Asterisks are not just for steroids

Asterisks are not just for steroids
May 02
09:36 2019

Over the last couple of months, I have seen several records broken across all sports. That got me thinking about how many records now come with skepticism due to rule changes, evolution of the game, or even steroids.

Many old school fans, analysts, players and coaches routinely diminish a record that has been broken nowadays because of what I mentioned earlier. I understand that the landscape of professional sports has changed over the past 30 years, but we must give credit where credit is due.

What bothers me most is many people forget about an era in sports that should be heavily criticized due to who was left out and that era is segregation. Football, basketball and especially baseball historians love to bring up the best players from the early part of the 20th century. 

My thinking is, how can you classify certain players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, George Mikan, Bob Pettit and Sammy Baugh as the greatest of their respective eras when you don’t include some of the most talented players?

I am not saying most of these players would not have been great in any era, but if we are being honest, does anyone really believe that the Yankees, for instance, would have dominated the 1920s and ‘30s had African-American and Latino players been allowed to play? Do you think Ruth, Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx or Joe DiMaggio would have been able to throw up those gaudy stats if people of color would have been allowed to play? I think not.

We have all seen black and white video of the NBA back in the 1930s. If people of color were allowed to play in that era, many of those guys probably would not be on the roster at all. 

I have read that Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball, was not even one of the top players in the Negro Leagues, but he dominated in the major leagues from the start. He had the perfect combination of talent and temperament, which allowed him to bear the weight of being the first African-American in MLB. That should tell you about how much talent was in the Negro Leagues that we were never able to see or hear about.

Even though the NBA, NFL and MLB were all integrated in the 1940s, most of the teams only allowed a certain number of players that were not white. It would have been great if the playing field was equal, so we could have had the opportunity to see the best play from the start. I’m sure there are many great players of color from that era that never had the chance to showcase their skills on the highest stage because of the racism that existed at that time.

Could you imagine the NBA without Jordan, Magic, Kareem or LeBron, or the NFL without Jerry Rice, Jim Brown or Barry Sanders, or MLB without Griffey, Bonds, Bob Gibson or Roberto Clemente? I couldn’t fathom the thought of never seeing those players, but unfortunately many great players had to suffer that fate.

The NBA and NFL are over 70 percent populated with African-American players. MLB has seen a steady increase of Latino players over the last 20 years and that number looks to continue to increase. Black participation in the major leagues has done the opposite over the same period, but that is due to several factors, such as accessibility to the sport and the instant financial gratification other professional sports bring.

I am not meaning to come off biased by any stretch of the imagination, but we all know about the selective breeding that took place during slavery where the biggest and strongest male was routinely “mated” with the biggest and strongest female on the plantation to potentially breed the strongest offspring. This practice took place for many generations for more than two centuries, so of course, many African-Americans are going to perform well athletically.

I said that to say this: If we are going to look down on certain things like steroids or rule changes, we must have the same thought process when viewing the era of segregation. Some of the players and records should also be looked upon with the same sort of lens as those who took steroids or benefited from favorable rule changes.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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