Wednesday, August 8, 2007

756: Who Cheated Who

It’s over. Let the celebration begin. On Tuesday, August 7, 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run, making him the home run king of Major League Baseball. Problem is most people aren’t celebrating. The record, they say, is tainted by accusations of steroid usages that transformed Barry from an incredible player into superhuman.
The reports on ESPN after the game were each laced with comments about the S-word. They reported the surge in Bonds home run totals after he hooked up with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) and allegedly started taking the “Clear”-a steroid so sophisticated that testers couldn’t pick it up.

Bonds critics point to the massive changes in his body as further evidence that he doped up to increase his home run stats. The headline for one of our local newspapers, The News & Observer, read “Bonds hits 756th homer, blurring record’s meaning.” The article read, “He (Bonds) took a swing at everything the record represented."

Yes, its true, a segment of America hates Bonds. The disdain is for numerous reasons. They hate his arrogance and the way he implies racism whenever things aren’t going his way. He’s no media darling. His teammates, at least some of them, say he’s aloof. All of that may be true.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams helped mold the negative public perception surrounding Bonds. Their book “Games and Shadows” went into the details of how Bonds used the “Clear” to improve his game. They threw in that Bonds cheated on his taxes and had an affair. The conclusion coming from the book is Bonds is a bad man. Don’t cheer for him when he passes Hank Aaron.

There’s a twist to this story that won’t get told due to the way the national media controls what we read. There is a serious divide in America related to the way we should view Bonds. Most black people don’t care about the allegations of steroid usage. Most contend that the statistics used by Major League Baseball to define greatness are nothing other than a reminder of how race played a role in measuring worth. If Bonds cheated, and many African Americans don’t believe he did, it doesn’t matter because those who played the game cheated for years.

The numbers are a reflection of the scandal of the game before Jackie Robinson entered the league in 1947. Before then, and even after, many of the greatest players of the game were prevented from showing their skills on the same playing field as white players. Willie Mays spent three years playing in the Negro League before getting a chance to play in the Major League. He played briefly with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos in Tennessee and the Birmingham Black Barons. Mays signed with the New York Giants in 1950, playing with their Class-B affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey. He began the 1951 season at AAA Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. After he hit .477 in 35 games, he was called up to the major leagues in May 1951.

Race cheated Mays out of a chance to break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs. Mays missed breaking the record by 55 home runs. If given two of the four years of his prime spent in the Negro League and the minors he would have certainly broken the record. The argument against this is the longevity of his career. When Mays retired he was the oldest player in the league. Then there’s Josh Gibson.

By many accounts, Gibson is the greatest power hitter of them all. His Baseball Hall of Fame plaque says he hit “almost 800” home runs in his 17-year career. Some estimates have him hitting over 900. He hit 75 home runs in 1931. He hit 69 home runs in 1934. He batted .467 with 55 home runs in 137 games in 1933, and swatted 84 home runs in 1936. His lifetime batting average is said to be higher than .350, with some sources putting it as high as .384. Gibson did well against white major league players. According to the baseball historian John Holway, Gibson went 21 for 56 against white major league pitchers in all star games between the Negro League and Major League. Included in the group was Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean. The Negro League won more than its share of those games.

The Sporting News of June 3, 1967 credits Gibson with a home run in a Negro League game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet from home plate.

Barry Bonds mentioned Gibson when he broke the single season record. “No, in my heart it belongs to Josh Gibson,” he said in July 2003 referring to Gibson’s 84 homers in 1936. “Why doesn’t that count? Why don’t any of those statistics count..If Josh Gibson is the home run king, recognize it.”

That’s part of the burden of history. What do we do with all those consequences? The statistics don’t mean the same among those who refuse to honor their worth because they fail to acknowledge the role of those denied access. It’s like Mark Twain said, “There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.”

The record was blurred long before Bonds stepped into a batters box. It has been distorted since January 1947. That’s when Josh Gibson died from a brain tumor at the age of 35. Two weeks later Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball. For those who saw Gibson play, they can only speculate about how great he would have been if race wasn’t used to cheat black people from their day of fame.


  1. This was accidently posted in the wrong section earlier...Sorry about that.....This is so true....There were so many great players in the Negro League that Babe's record would have been shattered during his playing time if they had been counted in the actual statistics..I truly suspect that there are some 800 hitters among that group which means that Barry still has a way to go and that Hank never caught them

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