Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Birth of the Steroid/Asterisk

It was 1974. I watched number 715? I can remember watching Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s record. I was in a basement in Illinois. I was watching it with my father and grandfather and some of the locals. Al Downing released the ball and Hammerin’ Hank drove it into the Atlanta sky. As Tom House caught the ball I remember the thrill that rushed through me. Wow… history!

And then there was a voice. Someone in the room blurted out a racist comment. I clearly remember feeling a sense of disappointment at the comment and why… why did that guy stain the moment? I froze. Why did no one speak up? Why did we all act like it never happened and look the other way? I was fifteen years old.

Yes, I saw number 715. And from that day on I wore number 44. Partly to honor the accomplishment the greatest home run hitter of all time. And partly in protest of the dirty comment that still rings in my head. I wore 44 as a way of making amends for my father and grandfather and for all those who heard the racist comment and said nothing and looked the other way.

Coming from a family of baseball lovers, I guess it is only natural that I feel a strong sense of honor surrounds the game of baseball. And in my youth an obsession with statistics and history became a big part of honoring the game. Time passed and I grew older and slightly wiser but numbers still reflected history and they

Post Strike -- Home Runs Go Boom

When the records were broken by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds I was as excited as the next guy. Sure, like all the announcers were saying, the ball was juiced and the stadiums were small but the playing field was balanced and fair. Everyone played on the same field and with the same ball. The game was healthy. America’s pastime thrived. Baseball was back

Then I read a book. Actually I read two books. One was called Juicing the Game and the other was called Game of Shadows…

I was stunned.

The ball wasn’t juiced. The players were!

The Realization

Today I am sufficiently convinced, like many other baseball fans, that there were players who decided to secretly take advantage of an illegal drug to enhance their performance. Now I could go into all the reasons this is wrong but that discussion has been had and at the end of the day either you agree or you don’t.

As time passed I watched ESPN and other baseball broadcasts in hopes of hearing that the statistics of the steroid era must be taken with a grain of salt. I waited to hear that there is integrity in obeying rules and that those who cheat will, in the end, not prevail. I waited for the truth. But to my surprise I heard mostly silence. Nothing. Crickets.

There they were, the same baseball announcers and ex-ballplayers who were so verbose about juiced baseballs and shrinking ballparks. Those same talking heads that went on and on about… where does the mud that baseballs are rubbed down with came from? Where were the balls made? Corked bats! And now those television talking heads were silent. Like the people in that basement back in Illinois. I waited for them to talk about the stain that had been placed on the game. I waited for a voice in the wilderness to stand up and say…”this is wrong”. And what I heard was silence. Even today ESPN and FOX baseball voices only apologetically cover the issue of the steroid era. And the Clemens issue has only made them more defensive.

Off in the wilderness, on HBO, one brave soul spoke up. Bob Costas took on the challenge with aplomb. But overall dissenting voices were muted. Just watch highlights of Barry Bonds and the Giants play on the road. There is no serious coverage of how baseball fans really feel. There is no voice from the stands. And if Clemens comes back will we get to hear the voices in the stands, or will they be muted as well. Muted. Like in that basement back in Illinois.

A Fan Tries To Speak Out

I am blessed with a wife who loves baseball as much as I do and we enjoy the game on every level. And even though she is a Dodger fan I still love her. She knows I am a Cub fan and she loves me too. She understands that to be a Cub fan one must have an even deeper love… a love for baseball. A century of losing puts winning in perspective and one comes to terms with the simple fact that, in the end, it is the game that we love.

And with that love for baseball comes a love of history and statistics. So when I began to consider the effect the steroid era had on statistics I began to feel despair. The integrity of the game I loved had been smudged at least. The statistics were thrown askew and most of all, those that covered the game on TV were essentially apologizing for what had become this “unfortunate set of circumstances.” They were effectively “looking the other way”.

As I asked around I found that most true baseball fans were feeling the way I was. Were we going to look the other way too? What could we do? And that’s when I struck upon an idea…

The Foam Steroid/Asterisk!!

Now the story of the foam steoid asterisk is an adventure in itself. Even though the LA Times, Newsday and several radio stations have given us a blip on the baseball radar screen we have only sold a few thousand foam Steroid/Asterisks. Did you know that one thousand asterisks were waved in Shea Stadium in May 2006? Oh you never heard that? That’s odd isn’t it? Well remember what I said… there are those that choose to look the other way. And sometimes those that look the other way are the ones who hold power and influence.

But this is America. This is our national pastime. And I wasn’t about to look the other way this time. I let Hank down once before and I wasn’t about to do it again. Now you may be asking yourself. Why haven’t I heard about this asterisk? Well it isn’t because I have not been trying. Let me tell you a little story about my trying to reach you, the fan.

Step 1: Have a Foam Asterisk Manufactured

I hit the phones and called the top three foam finger manufacturers. As it turns out I could only find three manufacturers that can make foam Steroid/Asterisks that cheap enough to sell. That is unless you go to China, but I was not about to have our baseball Foam Steroid/Asterisks made in China.

So I called the USA boys.

“Can you make a foam product for me?”

“Sure that’s what we do! What do you need?”

“I need a foam asterisk.”

“Foam asterisk? What for?”

I went on to explain the Foam Steroid/Asterisk. And to make a long story short, they said…

“Oh we can’t do that; we have licensing relationships with MLB.”

When I asked if they would put that in writing one said "we can't make it... we don't want to step on anyone's toes". The other said “I don’t think so” and abruptly hung up on me.

I felt a bit like I was back in that Illinois basement. Silence.

Gosh they sure are skittish I thought. The bottom line was neither would manufacture the asterisk… period. And I don’t think it would have mattered how much I would have paid them.

Finally I found a guy in Texas who said "I'm retiring in a few years and I like the idea...

I'll make them for you.” Thank god for the Texas folk… good baseball fans down there. Now we have our tool for speaking out! A foam asterisk.

Step 2: Find Retailers Who Will Sell the Foam Asterisk

On the phones again. Calls to Chicago, New York, St. Louis. Call after call to retailers that sell products to baseball fans. Call after call.

Well it didn’t take to long before I could recite their reply. “Sure we think we can sell them... but we have licensing deals with MLB and we don’t really want to jeopardize our licensing relationships.”

Okay, I guess I understand. I am a business major and I guess I might feel the same as them. But it did bother me; the influence one big industry can have over independent store owners. But that’s okay I guess. I’m a big boy. There’s more than one way to sell a foam Steroid/Asterisk.

Step 3: If Step Two Does Not Work Sell Them Yourself

Honestly, I began to wonder if there was even a market for the foam Steroid/Asterisk. Do the fans really even want to speak out? Do they even want a foam Steroid/Asterisk. We launched our website.

I figured I’d call a few radio stations and see about some good old fashioned radio publicity! That’s worked for other people right?

But living is learning and did you know that most baseball related talk shows are owned or are a part of the ABC/ESPN family? A lot of shows rely on cozy relationships with MLB and as you might expect they were not too eager to have me on the air discussing the topic of the steroid era.

But hard work pays off and I managed to find some radio stations that weren’t beholden to the folks at Major League Baseball. Phone interviews with Seattle, Tampa and Mississippi followed. Generally they were smaller stations but nevertheless I was reaching some baseball fans. They were small radio stations but they were independent and I was reaching some baseball fans.

And sure enough the Foam Steroid/Asterisk began to sell. Orders came in and we packed them in pizza boxes and sent them off. Still it was hardly the movement I had hoped for and while it wasn’t total silence like in the Illinois basement the impact on the national dialogue was minimal at best. And Hank Aaron’s accomplishments were once again on their way to being hammered as voices were muted.

The season was dragging along so my Dodger fan wife and I packed up a hundred asterisks and headed four miles down the road to Dodger Stadium. I should probably tell you that both of us are chickens when it comes to selling stuff but off we went. And we hadn’t sold more than fifty asterisks before the horse backed policemen rode toward us and we ran away. But the fans were into the Foam Steroid/Asterisk! There were kindred souls who felt like we did. There was a demand to be heard.

We rushed home and anxiously watched the game on television as the legendary Vin Scully called the game. Certainly he would mention the fans in the stands with asterisks. Alas no... not a word.

That’s okay we thought. Maybe he didn’t see them. Maybe we got our hopes up a bit too high. But they were there. Foam Steroid/Asterisks in a Major League Stadium. At least fifty fans unified in spirit and foam.

Time passed as we plodded forth with our effort. More phone calls. More emails. We even sent one to every member of congress who was working on the steroid scandal.

The season chugged along, the Cubs were constantly losing, and I began to fret… and the phone rang.

The New York Post to the Rescue?

On the other end of the line a voice said, “Are the guy that sells the asterisk.” “That’s me.”

A quick introduction later the caller asks if I’m going to sell any in NY. He said if I would come to New York when the Giants are at Shea he would do a story. I told him if the Post will do the story I’ll come out and give away a thousand foam Steroid/Asterisks. We agreed. I’d be there. In five days! The levy was about to break.

Thank God for my Dodger loving wife who loves baseball because without her, believe me, none of this would have happened. So together we began to put the wheels into motion. We ordered one thousand asterisks to be delivered to the Quality Inn in Queens. We rented a van. We ordered two tickets to New York. My Dodger loving wife has to work so we can pay for all of this, so a good friend of ours offered to come along and help. He’s a Stanford grad… very bright… to bright for this kind of outing I thought… but there he was helping the cause.

The writer at the Post called me and read me the story over the phone. It was brilliant. He sent out a photographer to take pictures of me for the article. He said look for the picture and article on page seven.

The Asterisk Party was on. In the morning the NY Post was going to tell the fans about a guy who was giving away 1,000 foam Steroid/Asterisks before the game!

The next morning we threw one thousand asterisks into the van headed off to Shea. But first we stopped to pick up the NY Post. I rifled through to page seven… and there it was. The headline read, “Barry Needled at Shea”


There was a picture of a fan holding up a handmade sign “got juice” Wait a minute I thought, I’m giving away

1,000 asterisks today. I kept reading and not a word. Instead the story talked about how, at the previous night’s

game, the fans were giving Barry Bonds the “cheat cheat cheat” chant. Not a word of 1,000 free asterisks?

No photo? I was stunned. I called the Post writer and woke him. He had not yet seen the paper.

“It’s there” he said.

Well I can get into the conversation a bit more but that would entail using some pretty foul language so let’s just say I gave him a piece of my fed up Cub fan mind. And soon he discovered the article was not there. In the end he apologized and said he would try to get into the next days paper.

“This has never happened to me before”, he said.

Now reader, I don’t know how low you have been in your life but I was certainly down on one of the lower rungs of the ladder and the ladder was in a deep hole. I was low.

I was down and truth be told I may well have given up right there but for my Stanford friend who didn’t seem to think anything was so earth shattering. I guess we did still have one thousand asterisks in the van. And the van was paid for. And there were fans at the game. Fans who I was sure would gladly take a free asterisk and wave it to honor the traditions of the game. I even thought about selling them but if the Post article were really going to run the next day I thought I should do what I said I was going to do. Give them away. So off we went to Shea.

A Day at Shea

We pulled into the outer ring of the parking lot and as fast as we could we cut open boxes of foam Steroid/Asterisks and started passing them to New York Mets fans. I don’t know why I felt like I was doing something wrong but I did, so we passed those Foam Steroid/Asterisks out double time.

And before we know it here come the cops. I was reaching for my keys when one of them said…

“Hey! Can we have some of those?”

Man, there really is something great about New York City! Not the type of people who tend to look the other way that’s for sure.

One hour later the van was full of plastic and boxes. Not one asterisk was left. One thousand Foam Steroid/Asterisks were inside Shea stadium… and tomorrow the New York Post would tell the tale. Me and Stanford grad bought a couple of tickets and headed into the game.

Asterisks waved as the planes landed at LaGuardia. We watched a pretty great game of baseball and the Giants won in twelve. Mr. Bonds went hitless. And on the scoreboard I see that the Cubs lost. Off to Queens for a bite to eat and some shut eye.

I didn’t sleep all that well and I’m sure the anticipation of reading about one thousand asterisks in the New York Post didn’t help. So…

The next morning I bounce out of bed and off I zip to get the New York Post… and there it is…

Not a word?! Not a word of the thousand foam Steroid/Asterisks. Not one single word.
I was now truly back in the Illinois basement.

Down one more rung on the latter I fell. I mean those signs were pretty good…
but what about the fan who gave away one thousand Foam Steroid/Asterisks!!
What about the article already written by the Post writer?

Oh by the way his name is Phillip Recchia and he writes very well. His article was much better than what I saw in the paper that day. Wow. I just buckled. Fortunately my Stanford friend was there because if he wasn’t there I don’t know who I would have leaned on.

I called the Post writer and simply put, he was aghast and flummoxed all at the same time. He said something about his editor’s editor and what really happened I do not know. I asked him if he thought it had anything to do with the fact that the New York Post was owned by Fox and Fox does MLB games… he just remained silent. Who knows? You know I don’t have much time for conspiracies but this one still has me stumped as to what happened.

I must admit to going into a bit of a funk but the season came to a close and the Cubs were miserable so I knew that at least most of the baseball world was as it should be. And the Dodgers made the playoffs and my Dodger loving wife was happy so I licked my wounds and set aside the Foam Steroid/Asterisk for the winter.


Come April I start getting the - I can’t turn and look the other way itch again.

I managed to wrangle a brief mention in Sporting News. Asterisk sales spiked but again no effect on the national dialogue. No Asterisk Party. Voices remained muted. On I plodded filling pizza boxes with foam Steroid/Asterisks. Ohio, New York, Illinois, all over the US Foam Steroid/Asterisks flew.

An article in the LA Times boosted Asterisk sales again. And the more asterisks I sold the more the powers that be turned their heads the other way. Oh I’m pretty sure they know we’re here. Why, just last week I went to Dodger stadium with a filmmaker.

I carried my bags of foam Steroid/Asterisks up to the outer edges of Dodger Stadium property. I proceeded to hand out the new improved colored asterisks to those Giant hating Dodger fans.

I was told I could not sell them without a vendor’s license and there are only two places in LA where they allow street vending and Dodger Stadium was not one of those places. So I decided to give them away for free… I figured it would be good publicity and with our website - - stamped on the new asterisks, fans could find out where to order for them for next game. Grassroots marketing… that’s where these things begin I’m told.

So I’m standing on public property passing out free asterisks meeting new friends. The ticket scalper to my left was friendly and helpful and the guy selling bootleg hats to my right asked for one of the asterisks.

“Long live Henry Aaron!”, he said.

“Yes. Long live the King.” I replied

“The Home Run King.!” He shouted


And just at that moment a blue car pulled up. It was one of those real official looking kind of cars. And the uniformed lady on the passenger side was waving one of us over. Crap, I thought, the ticket scalper is gonna get it. Before I could blink they passed him, no… they’re after the guy selling bootleg hats!

And they stop. In front of me. Flash! A badge.

“You have to leave”, I’m told.

“I’m giving these away as a protest. I’m on public property” I tell them.
And let me tell you friend I thought they had gone mute. The lady looked at the driver, the driver looked back at her… and for all appearances they were stumped. Then without a smile the driver says…
“You have to leave”


“Leave, you can’t be here.”

Now I’ve always been one to respect the authorities and I figured there was no upside to pushing any further, and it sounded like they meant business, so I packed up my asterisks we headed home… the two of us… me and my filmmaker friend who caught the whole thing on camera.

My filmmaker friend says that footage should go into a documentary called Kiss My Asterisk. He has a real sense of humor and truth be told I think he’s a Giant fan.

The Appeal

The harder I try to reach you… the baseball fans… the more difficult it becomes but like Papillion, I’m still here. And I know you're still there.

And know this. I’m still looking for you. You who love the game of baseball. You who pay for game day tickets and cable television. You who pay the wages of the players and owners and the unions and the television announcers? Yes you.

And do you know what? The game belongs to you. The history and the statistics belong to you… and me… the fans.

What will we do? Will we look the other way or will we unify so our voice can be heard? Will we stand up for the past, to show the future, that the now matters. Will we take a stand... in the stands... at the ballpark... for all to see.

Will you join us Los Angeles? Will you join us San Diego? Will you join us New York? Will you join us baseball fan? Let’s not look the other way. I did that once and I will not do it again.

Viva Hank and all those players who played it straight…

The Asterisk Party

Official Statement

Future baseball fans will certainly look back on this time... the steroid era... and they will wonder why no one took a stand and called foul.

So this year, we stand up for the past, to show the future, that the now matters. And we will make our stand... in the stands... at the ballpark... for all to see. We knew what was going on and we did not stand by and ignore it.

We make no attempt to single out Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds. They just happen to be carrying the steroid banner presently. McGwire, Sosa, Fehr, Selig etc... All of them in our opinion are guilty of drinking from the steroid trough.

We protest the “steroid era” and like good custodians we do not accept the “everybody did it” excuse... the integrity of the game is at stake.

Our little piece of foam does not attempt to change the record book or right a wrong. That would certainly be beyond our ability and would only add to an already convoluted tangle of words and facts. This little foam asterisk simply allows the fans to demonstrate, in a peaceful simple way, that we were not blind. We were not fooled. And we did not stand by and look the other way while the integrity of the game was hijacked by greed.