Asterisk*

There are people that feel that steroids corrupt stats entirely – statistics of the present people soon to be named in the steroid craze should go the way of Roger Maris‘ single season home-run record 61 after being set by Babe Ruth years past. An asterisk was placed on Maris’ number because he hit 61 home-runs in more games than Babe Ruth. That asterisk was well-founded. Mark McGwire does not have an asterisk on his record 70 home-runs because he passed Babe before 152 games (there are 162 games today).
Barry Bonds broke that record in 2001, mashing 73 homers in a deviation from his normal home-run standards of ~40 a year. In the wake of the recent BALCO scandal, Barry Bonds has been named as a recipient of steroids (but has not been named as a user). If we, for the rest of the column, assume Barry Bonds is guilty of using steroids (which one would be hard-pressed to refute), then should his records be tarnished with an asterisk?
Let us first try to pinpoint where Barry Bonds started using steroids. Looking at his career statistics, the first time his statistics really fall out of whack with each other was 1999 – when he was 34. His statistics plummeted. In 1998, he hit .303 with a .438 OBP and a .609 SLG, mashing 37 home-runs. In 1999, Barry Bonds had an abbreviated season, having 355 at-bats as opposed to 552 in 1998. Now, Barry Bonds hit .303 with 37 home-runs in 1998 with 552 at-bats. In 1999, in 355 at-bats, he hit .262 with 34 home-runs. He stole 28 bases in 1998, and has not breathed 2o-stolen base status since.
What has research of steroids taught us?
(1) Increases risk of injury
(2) Increases power
(3) Decreases flexibility [of the wrists, decreasing hits, decreasing average]
Supplements are found to do the same thing, except they have a lower risk of injury and lower loss of flexibility.
1999, gentlemen, with Barry Bonds 34 and slipping, was when he used steroids to help bounce back.
Now let’s look at his Pittsburgh years, just to make sure this 73-homer campagin was no fluke.
Here are his following lines for his first four seasons in Pittsburgh (first year had 413 at-bats, the lowest ever until 1994).
Year AVG OBP HR SB
1986 .223 .330 16 36
1987 .261 .329 25 32
1988 .283 .368 24 17
1989 .246 .351 19 32
Not exactly a great hitter, with only 20-homer potential. His stolen bases all hover around normal, except for 1988, where they went dramatically down, and his average rose. The next year, his average plummeted, his home-run totals plummeted, but his on-base average stayed high.
Let’s take a look at 1990, where he finally burst on the scene.
Year AVG OBP HR SB
1990 .301 .406 33 52
How about his last year in Pittsburgh and his first year in San Francisco?
Year AVG OBP HR SB
1992 .311 .456 34 39
1993 .336 .458 46 29
And last but not least, his 2000 campaign, after the disastrous 1999:
Year AVG OBP HR SB
2000 .306 .440 49 11
I’m going to show you his 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 numbers in a minute – but I want to state my hypothesis and then use the recent years to back me up.
Starting off in Pittsburgh, he struggled early. He showed flashes of home-run potential, but lacked the capability to get on base and drive in runs. After succeeding somewhat with his .283 season and keeping an eye on the ball, he slumped back down to .246, but regained his stolen base potential.
What does this mean? Well, it’s just a normal season tracking. Bonds finally gets his footing, but slumps back down the next season. Or it could mean that Bonds went on supplements such as creatine, androstenedione…hGH(?) in 1988.
Supplements give you more power. So if Bonds was emboldened by this knowledge, he could have started watching pitches a lot more, giving him more walks. He is young enough to not be too saddled with the extra muscle weight. This, plus additional watching of the ball, plus pitchers pitching to the plate because of Bonds’ priors, raise his average. He, however, sees his stolen bases drop. His homers stay constant. The next season, he decides he can do it on his own, and goes off. Bonds hits around the same number of home-runs, but his stolen bases are back up. However, his average drops. Angry with the decrease in production, he goes back on supplements.
Maintaining his new-found batting eye, he hits for a greater average and finds more pitches to drive. He hits 33 homers, steals bases with abandon, and introduces himself to the world in 1990. He remains this way until 1993, where he moves to the San Francisco Giants, where his father (Bobby) and godfather Willie Mays played. He ups the supplements, and ups the home-run total, which stays constant until – you guessed it, 1999. He feels himself losing his game. To help adjust, he brings steroids into the equation.
Year AVG OBP HR
2000 .306 .440 49
2001 .328 .515 73
2002 .370 .582 46
2003 .341 .529 45
He ups the dose in 2001. And hits 73 home-runs. He decreases the dose in 2002, and 2003. The fear of pitchers cause him to lose at-bats – he was walked an astounding 198 times in 2002 and 148 times in 2003. His batting eye and walk total cause him to pick his pitches, so his batting average zooms up, which was helped by increased flexibility going off the dose.
Or maybe not. After all, throughout Bonds’ history, there has been benchmark seasons – 1990, 1994, 2001. Each season has given us a brand-new Barry Lamar Bonds.
So now that we’ve established Bonds has pretty much been getting help his entire life, does this diminish his statistics?
Let us remember that 5-7% of all players tested positive for steroids last year. 100% of those tested didn’t care if they were caught or not, for it was all anonymous. Most people believe that around 25-50% of players in the game take steroids.
Let us also remember that statistics were changed without asterisks. The pitching mound was lowered in 1969 to help batters. No asterisk. Ball and strike amounts were changed. No asterisk. Pitching rotations went from two- to five-man rotations. No asterisk. Turf stadiums came around. No asterisk. A tighter ball arrived. No asterisk.
In fact, the only asterisk currently in business is that with GAMES PLAYED. Someone who hits 61 home-runs in 10 more games than one that hit 60 in ten fewer games. Steroids WAS and IS part of the game. It will continue to be part of the game.
Lawrence Taylor, ex-New York Giant, pities the foo’ who don’t think he ‘roided it up – especially when LT has gone on record saying he has.
I don’t see the NFL putting an asterisk next to his name.
The question is not whether or not to put asterisks next to names, but by cracking down on steroid use, much like the NFL does. You will never know who benefited from steroids and who did not. Perhaps Babe Ruth benefited. Perhaps Roger Maris benefited. Perhaps Mark McGwire benefited. You cannot put an asterisk next to a player’s name without putting an asterisk next to all. When benefit is called into question, you cannot put an asterisk next to a players name. Could Greg Maddux have benefited from an higher mound? Could Denny Galehouse have benefited from a lower mound? Could Greg Sheffield have benefited from not taking steroids? Could Bucky Dent benefited from taking steroids?
The question for baseball is not “should asterisks be put on?” but rather…
“How can we save baseball?”

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Born on the 37th anniversary of the the day Babe Ruth died (1985) which later became the day Jimy Williams was fired in 2001 (a monumental event at the time), Evan was too young to experience the pain 1986 brought, but a deep wound was sowed in 2003. Since then, Fire Brand has become a blog that Red Sox “club officials read,” as per Peter Gammons. Evan enjoys working out, writing, reading, quality television, science fiction and history and being newly married. He is a professional baseball journalist as well as president of a state non-profit and member of the Board of Directors for a national profit. (Twitter.)

3 Responses to “Asterisk*” Subscribe

  1. Sam March 4, 2004 at 6:55 AM #

    "Most people believe that around 25-50% of players in the game take steroids." Link, please?
    You may be reading too much into Bonds' ups and downs, but you may be right. Interesting hypothesis, anyway. Not just a cheater, but a lifelong cheater. However, MLB only made steroids (and certain substances) illegal in 2002: wouldn't it be ex post facto to punish Bonds now for something legal at the time? That's what an asterisk would do . . . .
    When, approximately, were steroids introduced into our society? Were they available in Ruth's day? I doubt it. Were they available to in Maris's day? Probably, but I'm not sure. Just curious.
    Bud Selig would set fire to Cooperstown if he thought he could make a buck doing it. Plain fact: we can't save baseball while he's commish. Simple as that. How do we save baseball? Get rid of the figurehead commish and elect another KM Landis or Bowie Kuhn.

  2. Evan March 4, 2004 at 8:11 AM #

    1) No link, saw it on a poll at ESPN and other sites. Majority of players you think are using. 25-50% repeatedly scored the highest.
    2) I agree with your contestation of asterisks and Bonds being able to legally use them at the time. But if Bonds is 100% caught this season, you advocate putting on asterisk on his record (as stated on the WEC post)…but should we only asterisk the season he is caught or his career?
    3) Selig has done some good things and some bad things. The good things he has done are long gone. It is time for him to step down. Many people think Lucchino will become the next commissioner, I've heard it again and again.

  3. Sam March 6, 2004 at 7:01 AM #

    I can't really say I have any fond memories of Selig, but I didn't become, let's say, "culturally aware" until about the mid 90's. I might have missed his better days. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt there, then. But the last 10 years, and especially the last 5, are a big fat F.
    Lucchino? Interesting. Any other prime candidates?
    I hadn't really given it any thought. I want Selig ousted, but I hadn't bothered to consider who would replace him. Shortsighted of me.