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Baseball won't be purging 'tainted' statistics

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010

There never really was an asterisk next to Roger Maris' home run record, except in the minds of some fans.

Nearly half a century after Maris' run to 61, there are new calls for baseball to attach a disclaimer to — or even disqualify — the records set during the so-called steroids era of the late-1980s into the mid-2000s.

Mark McGwire*• Barry Bonds*?

It won't happen. Even after McGwire's recent confession of steroid use, Major League Baseball has no plans to denote his or anyone else's statistics.

So, there will be no asterisks. That's just fine with many people in the industry, including Fay Vincent, the former MLB commissioner who undid Maris' scarlet letter almost 20 years ago.

"An asterisk is kind of meaningless," Vincent told the Tribune-Review. "Maybe it makes you feel better to say, 'That record has an asterisk by it, so it doesn't have the same quality as one that doesn't.' I say that's silly. We don't need the asterisk. We just need the truth.

"Sunlight is the greatest of disinfectants and it will disinfect those records. Tell the public about Bonds, (Sammy) Sosa and McGwire and let (fans) make the adjustments. Henry Aaron, Roger Maris and Babe Ruth will look a lot better, and that's fair enough."

In 1961, Maris hit 61 home runs, one more than Ruth collected in 1927. However, Maris reached his mark during a 162-game season. Ruth's season was 154 games.

Commissioner Ford Frick, at the prompting of New York sportswriter Dick Young — a close friend of Ruth's — ruled that both New York Yankees sluggers must be listed as record-holders. Baseball had no single official record book, so the "asterisk" existed only in theory.

In 1991, Vincent overturned Frick's decision. Maris was the lone single-season home run king until 1998, when McGwire clubbed 70 homers. Three years later, Bonds went deep 73 times.

McGwire recently confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs — steroids and human growth hormones — during his record-setting seasons. Bonds, however, has never made a similar admission, despite public skepticism and growing evidence against him.

"I think Bonds will eventually admit what he did," Vincent said.

Vincent believes the records set by Bonds, McGwire and others should stand. But he also does not expect those players to ever be elected to the Hall of Fame.

McGwire was listed on just 23.7 percent of the ballots this year, well short of the 75 percent necessary for induction. Bonds, who hasn't officially retired, is not yet eligible.

The Hall of Fame addresses the PEDs issue in an exhibit entitled, "Today's Game." But the display does not refer to specific players, records or incidents.

"We want to simply document and present history without regard and allow visitors to use their knowledge and opinions and form their own conclusions," Hall spokesman Brad Horn said.

The ash-colored Rawlings bat McGwire used to swat his 70th home run remains on display in the Hall's museum. There are no plans to remove it.

The Society for American Baseball Research also takes a neutral stance on stats from the steroids era.

"I don't believe in asterisks," SABR records committee chairman Lyle Spatz said. "We are not moralists. A record is a record. A home run is a home run."

Spatz likened stats from the steroids era to the numbers put up by pitchers Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry, who both doctored the ball during their careers.

"We don't make adjustments for (anyone's) cheating," Spatz said. "We just count the numbers."

It also seems unfair to single out McGwire and Bonds for asterisks. Steroids were not officially banned by baseball until 1991, and even now no test for PEDs is infallible.

"We still don't know — and we may never know — the full extent of steroid use in baseball," said Tim Newman, associate professor of sports management at York (Pa.) College.

The more time that passed after Maris launched his 61st homer, the less people cared about the "asterisk" attached to his record. Will this also be the case for the steroids era?

"Five years from now, the casual fan who doesn't care about historical records won't care," said Rob Tuchman, executive vice-president of the marketing firm Premier Global Sports. "But there are so many people who really do care about the integrity of the game, and it's a huge issue for them.

"What will keep lingering is the issue of where's the proper place for these players when we put them in the history books. How do you judge a guy like Mark McGwire?"

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