POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 24, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 2:15 p.m. HST, Apr 24, 2011
My favorite book when I was a kid was "The Baseball Encyclopedia." It was mostly a 20-pound compilation of the stats of everyone who ever played in the majors.
This is where I'm supposed to say that the hours spent with it were at the expense of actual studying and it dulled my mind and hurt my grades. The first part's true, but not the second; like many other youngsters, I learned long division and percentages from baseball. Those of us who tried to hit the curve were ahead of it in the classroom. We were in the habit of taking percentages out a digit farther than the teachers ... a good hitter doesn't bat 30 percent, he bats .300; a team doesn't capture the pennant by winning 60 percent of its games, it does so by playing .600 ball.
But the Baseball Encyclopedia was more than just numbers. I learned some American history because there was a chapter about the Negro Leagues, explaining why great players like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson didn't have huge career major league stats and records among those of Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth. Paige played just the twilight of his long career in the big leagues, and Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color line was too late for Gibson.
HERE'S WHY any and all of this matters today: Barry Bonds, and the debate over whether his records and those of others whom we believe used performance-enhancing drugs should be stricken from baseball's official records.
Although I understand the desire to excise tainted records, it is an emotional short-term reaction that — besides being impractical — isn't the correct thing to do. I believe the records are records, regardless how they were achieved. They should remain whether we like them or not.
There's already enough revisionist history as it is.
Are we to pretend the events of Dec. 7, 1941, or Sept. 11, 2001, never happened? Of course not, we continue to mark these days every year — not only to remember those who died, but also to remind ourselves to be diligent against such things happening again.
The cheating is the exact reason why the records should remain. When a new fan notices the spike in homers around the turn of the millennium, he or she will want to know why and how it happened.
Baseball is obviously not anywhere near the importance of the country being attacked, but it's always tied in with the fabric and history of the country.
There used to be this vague folklore to the game, and the supposedly pure math of the records was sold and accepted as the common thread bridging the generations. That has always been a flawed paradigm, with the exclusion of black players being perhaps the biggest example of variables making all-time records and comparisons of different eras meaningless.
Sentiment aside, the numbers only really matter in the context of what the rules were at the time they were produced and how those rules were enforced.
It was a long-held myth that the numbers translate well from generation to generation, even from year to year.
IT'S NOT ABOUT honoring the right players, that's on all of us as baseball fans — not the numbers.
If you want asterisks you've got to put one on every single record and championship that we are not sure was not affected by steroids, HGH, cocaine, speed, weed, gambling, or even guys tanking games because they hated their teammates. Stats were also affected by rule changes like altering the height of the mound.
The home run records and such get enough scrutiny that we can debate them and come to conclusions ... or not.
I don't care about the all-time records as much as I do the human element of borderline players who didn't get their shot in the majors because of fringe talents who cheated to make it.
Like so many of the Negro League stars, you won't see their names in "The Baseball Encyclopedia," and that's the real shame of it.