One dinger at a time, from baseball asterisks to carp

The following is the first in a series of posts about the Great American Pastime of baseball. We are not sure how many entries there will be, once our fingers started tapping on the keyboard about this game we love, the words kept flowing.

What does a Canadian of Italian heritage have to say about baseball? Well, let’s sit back with our game program and find out. Consider this series like a long essay or better yet, a tight, nine-inning pitching duel between a flame-throwing righty and a crafty, off-speed, lefty.

Group picture of the Boston Beaneaters and New York Giants, Major League Baseball Opening Day 1886. Charles Radbourn, back row far left, gives the finger to the camerman. PHOTO COURTESY Of: 19cbaseball.com

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“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us,” – Walt Whitman

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It is 600 with an asterisk (*) and how can it be any other way?

When Alex Rodriguez slammed his 600th dinger off Blue Jays Shaun Marcum, joining the elite 600 plus homers club, how could we not consider it #600 with an asterisk in the early days of baseball’s post-steroid era?

The asterisk argument is more metaphorical than an actual push to have an asterisk affixed to a homerun total. For an entire era of baseball fans the homerun feats of A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa carry asterisks and questions marks, let alone upturned middle fingers.

Why so crass with the middle finger? Because that is what every player who has taken steroids or some other stimulant or drug to improve his focus, longevity and strength did to the great game of baseball, let alone us, the baseball fan.

A-Rod has already admitted to taking steroids only during his playing days with the Texas Rangers. Somehow he expects us to believe he has stopped. May be he has but how can we believe he has not? The baseball legacy of this already gifted player is forever ruined but at least he fessed up to it unlike Barry Bonds.

A-Rod takes a mighty cut against the Orioles during the last afternoon game, and second last game, at old Yankee Stadium. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Bonds, the supposed all-time home run king, has been tarred and feathered through implications and evidence via the BALCO steroid scandal but was never proven guilty of steroid use. More on Bonds later but if it looks like a duck and flies like a duck, do you need to hear it quack to be convinced it is a duck?

As Bonds chased Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s homerun mark of 755 you could count me among the ranks who wished would have failed. No baseball fan truly considers his 762 lifetime homeruns a legitimate total against Aaron’s final total. Bonds’ total carries a big fat, asterisk in bold and what a shame. It robs not just himself and Aaron but also the game and its fans the joys of enjoying the feat and revelling in it.

Still the true home run king to many baseball fans. PHOTO COURTESY Of: Wikipedia

I still remember the Year of the Longball, 1998, when McGwire and Sosa swatted their way through the summer chasing Roger Maris’ hallowed record 61 homeruns in a season. I loved the drama of their battle and the chase of history. Tracking each of them daily, finding out who was bested who on a particular night was riveting and some say that chase saved baseball, bringing it back into the hearts of Americans and all baseball fans alike.

McGwire’s eventual 70 dingers seemed unassailable at the time with Sosa finishing a close second with 66. Bonds would eventually set the new mark with 73 in 2001. Amazing, over the course of three years, Maris’ magical 61 homers in 1961 was broken three times when, for 37 years, players only flirted with the mark. Was it the era of the longball? Strike-three to that idea, it was baseball’s steroid era.

Here Mark McGwire his 564th homer his career on July 14, 2001, moving him ahead of Reggie Jackson for sixth on the all-time list. PHOTO COURTESY Of: Rick Dikeman

Fast forward to 2005, McGwire and Sosa are among 11 baseball players and executives subpoenaed to testify at a congressional hearing on steroids. During McGwire’s testimony he declined to answer questions under oath, stating he was there not to talk “about the past” but to be positive about the subject. Eventually, he would go into deep seclusion and by January 2010 admit that he used steroids on and off for a decade. “Big Mac” regrets his actions, though he claims his steroid use was for health reasons and not for performance enhancement.

Sosa’s lawyer would speak for him at that same 2005 congressional hearing, claiming he never took any performance-enhancing drugs, though it was reported that his name was on a 2003 list of baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

That entire 1998 homerun chase between McGwire and Sosa is now nowhere near as magical, it is as dirty and soiled as a two-week old baby’s diaper.

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check back for the next post of:

One dinger at a time, from baseball asterisks to carp

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