — through hard work in the gym and eating his Wheaties.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Brad September 26, 2007 at 1:47 pm
    I spent an entire day at the Baseball Hall of Fame last July (I flew out there with a buddy for Tony Gwynn’s induction and stayed the whole weekend). One thing I am afraid of, and this is why I didn’t vote for the asterisk, is that MLB Hall of Fame will find a away around it. MLB has a conspicuous history of turning the other way with regards to steroids and I cannot imagine anybody who wants a reference to the steroids to pollute the great hall.

    Hell, having been there, even I can say that theres a part of me that doesn’t want the hall polluted. But the truth is that the sport itself has been polluted and the Hall must, above all things, be truthful and celebrate the sport itself.

    I think if you brand a little asterisk on one side of the ball, they’re just going to turn the ball around and display it totally normally. It would be a huge admission of guilt and shame by MLB, but it still wouldn’t surprise me. I would be happier with ten asterisks – such that there is no way to display the ball and hide the shame. I worry that in MLB’s arrogant efforts to pretend like Steroids aren’t a problem, they wont’ let such an obvious steroids reference penetrate the Hall.

  2. joe September 26, 2007 at 2:01 pm
    Brad, I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing — that the HOF will turn the ball around so you can’t see the asterisk. Hopefully Mark Ecko has the same thought, and stamps several asterisks around the ball to make sure.