this short, strange essay is part of a collection published to accompany Nothing About Us Without Us at Gachet in December 2013.
In baseball, when a player achieves something that needs qualification, the traditional way is by using an asterisk. This was the case in 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, beating the big-time icon, the baseball hero Babe Ruth and his long-standing record of 60. The baseball powers-that-be asterisked Maris’ record, as he hit 61* homers in a 162-game season, whereas Ruth hit sixty in 154 games.
That said, the validity of records in this field is relative at best.
Prior to 1947, baseball was segregated. What about the fact that Ruth only faced white players?
Hank Aaron, an African-American man, set a new career home run record in 1974, passing Ruth’s total of 714, and he had to play more games per year, thus more chances for injury, punishing travel schedules, and night games. And death threats.
The pitching mound was higher before 1970. There were no ‘closers’, power pitchers specializing only in finishing the game when it’s close. Fearless, ice in their veins at 98 mph plus from sixty feet, six inches away. Such a one could pitch one inning only.
Maris’ and Aaron’s home run records were broken in the nineties.
Players young and fast suddenly became rolls of upper-body muscle, neckless torsos either pounding a pitch four hundred feet into the stands or breaking their bat. It was obvious to all, but was never said aloud (until, um, conveniently later) that huge amounts of steroids and other performance enhancing substances were being used. Records were broken and broken-hearted fans held up homemade signs: “*”
The size of ballparks, climates that are dry which allows for longer hang times and distance. Long fences, short walls and artificial grass.
& drugs. performance-enhancing drugs. so they hate him and say he’s cheating but can’t take
their eyes off him
Domes. There are so many variables. Players from outside the big US Nation! Do their home runs even count the same? What about when a woman walks on the field? There is no imaginary baseline where all things are equal.
So maybe * is a shorthand for marking this. To acknowledge that each thing done, made, thought, said is situated in a specific time and place, historical and overarchingly, immersively, political. The asterisk stretches its limbs in all directions. And the asterisk itself indicates relative privilege and the number of strikes against you before you begin to even pick up that bat. Some have two strikes against us before we step up to the plate, and must endlessly fight the past.
Baseball is one of the poetic structures that help me organize the immensity of my perception of the world and the *asterisk*. Metaphors inform us all – it’s just that a few of mine are very consistent and clear. This is how a bit of my brain works. i’m always swinging though. Batter up!