Barry Bonds, well, I don’t hate him. And, in this case, I really sympathize with him. Mark Ecko, who possesses Barry Bonds 756th home run ball, has decided to brand the ball with an asterisk, and give it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The Hall of Fame, for its part, has decided to accept the ball, though has not announced their intentions with the artifact. Bonds, however, has declared that he will boycott the Hall of Fame–his inevitable induction ceremony, and everything involved therein–if the ball is displayed with its asterisk.
There is a common perception that the Hall of Fame, the Museum (where the ball would be displayed) and the Major Leagues are all one entity, or at least, closely knit branches of the same entity. This is, mostly, dead wrong, as a quick analysis what they do will show.
Major Leagues – facilitates the playing of baseball. Is a business, designed for generation of revenue, primarily.
Hall of Fame – Place of honor for the very best in baseball history.
Museum – Place where baseball history is documented, good and bad, both noble and unflattering.
Barry is saying that he won’t play nice with the Hall of Fame if the Museum doesn’t tell the story of the Major Leagues the way he wants them to. Now, if the asterisked ball genuinely tells part of baseball’s story, then, yes, he’s wrong. If it doesn’t, however, if it’s barely more than a stunt of a piece of propaganda, then there’s nothing wrong with Barry being upset that an institution meant to honor his accomplishments is, instead, giving commentary.
Without the asterisk (or with the asterisk hidden), the ball documents the greatest achievement by, arguably, the greatest slugger in baseball history. Bonds faced some of the toughest starters, and certainly the toughest relievers in baseball history, and played in one of the least homer-friendly ballparks in the league. It is the marker of a historically great accomplishment in baseball.
With the asterisk, the ball represent that accomplishment, but in a different light. Instead of being the marker of an absurdly high accomplishment, it marks the cultural response to Bonds’ actions. It, in a way, represents the constant torment Bonds received from fans during road games, the accusations made and confirmed in sealed courtroom transcripts. It represents Game of Shadows. It represents an entire era–the Steroid Era or the Doping Era or the Canseco Era or whatever you want to call it–of baseball history. But it is the era as it took place in the media, in offices, in the bleachers and the newspaper stands. It is no longer, primarily, a document of the game on the field.
So that’s the question the curators of the Museum must ask. Do they tell the story of the game on the field, of glory and home runs and magic? Or do they tell the larger story of what the people thought about Bonds and about the records lost to those thought to be doping?
I don’t know which answer is correct, nor do I have any insight as to what the Museum will chose. I imagine they’d prefer to show the ball, but have to consider the cost of losing Bonds at his own induction ceremony. But it’s a question with an interesting answer, for baseball, past and future.