Once viewed as the most hallowed record in sports, the Major League Baseball home run record has been permanently tarnished and tainted. Most people blame Barry Lamar Bonds. Previously, Babe Ruth held the record, and no one thought anyone could surpass his 714 bombs. The record stood for years until it was eclipsed by Hammerin’ Hank in 1974. Hank eventually retired with 40 more than the Babe. 755 was the magic number.
The issue of banned substances and performance enhancers in Major League Baseball is complex—there’s always been some form of cheating in baseball—and the name Barry Bonds is usually at the center of any discussion. Previously the microscope was on Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire for allegedly juicing during their quest to break the single season home run record. Throughout his career Barry had an extremely tenuous relationship with the baseball media. He grew up around baseball, his father Bobby played for 14 years and icon Willie Mays is his godfather. Still, he was under constant scrutiny in his career, and when his power numbers started to become inflated as well as the size of his actual head… the whispers began.
Then there was the BALCO investigation, that didn’t really help Barry’s standing in the public eye. As the homeruns were rocketing off his bat at a stunning clip, his trainer Greg Anderson was being named in a massive performance enhancer scandal. The federal investigation dragged on for years, leaked testimonials surfaced stating that while he didn’t knowingly use steroids, he had used a clear substance and cream provided by his trainer which he believed to be nothing more than nutritional supplements. Later he was tried for perjury, and in 2011 he was convicted of obstructing justice.
With all the accusations flying around, Barry continued to do his thing. It was apparent that unless he suffered a career ending injury or dropped dead, he was going to break Hank Aaron’s sacred record. On August 7th, 2007 Barry Bonds launched a Mike Bacsik pitch into the bleachers where it ended up in the hands of a 22-year-old named Matt Murphy.
Controversy or not, that ball was worth a shitload of money. Everyone on earth had been speculating just how much the ball would fetch. A Dallas auction house had even set a $1 million dollar bounty for the ball early in the season that was pulled back because someone just might die trying to get this piece of history. Eventually the ball was auctioned off and won by fashion mogul Marc Ecko with a bid of $752,467.
Ecko didn’t have any plans to display the ball in his home in a trophy case or parade it around his office. He wasn’t even a baseball historian or archivist. His plans with the ball turned into a marketing circus. He set up a website where anyone could vote to determine the fate of the ball. The most popular option was to brand the ball with an asterisk--just like the one people often place next to Barry’s name—to question the legitimacy of the record. Ten million votes were received, and Ecko—a former graffiti artist familiar with defacing things—announced that the ball would indeed be branded with the mark before it was given to the Hall of Fame.
Barry wasn’t amused by Ecko’s antics telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “He’s stupid. He's an idiot. He spent $750,000 on the ball and that's what he's doing with it? What he's doing is stupid."
Stupid or not, the ball did end up in the Hall of Fame, despite some back-and-forth between Ecko and the museum. And yes, it’s displayed with the laser etched asterisk as Ecko promised. With former MLB players like Jose Canseco, and most recently Cy Young winner Eric Gagne coming forward saying 80 percent or more of the league’s players are using some performance enhancer, a few things should be considered. Barry probably hit a lot of jacks off pitchers who were juicing at a time when roids weren’t even banned, even when he was skinny as hell he was a great baseball player, and lastly there are a lot of players who use enhancers and still suck. Doesn’t that mean Barry—who was never really proven to be a steroid user—still had to hit all those homeruns by himself? So yes, the ball is on display with the mark and Ecko’s name appears on the plaque below it. It cost almost a million dollars—a pretty crazy amount of money Marc—to slight Bonds, but eventually it won’t matter. All the players in question—and probably Pete Rose—will make it into the hall once it’s understood that cheating was common. It’s the fans that need to get over it.