*

6 Jun

I love baseball. Well, most of the time. Sometimes I thoroughly despise it because it seems like it’s cutting my chest open with an Exacto knife, reaching its filthy hand in and removing my heart Temple of Doom-style. Then it stomps on it a bit. Only then does baseball put it back in my chest and say “wait till next year, schmuck.”

And then there are times when the game pleasantly surprises me. For instance, in my wildest imaginings I never saw myself happy that the New York Mets won a game. But that is exactly what I felt on Friday night, when the Mets’ Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in that franchise’s history.

If you don’t know, the Mets have been around since 1962, and have never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter. All other teams except for the San Diego Padres have thrown at least one. There have been 130 no-hitters since the Mets have been around, which comes down to 2.6 a year. The Yankees have had five in that span, including two perfect games.

So what happened to the Mets? It’s just one of those weird statistical flukes. But baseball is known for flukes.

There is some controversy about Santana’s no-hitter, or should I say no hitter*.  A line drive in the sixth inning was called foul when replay showed it was actually fair. It was a mistake by the umpire, but mistakes are made all the time by officiating crews. There is no instant replay rule that can overturn this call. Does that mean Santana didn’t get a no-hitter, or that there should be an asterisk next to his name?

The asterisk is one of the oddest notations in baseball. It implies that an impressive feat performed by an athlete is tainted because he had some kind of unfair advantage (i.e., a bad call by the umps, massive amounts of drugs that grow your muscles whilst shrinking your testicles). The most famous asterisk is the one associated with Roger Maris’ 61 homeruns in 1961, which bested Babe Ruth’s 60 in 1927. Because Maris played in a 162 game season and Ruth played in a 154 game season, some say that it is unfair to compare the two accomplishments – Maris clearly has an advantage.

Another asterisk is that of Barry Bonds who has both the single season and all-time home run records. But Bonds used steroids, so even though he has the “record,” it is marred by his doping. Hence the *.

Okay, I just said two things that aren’t true, but everyone assumes are.

First, there was never an asterisk next to Maris’ name. In fact, as far as I can tell, there has never been an asterisk assigned to any accomplishment in the game of baseball.

Second, Barry Bonds didn’t use steroids. Well, maybe he did. But he never tested positive for them. It’s a lot of rampant speculation. Personally, I believe he did use steroids. But there is no proof. I can put an asterisk next to him in my own mind, but Cooperstown shouldn’t put one next to his name simply because of an unproven allegation.

Baseball is a game that differs from stadium to stadium and from year to year. Where and when someone played the game can skew their stats one way or another.

Every park has its little quirks that can benefit a hitter or a pitcher. Mickey Mantle – when batting from the left side – benefited from Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field. Willie Mays, on the other hand, played most of his home games in Candlestick Park, which was not conducive to home run hitting. Does that mean Mantle’s numbers are inflated while Mays’ are somehow diminished?

In 1969 the pitcher’s mound was lowered from 15 to 10 inches, resulting in a hitting surge. Earned run average in 1968 was 2.98, while in 1969 it was 3.61. The designated hitter rule went into effect in the American League in 1973, making the AL a more hitter friendly league than its NL counterpart.  Should we judge pitchers pre-1969 harsher because they had it easier than those who came after?

And if you want to get all technical about it, every record prior to 1948 is in doubt. The unfair advantage – the exclusion of black players in the major leagues.

Who doesn’t deserve an asterisk? How about the 1996 New York Yankees or the 2003 Chicago Cubs, both of whose postseasons were changed by fan interference? Or the 1986 St. Louis Cardinals, who were up three games to two and lost Game 6 (which led to a Game 7 being played, which the Cardinals also lost) partially because of a bad call by an umpire?

Or how about Armando Galarraga? Two years ago Galarraga had a perfect game with two outs in the ninth. There was a ground ball to first and the batter was clearly out, though the umpire called him safe, negating the perfect game.

Missed it by that much

 

Galarraga didn’t throw a perfect game that night, even though he sorta kinda did. Baseball is like that – the ball bounces a funny way and it changes everything, the umpire misses a call that everyone else sees as clear as day. Babe Ruth didn’t play in the same league as Josh Gibson because Gibson was barred. Denny McLain was the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season. Guess which one? 1968, the year before the mound was lowered. Does that change what he did? Many ballplayers lost time because of military service. How should we view their stats, as what was or what could have been?

The asterisk (which as previously mentioned is fictitious) suggests one of two things. Either something should have occurred but didn’t; or, what something might have happened if the playing conditions had been had been different – if Barry Bonds had not turned into the Hulk, if the mound hadn’t been lowered, if Roger Maris didn’t have eight extra games.

We can look back on our lives and say “if only this had happened, things would be different.” But life, like baseball, is not about what should have been or what could have been, but about what is, mistakes and all.

 

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Mmmmm.......Steroids - June 26, 2013

    […] in for let’s say, oh, five years. (They already got voted down once.) Asterisks are stupid, as I wrote here. The game changes and we can’t always compare players of today with those of fifty years […]