The unquestionable integrity* of sportswriters

The sportswriters said he was surly and egotistical. He doesn’t deserve a baseball batting record. If he breaks the record, they should put an asterisk next to his name. Of course, I’m talking about Barry B... I mean, Roger Maris.

It was a sportswriter who first suggested that an asterisk be put behind Roger Maris’ name after he broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs because the season became eight games longer in 1961. As if it was Maris who changed the rules, not Major League Baseball.

Other things had changed in baseball over the years, too. Babe Ruth never had to face a black or Hispanic pitcher. How many home runs would he have had against a Satchel Paige fastball? Babe Ruth rarely had to face a relief pitcher. In his day, one pitcher was expected to last the entire game. Where is the hue and cry from sportswriters for an asterisk behind Babe Ruth’s all-white, no-relief-pitching home run record?

The carousing, hard-drinking, glad-handing, sportswriter’s-best-friend Babe Ruth’s record lasted 34 years. The shy, introverted, “surly” (only to reporters, his teammates didn’t seem to have a problem with him) Roger Maris’ record lasted 37 years. Guess which one is still not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?



And now, the consensus among white, oft-divorced, skirt-chasing, binge-drinking, bulked-up sportswriters is that Barry Bonds is not moral enough to deserve the honor of breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record without an asterisk attached to it. There is actually talk of putting an asterisk on the record-breaking ball itself. After all, wouldn’t this world be a much better place if only Bonds had the high moral standards of ... sportswriters.

You’d never know it from the press, but Barry Bonds has never been charged, tried or convicted of any wrongdoing. His major crime seems to be that he is “surly” to sportswriters. His fans and teammates seem to get along with him very well. But then, there is that shadow of steroids. A ballplayer using steroids? It sullies the good name of sports!

A rich ball-club owner can blackmail an entire city into building him a new stadium on the backs of taxpayers or he’ll move the team. But at least the owner’s not on steroids! There are hundreds of semi-pro college football teams out there masquerading as “amateurs,” but at least they’re not on steroids! School districts are building million-dollar stadiums for high school football teams as test scores plummet, while we continue to graduate kids who can’t read, but at least those kids aren’t on steroids!

What message does that send the kids, Dad? That it’s OK to do something illegal as long as it’s not steroids!

“Are you blind? Can’t you see that Barry Bonds ‘bulked up.’ He must be on steroids.” It’s funny, I’ve been to a lot of baseball games and I’ve seen a lot of bulked-up fans. Some really huge guys that were probably skinny years ago. Is it steroids or French fries? I mean, just look at them! It must be steroids!

Maybe if a sportscaster has ever done, or been accused of doing something, let’s put an asterisk behind his name. A speeding ticket taking his pregnant wife to the hospital – put an asterisk behind his name. Cheated on his wife? An asterisk. Didn’t pay child support? An asterisk. An asterisk if he wears a toupee or dies his hair. If a grossly overpaid sportswriter has ever written a story about overpaid athletes, let’s give him an asterisk. No, for that, he deserves two.

There are several topless bars in New York and Los Angeles that would go out of business if sportswriters and sportscasters and pro athletes stopped going to them. Shouldn’t they get a few asterisks for that, or is steroids the only problem in sports?

Should all the fans that place illegal bets on games get asterisks behind their names for moral turpitude? What about the newspapers that print the point spreads? Is there some legit reason for that?

Why are we restricting asterisks to sports figures? Certainly they would come in handy in a lot of places. Wouldn’t it be nice if overpaid, tax-cheating CEOs had asterisks on their vanity book covers? And politicians. And talk-show hosts. If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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