Barry, Bud and the Record Book

From SABR member Christina Kahrl at on April 21:

While the expanded postseason was the more significant development to come from the commissioner Thursday, Bud Selig’s pragmatic and unrepentant declaration on Barry Bonds’ place in history was also important for three reasons.

First, it’s the acceptance of a simple fact: Bonds holds the single-season and career records for home runs. Moping about the circumstances or pettily assigning asterisks Ford Frick-style isn’t going to fly. The so-called “steroids era” is a historical fact, and a reflection of what we’ll politely call an unusual time in the game’s history. Bonds is accused of having used steroids at a time when plenty of people were using.


The second takeaway from Selig’s latest pragmatic sanction is that it reflects a similarly pragmatic position taken by the industry as a whole where steroids in the sport was concerned. There was no real mystery that this was happening as it was happening — Tom Boswell was publicly calling out Jose Canseco a dozen years before Rick Reilly asked Sammy Sosa for a sample. Yet at the same time, you had reporters commenting with nary a note of doubt over the latest player coming into camp with “30 pounds of muscle” added via “winter workouts.” As it was within the industry itself, the media simultaneously had its heroes, and also its quiet get-along, go-along group.


Which brings us to the third element of Selig’s public acknowledgment: the record book. Admittedly, I worry a lot less about this than my peers (and betters) in the sabermetric community, because I figure the record book is already a shabby historical compromise of sorts. Some might choose to hallow the records set by Hank Aaron and Pete Rose — at a time when amphetamine use wasn’t just tolerated, it was condoned. You might be especially committed to the records set by Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb — at a time when the game’s competitive balance was often laughable, when baseballs were doctored in some seasons, when there were plenty of major league-caliber players preferring to take their paydays playing in the independent “minors,” and when baseball, like the society it reflected, denied itself the talents of so many of the best because of race.

Now, you might hold such records in high regard, and decry those of more recent vintage. Me, I figure they’re all simply facts. They are like disappointments anyone can have with the game, past or present. You can know the stats, and associate something positive with 60 or 61 or 73, with 755 or 762, but inevitably you end up having to know about the time they came from.

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Originally published: April 24, 2011. Last Updated: April 24, 2011.