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Buis’ Bits: Have you seen my childhood?

August 1, 2005

Peter Gammons wants to kill my childhood.

The ESPN baseball analyst is trying to erase some of the best memories of my life. He wants to prove once and for all that everything I know is wrong and he is right.

He wants to kill baseball. And he’s not alone.

In the past seven years, home run records have been blown away by the likes of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. Greats like Roger Maris, Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson are taking a back seat, and older sports historians don’t want their memories to fade away.

That only leaves one option–a smear campaign.

Players start looking bigger and hitting the ball harder, so they must be spoiling the purity of the game.

For those who don’t follow the game, purity in the record books is incredibly important. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams’ .406 batting average, Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs–these numbers are holy testaments to hard work and dedication. They should never be tarnished.

In other words, when new hitters approach these milestones, it becomes time for the purists to defend the fortress and keep them from entering.

For those of you who think this idea is ridiculous, please feast on two ways that Babe Ruth’s records were defended:

• Roger Maris broke Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, a 162-game season. Ruth had only a 154-game season in 1927. Baseball writers fumed that Maris had an unfair advantage with those eight extra games. Commissioner Ford Frick had an asterisk placed next to Maris’ 61 home runs to denote this.

• In 1974, Henry “Hank” Aaron stirred up controversy as he approached Ruth’s all-time record of 714 home runs. The fact that such a hallowed record was about to fall was bad enough, but the fact it was a black player seemed to enrage the purists more than usual. Letters would come, echoing those sentiments: “How about some sickle cell anemia, Hank?” and, “My gun is watching your every black move.” Even the commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, declined to attend.

A huge debate has started in the wake of the hearings in Congress and the recent positive steroid tests by major leaguers. At the center is who deserves to be in Cooperstown, site of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

This massive concoction of “who did what, when and where” is literally McCarthyism on steroids. Between congressional hearings and Jose Canseco writing books about how he’s stabbed every teammate of his in the butt with steroids, it’s turning into a bigger mess everyday.

If a hitter has a hot streak, then our wonderful purists think their hall of fame resume should be smacked with a massive “Denied” stamp. This would also apply to players who were rumored to have taken steroids, but never tested positive.

The latest victim of the “Denied” stamp is Rafael Palmeiro. The announcement of his positive test came after he got his 3,000th career hit and became one of a handful of players with that many hits as well as 500 home runs.

First off, let me simply say that if this wasn’t an accident that what showed up in his drug test got into his body, then he’s an idiot for even thinking of injecting himself at a time like this. It’s like Osama bin Laden walking into John F. Kennedy International Airport–someone’s going to snipe you out and be the hero to your goat.

With that said, there’s no honor in sniping. If you do your job well, you’ve killed someone (or their reputation in this case) without having the guts to look your victim in the eye.

It also doesn’t help if you sniped a guy that wasn’t guilty. Clearly Palmeiro broke the rules if this was no accident. However, it happened this year and had a positive drug test to back it up. What about the players rumored to have taken them before, yet there’s no cement proof? Or if the drug of choice wasn’t banned at the time?

Mark McGwire’s issues with androsterone, a drug not banned in 1998, raise an important question: What do you do with the people who came before the rules changed?

The obvious answer is to ban them from existence in every way shape or form. With McGwire we know he took it at least one time because he admitted it. What about the ones who don’t ‘fess up?

Before anyone proposes a blanket ban based on guilt by association without any proof for anyone who hit 50 or more home runs, realize who else we’d have to ban.

Ted Williams was caught with a corked bat, explicitly illegal in baseball’s rule book. Would we ban him and his frozen head?

Nolan Ryan and Gaylord Perry are two pitchers who had great careers and are widely associated with tainting the baseball with every known substance to make it move every which way it could. This is also banned by baseball. Would we throw out 638 career wins and over 9,000 strikeouts?

According to Gammons, those offenses of the past pale in comparison to the alleged injustices today.

Joseph McCarthy has become a footnote and a poor example for people to follow. Hopefully the same fate does not bely Peter Gammons.