There it was housed in a 4×4 plastic cube of history. The ball that once soared 435 feet into the right-centerfield seats at San Francisco AT&T Park and into the record books sat there quietly staring back.
Its journey to 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, N.Y., was more turbulent than the power behind the swing Barry Lamar Bonds used to make history on that once glorified Aug. 7, 2007 night.
It was destined for greatness. It was a part of history. It was supposed to be the most prized possession in Major League Baseball History. Home run ball 756. A new all-time home run king: Barry Bonds. This baseball was selected for greatness, its identity pre-determined by the split-second crack of the bat. The baseball gods had spoken.
$752, 467, the cost for its trek to its home on the third floor of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, then changed all of that.
It was no longer great. It was no longer beautiful.
It was deemed tainted. It was deemed ugly. Its identity was altered forever.
So there it sits. Barry Bonds’ career home run No. 756. The ball that helped Bonds surpass Hank Aaron into baseball eternity.
Yes, there it is. That’s right, in the Baseball Hall of Fame. With a large branded asterisk right on the front of it. Home run No. 756.
Thanks to fashion designer Marc Ecko, this innocent ball was changed forever. Ecko won an auction, organized an online poll and offered baseball fans three choices: brand an asterisk on the ball and donate it to the Hall of Fame, send it as is to the Hall of Fame or shoot it to the moon.
The fans spoke and there it sits, imprisoned in a 4×4 plastic jail cell, with other pieces of Bonds’ memorabilia.
Who would have thought something so historic in Major League Baseball would leave you feeling sick to your stomach? The ball looks so ugly with its branded asterisk staring back at you. The asterisk sits there covering the signature of Bud Selig and the printed word “Official” on the Major League Baseball.
Ironic, as you visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, the most “historic” record-breaking home run ball sits there cold and dark. It’s no longer the same ball with that asterisk staring back at every baseball fan that walks by the exhibit.
Fans immediately are reminded of the steroid-era that has haunted baseball and ruined so many American heroes for this country’s past-time.
You’re brought back to the 2005 memory of Mark McGwire’s teary-eyed defense that he never took steroids in front of Congress. The elegant race to 70 between him and Slammin’ Sammy Sosa is tainted in our memories.
Remember the Rafael Palmeiro finger wag? How about Jose Canseco’s confession or the Mitchell report?
Remember Bonds, who ranks first all-time with 762 home runs, waving his hand away from reporters and cameras during his own testimonies about steroids to a grand jury?
What memories are stronger?
Can you still envision Bonds’ crushing home run No. 756 and embracing his son Nikolai at home plate?
Or is all of that now blurred with an asterisk in our minds?
That is what the steroid-era has done for us baseball fans. Most of us have a greater memory of steroid denials, lies and eventual confessions than of the actual home run chase or celebration.
Before you jump to conclusions about whether or not those proven to have taken steroids should be in the Hall of Fame with or without an asterisk, go look at Bonds’ ball.
You’ll then realize an asterisk is so much.
Justin Felisko visited the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday with 21 other Springfield College Students as part of a trip through the Sport Management Club.
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org