The asterisk apparently comes from the ancient Greeks, and it was discovered on countless cave paintings. Who knew? I thought baseball invented it.
If you’re a sports guy, you think it was created by MLB Commissioner Ford Frick, who assigned it to Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961. Maris wasn’t worthy, decided His Eminence the Commissioner, to own the record for most home runs in a season. Since Maris played in a 162-game season and the revered Babe Ruth hit his previous record of 60 in a 154-game season, there should be designation that separated the two.
It still blows my mind to think it took longer to break the Maris record (37 seasons) than it did Ruth’s (34). (On the subject of Maris, my old press box colleague Ed Hinton covered Maris’ wake and wrote this amazing story that can be found here. To hear Ed tell the story behind the story is even more amazing, but space and time don’t permit that luxury.)
No matter what happens, everything gets tattooed with an asterisk.
Of course, we know what happened then, when the world went home-run crazy in 1998 and later when Barry Bonds went and ballooned up enough to float over the Macy’s Parade. There aren’t enough asterisks and emojis and doodads and gee-gaws to put things in perspective, how Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Bonds whittled Roger Maris’ chunk of baseball history down to a sliver with the alleged aid of performance-enhancing drugs.
Consider this, which to me is one of baseball’s most mind-boggling stats: Three times, Sammy Sosa hit more than 60 home runs, more than the great Babe Ruth ever managed. And in none of those three seasons did Sosa even lead his league in homers. Hang an asterisk there.
We are now in The Year of the Asterisk.
No matter what happens in Major League Baseball this summer, in the NBA’s wrap up of its regular season and ensuing playoffs, in whatever the NHL has in store, in NASCAR’s peculiar season, and in whatever transpires in football this fall, everything gets tattooed with an asterisk.
In many ways, that’s a necessity. Does a winner in a 60-game baseball season really earn its place in the pantheon with the Yankees of lore, the Big Red Machine, the Oakland A’s of the 1970s? Does a national college football champ that plays only eight games belong on the same shelf as Clemson and Alabama and LSU? And what if somebody bats .400? We’ll never forget this dreadful year — and never forget the circumstances in which championships are won and accomplishments registered.
All things said, I’m thrilled to have baseball back. Of course, the season couldn’t start without controversy. San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler and some of his players knelt during a national anthem before an exhibition game. (The Yankees and Nationals knelt before the anthem on Thursday night, which may get them a pass from the critics.)
That started the usual firestorm of “I’ll never watch (fill in the blank with the name of the sport) again” Facebook and social media posts. I’ve read them ad nauseum, whether it was the NFL because of Colin Kaepernick or NASCAR because of Bubba Wallace or the NBA in general.
All I know is this: If Colin Kaepernick makes a comeback and throws three TDs in his first two games, the most right-wing guy in my fantasy football team would knock over an 88-year-old nun while rushing to pick him up off the waiver wire.
The Giants’ kneeling demonstrated both sides were wrong. First, in this delicate time of trying to engage a fan base, it was tone-deaf on the Giants’ part not to recognize how the protest would be perceived. It would be taken as an affront to the flag, the military and everybody’s grandfather who ever pulled on a uniform to win World War II, though that’d be the wrong perception from creitics.
The Giants, and even MLB, maintain it is not anti-American or unpatriotic. It was a protest against the pervasive racial injustice in this country.
Maybe they could have used an asterisk to explain that.