It goes without saying that as baseball celebrated the half-way point of the season with this week’s All Star Game the specter of PEDs and Biogenesis hung over much of the event. Commissioner Selig even acknowledged the ongoing investigation during his press briefings, which should have been about the game and the week’s events- Yoenis Cespedes’ power show in the Home Run Derby, Matt Harvey’s start, the last season of Mariano Rivera’s career. However, it was Chris Davis’ comments that seemed to be the most blunt with respect to PEDs, which shone especially bright in light of the season that Davis is having (37 home runs to this point) and his showing in the Derby: that, in his opinion, the only home run record belongs to Roger Maris with 61 home runs.
As we all know, the current leader for most home runs in a season is Barry Bonds (with an obscene 73), who has been implicated of using performance enhancing drugs during his time in baseball. In fact, the next five seasons of most-home run performances belong to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa- both of whom used PEDs, as well. Bonds also holds the record for the most home runs with 762 to Hank Aaron’s 755. (Fun fact: coming it at #5 on the most home runs list is Alex Rodriguez with 647 and counting.) At 27 years old, Davis has emerged as a late bloomer for the Orioles, and headed into the All Star Break with a staggering 37 homers heading into the break. He and Miguel Cabrera are the only two men to hit the 30 homer/90 RBI plateau in the entire history of Major League Baseball. Davis is currently on pace to hit 62 homers, which, in his eyes, would make him the legitimate owner of the title, ahead of Maris. Davis explained to ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” that in his opinion, Maris owned the title because, “… he was the last guy to do it clean.”
He makes a valid point. We acknowledge that Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all used PEDs. Maris did not. Much in the same way that Maris’ record had an asterisk next to it because his effort occurred in a season with 162 games (as opposed to Babe Ruth’s 60 homers in 1927), Bonds (and McGwire and Sosa) have imaginary asterisks next to their records. What those imaginary asterisk mean is still up to interpretation. If this past Hall of Fame ballot is any indication, they will never make the Hall of Fame. However, as against the use of PEDs as I am, and as much as I understand Chris Davis’ argument, PED use may be far too intertwined in baseball history to begin dismantling.
It is very easy to simply say, “Let’s delete Bonds from the record books because he used PEDs.” But if we start wiping away the black marks, think about everything that would come with it when dealing with every player who has used PEDs. Do we eliminate every win for Andy Pettitte because he used PEDs, including the ones that led the Yankees to all those World Series championships? (Note: Pettitte has admitted to using banned substances once to heal from injury, but really, we are taking his word on that. Though there is not evidence he used more than that time, there is no evidence that he did not, either.) Do we give those rings to the Braves? The Padres? What about Melky Cabrera, who won the All Star Game last year for the National League, giving the Giants home-field advantage in their quest for another championship. Do the Tigers get a do-over because Cabrera was found to be using banned substances? If the series starts in Detroit, does that change the outcome, and thus, the champions? What about ARod, who helped the Yankees in 2009 by delivering big time offensively as the Yankees went in an 0-2 hole against the Phillies, and helped finally earn his ring? If he is found to have solicited Anthony Bosch, do we take away his runs and ability and give the rings to the Phillies? While dramatic, these hypotheticals prove a point: eliminating PEDs like pulling a loose thread; once you start pulling, everything comes unraveled, and the garment is never the same.
I get where Chris Davis is coming from in terms of looking at the authenticity and prosperity of the game. However, once we start pulling the thread, everything else starts to unravel. Davis is adamant that he has never used banned substances. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez- none of them can say that. All will forever have an asterisk next to their names, just like Roger Maris. However, should he break 61, Davis and Maris will be the ones sharing their rightful place in- clean- baseball history.