Friday, December 21, 2007
In Defense Of The Asterisk
Everyone seems to be reading the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball as a reason to call into question various players' stats. And it's true that if you compare a guy like Barry Bonds to a guy like Babe Ruth, it's fair to point out that Bonds had the advantage of performance enhancing drugs.
It's also fair to point out that he had the advantage of a ton of other things, too, including scientific weight training, video analysis of his swing, detailed scouting reports of opposing pitchers, vastly improved diet and nutrition, chartered planes and luxury accomodations. To say nothing about the actual changes in the equipment and rules of the game, including, among other things, the small detail that black ballplayers were excluded from the Majors when Ruth played the game. All of which is to say, it's simply not possible to compare two players from two different eras, with or without steroids tossed into the bargain.
On the other hand, if you compare a guy like Bonds to his contemporaries, who are all just as juiced as Bonds is, the only logical conclusion is that Bonds really is better than them for some reason that has to do with his talent, skill, discipline, strength, concentration, and all the other positive qualities that we like to think athletic accomplishment reflects. Steroids aren't magic pills that turns a talent-less slob into a champion. Even less so when you get into the rarefied atmosphere of professional athletics, where the difference between journeyman and star can be measured in milliseconds. So if Bonds has stood out as dramatically as he has in his juiced years, it's because beneath the steroids there's a gifted athlete.
Is he a cheater? Sure. A criminal? Time (and a jury) will tell. But he's still the greatest player of all-time, with or without the asterisk.