I love baseball, newspapers and punctuation. These three items normally intersect in a box score, where a baseball game’s scorebook is smushed into numbers, letters, commas, parentheses and periods.
However, these three things have recently been center stage in an off-the-field drama occurring between the New York Post and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Quick background: The New York Mets’ Johan Santana – now officially known as “No-Han” – threw a no-hitter last Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals. During that game, Cardinals’ batter Carlos Beltran scalded a line drive down the left-field line in the sixth inning. Although replays showed the ball indenting the chalk line (making it fair), third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled the ball to be foul, keeping the no-hitter intact.
The rest is history, as Santana went on to throw the Mets’ first-ever no-no. (Punctuation side note: For those of you scoring at home, I’ve already used six hyphens in this post.)
On the back cover of Saturday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch (that’s a printed newspaper for readers until 20), the headline read: “No Hitter*: Santana throws gem with help of missed call.” While that statement is true, what caused controversy was that little asterisk mark, a geometric blending of three intersecting lines.
Baseball has a storied history with the asterisk (no, seriously). Quick back story: When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, the length of the baseball season had been extended, giving Maris more games in which to achieve this feat. A big debate ensued on whether an asterisk should be attached to Maris’ record to signify this, but the final verdict was to leave the number alone.
Since then, talk of an asterisk being used alongside certain historical records bubbles up time and again, especially during baseball’s recent Steroid Era. In response to the St. Louis newspaper’s headline, one of New York’s leading papers – The New York Post – wrote on Sunday that “Apparently, the Post-Dispatch couldn’t locate the asterisk key while Mark McGwire was swatting 220 steroid-aided home runs while a member of the Cardinals and setting bogus records in St. Louis.”
Although I doubt whether the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writers actually had a hard time locating the asterisk key, the New York Post brings up a good point. What baseball events qualify as asterisk-worthy?
While that certainly isn’t an easy debate to settle, adding asterisks throughout baseball’s history would messily jumble the record books and create punctuation-overload, even for me.
Let’s use a recent near-perfect game as an example. In June 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga recorded the first 26 outs against the Cleveland Indians with ease. When the last batter came up, Galarraga induced a ground ball to first base, went over to cover the bag, caught the ball from the first baseman and stepped on first before the runner reached base. However, the first-base umpire incorrectly ruled the batter was safe, marring the perfect game.
Since baseball doesn’t use instant replay for calls like this (that’s another debate in itself), the umpire’s judgment call stood, depriving Galarraga of a place in the record books. Does this performance merit an asterisk? (If so, check the top of the “8” key to find one.)
While I understand the Post-Dispatch’s frustration with the wrong call being made on Beltran’s liner, the truth of the matter is that human error and judgment are entrenched in baseball. As long as people are umpiring the games and not robots, and as long as humans serve as the official scorers, there will be official decisions made that are not always agreed upon or correct. While the goal for umpires should be to achieve 100% perfection, we know this is an impossible standard to achieve. Every game they fall short of this standard, we can’t rush to place punctuation marks everywhere. Beside, the hashtag is already taken. #twitterjoke
I’m a believer that things even out over the course of a season for each team, especially when teams slog through 162 games. My guess is that within the first 50-plus games of the season, the Cardinals have probably had a call go in their favor that was made incorrectly by an umpire. This could be a ball-strike call. Safe-out. Or fair-foul.
The fact is that, as far as baseball and its record books are officially concerned, No-Han Santana threw a no-hitter on Friday, June 1. No one, whether it be the Post-Dispatch sports staff, Beltran or the Baseball Gods, can take that away from him.