I realize that approximately 95% of you think I’m out to lunch on this whole “Don’t call Hank Aaron the Home Run King” thing I’ve been posting about over the past couple of days. I get that I am not changing any minds. I get that everyone hates Barry Bonds, I get why they do and I get the love for Hank Aaron. But what’s setting me off here isn’t some unholy love for Bonds or a vendetta against Aaron. It’s about baseball’s troubling tendency to whitewash history.
We see this all the time, especially when Bud Selig is involved. One thing he has learned very well over his 20 years as commissioner is that if certain people assert things often enough, people start to repeat it and then, most of them anyway, start to believe it. This is not something anyone can do, of course, but when you are the speaker and the leader, you get that privilege. We’ve seen it with presidents and we see it with Selig too.
Selig has been allowed to distort labor history via his characterization of the 1994-95 strike as something that just sorta happened as opposed to a strategy that he and a group of small market owners actively put in place before Fay Vincent was even deposed. We’ve seen him talk about the PED epidemic as something he long wanted to deal with but couldn’t because of player intransigence when, in reality, it was never a priority for him or the league. Many of the innovations he has championed — the All-Star Game determining home field advantage, instant replay — were things which resulted directly from his failures or failure to act, yet are portrayed as his leadership. Indeed, he and those who work for him have actively tried to erase those failures from history at times.
Again, this is not some special or evil trait of Bud Selig’s. It’s something all leaders tend to do, either intentionally, accidentally or half-passively because they’re allowed to without having anyone call them on it. It’s somehow seen as rude to call politicians, executives and leaders out on their mistakes and inconsistencies. They’re aware of this, so they simply assert that Things Are Just So, and thus they tend to become As So.
We’re seeing this happen with an entire era of baseball. Players who starred from the early 90s through the mid-2000s will be the least represented of all eras in the Hall of Fame. Records set during that time are not being recognized. The great bulk of what shaped the game over the past 20-30 years — PEDs, labor issues, financial issues and the lot — are brushed aside because they don’t fit too comfortably with a retiring commissioner whose legacy seems to matter an awful lot to an awful lot of people.
I think Selig’s legacy is a pretty good one, actually, and have argued the case before. But it’s certainly not a flawless one, and the consequences of that legacy mean that we have some uncomfortable truths to wrestle with. Things like the all-time home run champ being a cheater. Things like one of baseball’s charter franchises playing in a ballpark full of raw sewage. I think we should acknowledge those things just as much as we acknowledge the sepia-toned highlights of baseball’s past.
By writing Barry Bonds out of baseball’s history the way a lot of people, the Commissioner included, would prefer to write him out, we fail to do this and we go way too far into whitewashing history as opposed to dealing with it. That’s why I bristle when I hear the stuff I’ve heard the past few nights.