Well, we know one thing officially now, even if we’ve known it casually for weeks: the baseball season will not be 162 games. What have until now been considered “postponements” will now be considered “cancellations,” and that means baseball can officially start infuriating its fans when it starts to announce how it’ll make good on all of that.
That’s another story for another day, though.
Today’s story: asterisks.
Whenever baseball 2023 starts — if baseball 2023 starts — we are going to need to stock up on asterisks the way that folks now harbor paper towels and toilet paper. Baseball fans love asterisks. An asterisk is the new logo of the Houston Astros, after all. Commissioner Ford Frick once gleefully slapped an asterisk next to Roger Maris’ name as if Maris hadn’t just broke his buddy Babe Ruth’s home-run record but stolen his horses and raided his liquor cabinet.
Barry Bonds’ name has been unofficially spelled with asterisks for so many years, you need to consult an Associated Press stylebook in order to determine if the proper spelling is B*nds or B**ds (since he holds both the career and the single-season home-run record; the more asterisks the better). Baseball is, quite literally, littered with asterisks.
Except that, too, comes with an asterisk.
Because none of those things have actual asterisks, not even Maris, who did have, for almost 30 years, a separate entry in the baseball record book (61 in 162 games) alongside Ruth (60 in 154) until Fay Vincent called a meeting of the Committee on Statistical Accuracy, which corrected that on Sept. 5, 1991.
“I have always believed that the sprinkling of asterisks is a matter best left to one’s own conscience and understanding,” John Thorn, baseball’s official historian, says. “MLB policy, official since the Special Record Committee rulings of 1968-69, is that ‘For all-time single-season records, no asterisk or official sign shall be used to indicate the number of games scheduled.’ ”
In other words, this is how baseball deals with this:
That doesn’t stop you, as fan and chief baseball arbiter, from assigning such things in your heart if you want them there. That’s how asterisks are born, how they survive, how they thrive. Steroids guys cornered the market on them a while back. There have been plenty of truncated baseball seasons — 1918, 1972, 1981, 1994, 1995 — that have screamed out for them. There are any number of one-shot things baseball might try this year — seven-inning doubleheaders at the top of that list — that will invite a fresh shipment of asterisks by season’s end in October (or November … or December).
But that’s not all. Will you look at a Cy Young or MVP winner for 2023 the same way you looked at Jacob deGrom and Mike Trout last year? What if Gerrit Cole puts together an epic season that includes both a WHIP of 0.853 and an ERA of 1.12 for, say, 12 starts — will you look at that even in passing the way you gawk at that line of Bob Gibson, 1968?
Also: say the season lasts only 80-to-100 games. John Olerud was hitting .403 after 100 games in 1993. George Brett was .407 through 91 in 1980. Rod Carew stood at .401 through 81 in 1977. If Christian Yelich enters the last day of an 88-game schedule sitting at .3994335, will the baseball world laser its focus on American Family Fields of Phoenix (springtime home of your Milwaukee Brewers)?
Will any (or all) of that merit an asterisk?
Maybe not in the official eyes of the MLB record book. But how about in your eyes?
There is good reason for baseball to be resistant to the temptation to spread asterisks like fertilizer on the lawns at Cooperstown. As Thorn points out, “If we are to commence distributing asterisks in baseball, we could place one alongside the record of every white man who played in the big leagues between 1885 and 1947.”
Still, our subjective judgments will carry the day when we ponder this season, whatever it looks like, however long it lasts. Asterisks are serious business, after all. The first one was deployed by an official scorer named Aristarchus of Samothrace in Greece 2,000 years ago for those who duplicated — we call it “plagiarized” — Homeric poetry.
And baseball is a serious business. The record book is a glorious element of baseball, but that isn’t what pumps the sport’s blood. That belongs to our network of hearts, every one of us. What we say, generally, goes. On or off the record.
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