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Sunday, April 02, 2006
A Market Solution to Baseball’s “Asterisk” Problem

As the MLB season opens today, one of the league’s hyped stories is Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ hitting streak. Rollins hit in the last 36 games of the 2005 season; his streak is now the ninth longest in baseball history; with 21 more games-with-hits he will break the one record in baseball that no one thought would be broken: Joe D’s 56-game hitting streak. Oh wait, no he won’t. According to MLB, “If he succeeds, Rollins will be recognized as the holder of the longest hitting streak in Major League history, though DiMaggio will keep the single-season mark.” In other words, Rollins will have a record, but one with an asterisk – much like the asterisk (formerly) on Roger Maris’s single-season homerun record. The Rollins asterisk makes some sense; hits in games at the end of a season (in which teams may be out of contention, or resting players in advance of playoff runs, and thus not deploy their best pitchers and fielders) are not the same as hits in July. Depending on how baseball’s investigation of Barry Bonds ends up, if Bonds breaks the lifetime homerun mark he may have his record *’d as well (* = Bonds was possibly juiced up while hitting a good number of these homers).

I understand baseball’s recent fascination with record-breaking performances. After all, the memorable McGwire-Sosa contest was one of the most important factors in curing baseball of its post-strike blues. Pitching Rollins’s possible “record breaking*” season is an obvious PR ploy aimed at distracting the public from the ongoing steroid investigation.

Instead of adding *’s after records, some of which are defensible while others are not, MLB should get out of the business of assigning “official” record-holder status to any of its current or former players, and ignore that records exist or are broken. Instead, MLB should let the market decide which are the “definitive” records and who holds them. Various private companies, with a profit motive, can offer their own “definitive” records for public and media consumption. Guinness can get in the game; so can U.S. News and World Report. Bonds may break the career home-run record; but if the public “rejects” that record as definitive (or rejects Rollins’ multi-season streak as being a streak at all) by way of choices made by the market, MLB won't need to slap Bonds with a *.


Please check your facts. The asterisk has been removed from Maris' record.

In any case, the concept of an asterisk is as irrelevant as the telegraph. No one, these days, pours over a hard copy of the record book

Blogger some guy -- 4/03/2006 9:36 AM  

My biggest problem with asterisks is the notion that Major League Baseball can just arbitrarily make up its own rules as it goes. When MLB decided to increase the schedule from the 154 games Babe Ruth played to the 162 Roger Maris (and today's players) play nobody said anything because it meant increased revenues for the game. Similarly, when MLB turned a blind eye to performance enhancing drug use (silently condoning it through its refusal to test) nobody had a problem because the McGwire-Sosa HR chase captivated America and raised MLB from its strike induced death. The Jimmy Rollins situation is slightly different, though MLB is still just making up these rules as it goes. Joe D hit in 56 straight games. Every baseball fan refers to that record as the longest hitting streak ever, not the longest single season hitting streak ever. Major League Basebll is a study in hypocrisy. There practice of using asterisks represents nothing more than rich old men manifesting another mechanism of control to serve their own wallets.

Blogger Cal -- 4/03/2006 10:19 AM  

The asterisk has not been removed from Maris' record because it was never there. The whole thing was an idle threat by Ford Frick.
I might note, apropos of the Rollins case, that Matt Williams sort of broke Roger Maris' record by hitting 62 home runs in a stretch of 161 games, but it took him three seasons to do it. He hit 11 in the last 30 games of 1993, 43 in just 115 games in 1994, and 8 in the first 16 games of 1995.

Blogger Ralph Hickok -- 4/03/2006 10:40 AM  

thank you major league baseball for your arbitrary approach to decision-making and leadership in general which always seems to make issues out of race and team affiliation.

in this case, it is too obvious not to comment on - joe d is white and a new york yankee, while jimmy rollins is black and not a new york yankee.

or perhaps it is just the market that makes those factors relevant.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/03/2006 10:57 AM  

Have we all forgotten something here? Rollins' streak will be the longest if he hits in the first 21 games this season. Precedent has long been set in all the major sports--hear of the consecutive-games played record in each sport? That IS a multi-season record! Also, some other streaks: NBA had a streak of games for 10+ points in a game, MLB had consecutive decisions won and lost and Mr. Gagne's streak of consecutive saves [over a two-season period], NHL had a consecutive point-scoring streak, etc.
(For the record: Cal Ripken in baseball, A.C. Green in the NBA, Jim Marshall in the NFL, and I think Ron Francis in the NHL hold the respective records for consecutive games played--and NONE of those are shorter than 12 or 13 seasons!)

ALso, to Cal: THe reason there was a "refuals to test" was that the MLBPA kept refusing to even talk about any sort of that type of testing until the last four or five years; even threatening to go out on strike over it, claiming it was invsaion of privacy.
Remember, the MLBPA is the strongest players' union by far of the major sports.

Melvin H.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/04/2006 10:42 AM  

Melvin, I understand that the MLBPA was vehemently opposed to steroid testing. However, the fact remains that Major League Baseball made no efforts to breach the subject with the union because they were in fact reaping financial benefits from the players abuse of performance enhancing drugs. I cannot imagine you would want to make the argument that Major League Baseball either didn't know about the drug use, or in the alternative knew about it but made an honest effort to rectify the situation only to be rebuffed by the union. The fact is that if Major League Baseball wanted to eradicate that drug use they would have at least given a better effort. If they had made the demands for testing publicly the MLBPA would have been crucified in the court of public opinion for striking to protect cheaters. The bottom line is that it is very obvious that MLB turned their collective heads to the steroid use because the quickest way for them to recover from the damage wrought by the strike was to have baseballs fly out of ballparks as frequently as possible and as far as possible.

Blogger Walter -- 4/04/2006 2:29 PM  

This has nothing to do with Race, Money or Teams, but everything to do with MLB's fetishizing of history. In every other sport they are looking for the next great player, but in baseball they are looking to minimize today's players.

Blogger Michael -- 4/04/2006 11:07 PM  

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