Bonds, Mac, Sosa and Gaedel?

Which one doesn't fit? Or, do they all?

News Item: June 8, 1925 – Eddie Gaedel is born in Chicago.

One of the little-known aspects of Eddie Gaedel's story was the aftermath of the 3'7" midget's lone major league at bat. This may have been the publicity stunt for the ages by Bill Veeck, but, by Henry Chadwick, Gaedel did indeed come to bat in a major league game (which is more than you or I can say) on August 19, 1951, and he did draw a walk from Detroit Tigers' pitcher Bob Cain (who was laughing so hard he could barely throw the ball… however, he also walked 81 normal-sized batters in 149 innings that year). American League President Will Harridge was not laughing and, virtually before the sun had set on August 19, he had not only banned Gaedel from the American League (actually, his free agent signing was "voided" on August 21), but also ordered that his stats be stricken from the sacred record books of baseball.

But, you can't do that. And Veeck protested such a move to high heaven. And he ultimately won this battle, since Gaedel's records are indeed still on the books. Harridge could, one supposes, ban Gaedel (can you imagine the fuss such an action would cause today…), but why couldn't he erase little Eddie's stats? Simple. Baseball is not track and field, where an improper or illegally obtained record can be eliminated without affecting anyone else. As Veeck himself put it in Veeck… as in Wreck, if Gaedel didn't bat, then Cain didn't throw the pitches, Bob Swift didn't catch the pitches, no one batted for Frank Saucier and Jim Delsing didn't pinch run for anybody. And, they did. Every action in baseball on offense produces a corresponding result on defense. Hence, no matter how odious it may be to keep a statistic in baseball, once said statistic has taken place, it's there forever.

Which brings us to the subject of Barry Bonds. No ifs, ands or butts, Bonds has been juicing since at least 1999, according to the excerpt that Sports Illustrated is publishing from the forthcoming book Game of Shadows. Written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who have been covering the BALCO story from the very beginning, Game of Shadows seems to present compelling evidence that Bonds, on the heels of the 1998 great home run chase by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, went over to the dark side before the next season started, producing the following records in the next six seasons…

Home runs in a Season – 73
Walks in a Season – 232
Intentional Walks in a Season - 120
Slugging Percentage in a Season - .863
On Base Percentage in a Season - .609

This plus National League leadership in batting average (twice), on base percentage (four times), slugging percentage (four times), walks (five times) and home runs (once). And that's not even mentioning his assault on the biggest record of all – Hank Aaron's career home run mark.

Without getting into a discussion of some of the other revelations in Game of Shadows, like Bonds lying to the Grand Jury (the one thing he wasn't given immunity for) or not reporting card show income (that's what the IRS nailed Pete Rose for), how are we to handle Mr. Bonds and his records? Like Eddie Gaedel, eliminating them just cannot be done. All those pitchers threw all those gopher balls or gave up all those intentional walks. But, does anyone want to leave Bonds' marks as is, or just denote them with an asterisk? Improper and/or unsatisfying at best.

No, there is a better solution. Keep Bonds' stats in the official record books (you have to anyway) but don't list his records or his leadership in the various categories from 1999 to 2004. Also, strip him of the four chemically-induced MVP Awards he was given in this period. And, if he persists in his pursuit of Aaron, and is allowed to do so long enough to hit 756 home runs, well, just don't put his name at the top of that list, either. The rule for this action would be a simple one... if you can clearly identify a time frame that an individual was juicing, then eliminate the records, but not the stats. Thus Sammy Sosa (2001), Albert Pujols (2002, 2003) and Adrian Beltre (2004) become the NL MVPs for those years. And Sosa gets the 2001 home run title. And Larry Walker (2002) and Todd Helton (2004) get batting titles. You get the picture. You have to keep his stats on the books, but his records go bye-bye. Like they never existed.

Now, what about McGwire and Sosa? Questions have been raised about what they did or did not take in this same time period. But, without proof and a specific time frame, you can't do anything to them. Jose Canseco's undocumented tell-all oral history does not come near equaling the veracity of a carefully-researched work by two distinguished journalists. On the other hand, if specific evidence is uncovered to the contrary, then by all means impose the same penalty (recall that the Andro that McGwire was taking was not illegal.)

(One of the more interesting medical revelations in Game of Shadows is the one that one of Bonds' pharmacopoeia, Human Growth Hormone, seemed to improve his eyesight… something that could be a factor in improved plate discipline, one aspect of hitting that has not been previously tied to chemical enhancement.)

What about Raffy Palmeiro? He doesn't figure into this discussion... because he doesn't have any records, and has never led the league in anything other than runs, hits and doubles once each. And how about Canseco, the AL's 1988 MVP who also led the league in slugging, home runs and RBIs at various times? If his literary transgressions prove that his juicing falls within the years 1988 to 1991, then Mike Greenwell becomes the 1988 AL MVP and Fred McGriff gets that year's home run title. The late Ken Caminiti? Mike Piazza is now the National League's MVP for1996.

Is this an ideal solution? Of course not. There isn't one. But, once the Pandora's Box of steroids has been opened, there is no way to truly shut it, no way to completely eliminate juiced records from the record books. All we can do is to erase the records we know are tainted. Sadly, the stats remain.

A native Philadelphian who moved to Georgia in 1994, John Shiffert has had two baseball history books published, "Baseball: 1862 to 2003" and "Baseball… Then and Now." Both are derived from his now four-year old baseball history e-zine, "19 to 21" and compare past players and events in the game with current players and events. His third book, a history of baseball in Philadelphia in the 19th Century, will be published by McFarland & Company later this year. The 2004 and 2005 versions of "19 to 21" are still awaiting a publisher, and he is also partway through writing a history of the Philadelphia Athletics' first dynasty from 1901 to 1914.

A member of the Society for American Baseball Research, Shiffert's background includes serving as a sportswriter, as sports information director for Earlham College and Drexel University, and as publisher of the Philadelphia Baseball File. He's been director of University Relations at Clayton State University since August 1995.

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