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America may have a blast with this vote on Bonds ball

September 23, 2007|Kurt Streeter

Depending upon the will of the people, the baseball might go untouched, or it might get blemished with a big, fat asterisk. Then again, it just might be strapped onto the back of a rocket and launched into the ether.

A deep drive, hit to heaven. Talk about a tape-measure home run.

The orb in question is the baseball that Barry Bonds famously launched into the bleachers during a Giants game last month in San Francisco. This was no hum-drum hit, and this is no everyday ball. This was the homer, the ball. With 756 home runs, Bonds became the new all-time champ.

The ball and what could happen to it soon is pure Americana.

It all started, of course, in San Francisco, when a tourist from New York emerged from a scrum with the ball in his hand. Worried about debt, he took it to an auction house.

Then, last week, the auction house put the ball up for the highest bidder.

In came Marc Ecko.

He is a 35-year-old, fully caffeinated pop culture mogul who has made his name largely by selling T-shirts and baggy jeans tattooed with rhinos and graffiti. His companies reportedly raked in more than $1 billion last year, so his wallet didn't lighten much when he plunked down $752,467 and walked off with one of sports' most controversial artifacts.

What would he do with it? As he said on the phone the other day, Ecko decided to "democratize" it.


Yep. "Let's put it on the Internet and let the people tell us what to do with it."

I have to admit, the old-school part of me grew sick. Ecko is known as a master promoter, and this is a marketing ploy about as obvious as any you'll find. But then this is America. Money talks. Got big bucks, and you've got control.

Ecko has created a website -- He is inviting you, me and anyone else with a computer mouse and an opinion to weigh in on what he should do with the ball.

There are three options.

One, Ecko says, is to preserve it as it is and send it straight to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Two, he says, is to use a branding iron to sear a large asterisk into its hide to show posterity that the record it created and the era it came from were tainted.

Three, Ecko says, he will pay to put the ball on a rocket and launch it like a satellite into outer space.

At midnight Tuesday, he will tally the votes.

"Major league baseball doesn't own the baseball," Ecko said, his words coming as fast as pitches on steroids. "The American people do. Baseball is a metaphor for America -- its good bits, and its unsavory bits."

Unsavory is a polite word for the trashy way big league baseball has gone about its business since the mid-1990s. That was when rafts of players began beefing biceps and boosting stats by turning their bodies into walking pharmacies.

Bonds has been the most vilified. It is widely assumed that the last portion of his career has been fueled by steroids. He denies it. I don't believe him, and I don't condone what I think he did. I doubt that he'd have the record otherwise.

But I'm not so morally outraged that I want to punch the TV every time he appears on "SportsCenter." Bonds is not a sign of the apocalypse. He is just one piece of a big, ugly puzzle. Single out the Bonds ball, and we might have to go into the Hall of Fame and add a lot more asterisks.

Besides, as I wrote a few weeks ago, the drive to cheat by artificially enhancing ourselves has become a societal scourge. It's hard to look in the mirror. It's easier to project our guilt onto a baseball player with a big bat and a surly attitude.

So here's how I voted.

Send the ball skyward? Please, no. If we blast it into another galaxy, we'll do ourselves a disservice. We need to take responsibility for our history, good and bad.

The asterisk? That's silly. It would be nothing but a mark. We don't need a symbol to shape our thoughts about an event and what it means to us.

On Wednesday night, I went to Ecko's website and cast my ballot to keep the ball in its present, nearly mint condition. Don't mess with it. Ecko should send it, unstained, to the Hall of Fame by the end of the week.

And the Hall of Fame should take a minimalist approach. Encase the ball in glass, add a plaque with a to-the-point summary of the controversy over drug use. That's it. Nothing more need be forced down our throats.

The plain, white ball will have deep potency. It will strike us viscerally, maybe even subconsciously. Each of us can decide how we feel about it without a prompt.

Some will gaze, wide-eyed. Others will announce their hatred and despondency. That's OK. Let the thoughts and emotions come. The Hall of Fame prides itself on being a serious museum, and feelings are what serious museums should evoke.

The ball is part of American history. It tells us about ourselves.

About the hyped-up entertainment we consume and the greedy who feed on it. About our notions of race, ego, virtue, performance -- and now, with this wacky online vote, about the way we use technology.

History should be preserved. It should also be simple and undefiled.


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