Part 1 of a series.
by Matt Record
Baseball has been marked by cheating forever. It’s hypocritical to draw a line now.
These are – in my opinion – the top 15 best position players in the history of baseball:
- Babe Ruth
- Barry Bonds
- Willie Mays
- Ted Williams
- Ty Cobb
- Hank Aaron
- Tris Speaker
- Lou Gehrig
- Honus Wagner
- Stan Musial
- Alex Rodriguez
- Rogers Hornsby
- Lou Gehrig
- Eddie Collins
- Mickey Mantle
The fact that two of the top 15 best hitters may never make the hall of fame is a shame and a frustratingly meaningless shame at that. Watching baseball writers drum up moral outrage over baseball is like watching a six year-old throw a hissy fit. It’s absolutely pointless and the rest of us can do nothing but look at our watches and wait for them to tire out.
All manner of cheating and institutional wrongdoing has been overlooked or even highlighted vis a vis baseball’s dark past in the hall. Why do we choose now to draw a moralizing line in the sand? Ty Cobb would sand his cleats into little metal knives. He was also a degenerate and well-known racist. Norm Cash and Billy Hatcher corked their bats and George Brett slathered his in pine tar in the 1970s. Do we really think they were the only ones? Players throughout the ’70s were hopped on stimulants and greenies. Players in the ’80s kept cocaine on their persons during games.
Most importantly of all, nine of those 15 players – a full 60% – never played against a black player. Not once, not ever. Two more saw integration during their career. Isn’t it quite the coincidence that the era when non-white players weren’t allowed in the majors accounts for only about 48% of baseball’s history but about 66% of its best play? Doesn’t that deck feel a little stacked to anyone else?
When Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth’s record, 9.7% of the league was black and another 7.7% of the league was Latino. Do we really think steroids gave Barry Bonds a 17.4% advantage over other historical players? In 1973, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all time record, 17.4% of the players were black and another 11% were Latino. Do we really think steroids made Alex Rodriguez 28% better than he was naturally? When Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, more than 40% of the game consisted of non-white players. You don’t think a couple of those Babe Ruth homers would have turned into double plays or strikeouts if he had had to face Pedro Martinez? How about Bob Gibson? Fergie Jenkins? Not fair? Fine, how about Bill Foster, George Mitchell, Willie Powell, Theodore Trent and Satchel Paige?
Every era has its shames, but clutching our pearls and acting horrified when every goddamn one of us knew what was happening during the steroid era is both hypocritical and disappointingly predictable. Put an asterisk next to his name if you must but put Barry Bonds in the Hall.
Matthew Record is a PhD student studying Public Policy and Management in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. He is the drummer and driving force behind the indie pop sextet Fortune & Spirits and the sole contributor to his own blog.
Matthew’s favorite board game is Power Grid and he suggests you all go to boardgamegeek.com right now to discover one of your own. He currently resides in Columbus, OH.