As a big fan of Tosh.0 -- a 30-minute show on Comedy Central featuring YouTube clips and jokes from comedian Daniel Tosh -- I set my TiVo for Sunday's premiere of Tosh's stand-up special Happy Thoughts. Finally got around to watching it last night. It sucked. Laughed maybe once.
Nevertheless, there was one sports-related joke that was actually thought-provoking in a way I never expected. Speaking to a crowd in San Francisco, Tosh addressed the steroids controversy surrounding former Giants outfielder Barry Bonds.
"Forget Barry Bonds," he said. "Babe Ruth deserves the asterisk. He played before black people were even allowed."
Apparently, Tosh issued the same joke back in 2008, so I'm sure I'm not the first to bring this up. But it's actually a pretty solid point.
Ruth played from 1914 to 1935 and faced exactly zero black pitchers. His gaudy stats and records were accumulated when there were no other black position players around to which Ruth could be compared. Jackie Robinson wouldn't debut until 12 years after Ruth retired, and the final team to integrate (the Boston Red Sox) wouldn't field a black player (Pumpsie Green) until another 12 years had passed.
For as long as I've followed baseball, I've always viewed Ruth as the best player to ever play the game. And, honestly, I'm not ready to back away from that belief just yet. It's not exactly breaking news that Ruth didn't play against blacks.
What I am willing to do is reassess how I feel about Barry Bonds and the long list of sluggers (Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire just to name a few) and hurlers either busted for performance-enhancing drugs or caught up in the steroids cloud.
For a while, I've been in the camp who thinks Bonds and others don't belong in the Hall of Fame for cheating, but I've changed my tune after pondering the Ruth issue.
For 39 years, Ruth held the title of baseball's all-time home run king. That is, until a black man, Henry Aaron, hit career homer No. 715. And, during that span of nearly four decades, no one questioned Ruth's record because he didn't compete against blacks.
Does that put him in the same boat as players cheating the rules to gain an advantage? No. And is Ruth's situation different because he had no control over his opponents, while steroid users made a decision to cheat? Of course it is. But it does force you to put Ruth's numbers in context.
So I say let Bonds, A-Rod, Raffy and Big Mac into the Hall of Fame, as long as we all put their accomplishments in proper context.
Folks will always wonder what Ruth's numbers would have been had blacks been allowed to play, and they'll also wonder what Bonds' numbers would have been had he not been juiced up. But no one will ever wonder if either were among the game's greatest players and worthy of a bust in Cooperstown.
Follow the author on Twitter @SamMerten.
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