Since Bonds will likely tie with or break Hank Aaron's record this week, I thought I'd post the following article by Tim Wise. http://www.lipmagazine.org/~timwise/BarryBonds.html Within a matter of several weeks, it is a virtual certainty that Barry Bonds will become the all-time home run king of Major League Baseball. When this moment arrives, survey data suggests that the majority of white baseball fans will yell and scream at their televisions and curse the Giants' slugger, having concluded, beyond any doubt that Bonds used steroids for at least a few seasons in the early 2000s, so as to help obtain the record. Most blacks, on the other hand, either doubt that Bonds used steroids, or at least feel as though the allegations haven't been proven. So while most of black America cheers Barry on, an awful lot of whites are wishing (often quite openly) for the aging star to be injured, or for pitchers to deliberately walk him from now till retirement, just to deprive him of the honor, even if it would mean walking in the winning run in an important game. As for me, I have no idea whether or not Barry Bonds used anabolic steroids, knowingly or otherwise. Circumstantial evidence suggests he did, yet whatever proof exists is apparently too weak to secure an indictment for lying to a grand jury about the matter. But having concluded that Bonds is guilty, evidence notwithstanding, white baseball fans are overwhelmingly demanding that an asterisk be placed by Bonds's name in the record books. Yes, he may come to own the record, they'll aver, but only because of performance-enhancing supplements. As such, he shouldn't be regarded in the same light, or spoken of in the same breath as Hank Aaron (the current record-holder) or Babe Ruth. For the time being, let's put aside the issue of whether Bonds is guilty of having used steroids. And let's put aside whether or not the steroids he's accused of using can really help a batter hit a 95-mile an hour fastball (possibly thrown by a pitcher who was also juiced, given the ubiquity of steroids in the game in the 90s and early 2000s, all with the knowledge of team owners). And let's also put aside the issue of how many additional home runs Bonds may have hit, which he wouldn't have hit anyway, but for the steroids.* While all are important matters, there is a more fundamental issue to address when it comes to how Bonds is to be viewed in the history books. For how can white Americans call for Bonds to have his records marred by an asterisk, while continuing to revere the records and performances of their white baseball heroes of eras past--folks with names like DiMaggio, Williams, Ruth and Cobb--who benefited from a much greater "performance enhancement" than that which steroids can provide: namely, the racist exclusion of black athletes from the major leagues? Steroids vs. Segregation: Which One Provides More of an Unearned Advantage? There is no denying that anabolic steroids can enhance athletic performance, primarily by allowing athletes to rapidly rebuild damaged muscle mass, and recover more quickly from injury. Whether or not they can cause batters to hit balls for greater distance is an open question, to which no one has provided an answer. Although home runs increased across Major League Baseball during the era of unregulated steroid use (and have remained high by historical standards since the crackdown), there are several factors that could have produced that result, even without a single batter being juiced. As sports columnist Dave Zirin notes, in his amazing new book, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports, these alternative explanations include shorter fences in the dozen or so new ballparks built during this period; balls that many experts believe are being wound more tightly than in the past; better training equipment (including computer technology that allows hitters to graphically analyze their swings and make corrections quickly), and much smaller strike zones. The last of these--imposed on umpires by team owners around the same time as the steroid boom--has forced pitchers to throw into prime hitting zones, thereby guaranteeing that good hitters (and everyone agrees Bonds is one, with or without drugs), are going to hit more home runs. In other words, it is impossible to know whether or not Bonds's home run spree in the years from 1999 to 2003 was due to steroid use, or whether he may have hit the same number even without them. But we do know one thing for certain: from 1887, when blacks were run out of white-dominated professional baseball leagues, until 1947, when Jackie Robinson first stepped onto a field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, every white baseball player for six decades had been protected from black competition. And protection from competition is the most profound form of artificial performance enhancement imaginable. It was none other than Joe DiMaggio who said--having once faced Negro League great, Satchel Paige in an exhibition game--that Paige was the greatest pitcher he'd ever come up against. But of course, in DiMaggio's 1941 season, during which he hit in 56 consecutive games for the Yankees (still a record), he wouldn't have to face Paige, or any other black pitching legends. Though Paige would go on to play in the major leagues, it would only be after reaching his 42nd birthday, and a full fourteen years after his legendary 31-4 record in 1934, during which season he pitched sixty-four consecutive scoreless innings and won twenty-one games in a row. That black players were fully the equals of their white counterparts is hard to deny. Throughout several exhibition games, involving each league's All-Stars, the two leagues split games roughly fifty-fifty. Considering that the Negro League teams had fewer resources to develop players, and typically carried smaller rosters (with weaker benches), this was no small feat. Had certain players been allowed in the majors, there is little doubt but that white record holders, then or now, would have faced longer odds when it came to recording their feats. Pitchers like Smokey Joe Williams (who shutout the 1915 National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in an exhibition), or Paige (who was able to pitch three shutout innings in the major leagues at the age of sixty, in a special 1965 appearance with the Kansas City A's), would have wreaked havoc with the bats of white players, had they been given the chance. By the same token, sluggers like Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Oscar Charleston (who hit .318 with eleven home runs in fifty-three exhibitions against white major leaguers, and is considered the fourth best player in history by baseball historian Bill James) would have easily vied for many of the records set by whites, some of which stand to this day. This would have been especially true had they been able to play in homer-friendly Yankee stadium, which originally had home run fences down the right and left field lines that were less than 300 feet from home plate, so as to accommodate the likes of Babe Ruth. (As a side note, it's interesting how no one ever suggests Ruth's accomplishments should be looked at skeptically because he was swinging at fences that I was able to reach routinely at the age of fifteen).