Baseball is always changing, says Alva Noe at NPR. Before 1920, a single ball was used for an entire game, allowing skilled pitchers to exploit the battered ball. When the league rethought that rule, around the time that Babe Ruth started slamming home runs at a historic pace, the advantage shifted to hitters. Should his records come with an asterisk attached? What about players who benefited from a longer season, or a lower pitcher's mound? It's too hard to identify clear causal relationships here, and that same lesson applies to the career of Barry Bonds, who's been convicted for obstructing justice in the federal government's steroid probe. To assume that Bonds' incredible on-field performance "can be explained by steroids is about as silly as the idea that Babe Ruth's depended on the clean ball, or that Nolan Ryan's depended on the lowered mound." Here, an excerpt:
The point is that there aren't single-metrics for understanding human achievement, and the idea that you can explain why someone is so good at what they do by appealing to a single factor such as a lowered mound, or a shiny clean ball, or the absence of non-white competition, or the use of performance enhancing drugs, is, well, silly.
Barry Bonds deserves a place in the Hall of Fame, right there beside Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Even if he did use steroids.
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