The Branding of Bonds*

Gilles Deleuze, in "Postscript on the Societies of Control":

The socio-technological study of the mechanisms of control, grasped at their inception, would have to be categorical and to describe what is already in the process of substitution for the disciplinary sites of enclosure, whose crisis is everywhere proclaimed. It may be that older methods, borrowed from the former societies of sovereignty, will return to the fore, but with the necessary modifications. What counts is that we are at the beginning of something.

Three years ago, Chicago Cubs baseball fan Steve Bartman committed a blunder of monumental proportions when he snatched a fly ball destined for the stands. The mistake was critical since Chicago's Moises Alou had a chance to reach into the stands and make a play on the ball for a key out that would have nearly sealed the game and a spot in the World Series, which the Cubs hadn't won since 1908. Rattled, the team eventually lost the game and the series, continuing the championship drought.

As I suggested at the time, Bartman's gaffe constituted "an operational failure of the panoptic gaze." The same technologies that ensure spectator docility at a sporting event also constitute the apparatus of spectacle that is so important economically. Put another way, Bartman was trained to internalize two truths: first, to sit down in your seat at a game unless standing up to cheer in an appropriate fashion; and second, to try and catch a fly ball when possible for its sign-value as ball and for the possibility to get seen on TV. With one out in the top of the eighth and the Cubs nursing a 3-0 lead, these two truths came into direct opposition with one another.

So an older method, borrowed from the society of sovereignty, was leveraged to resolve the anomaly, though with the necessary modifications: Bartman needed the spectacle of public torture and death: however, since we could not literally kill Bartman, we instead used the ball in simulation as the proxy by which the public spectacle of torture and execution could be enacted. And hopefully everyone learned their lesson.

* * *

Today there is a new lesson. It has to do not with the bounded space of the stadium, but rather the space within one's body. Generally, we are discussing claims to a "natural" body and chemical compositions that might challenge such a natural state. Specifically, we are discussing Barry Bonds and allegations that steroids, HGH or other illicit doping methods allowed him to break Major League Baseball's all-time record for home runs.

It was anticipated that the record-breaking ball would be somewhat depressed in value given the allegations leveled against Bonds, and would only fetch about half a million dollars. The ball ended up selling for $752,467 — substantially more than expected, but a far cry from the $3 million Spawn creator Todd McFarlane spent in auction to land Mark McGwire's record single-season home run ball.

The Bonds ball was purchased by urban streetwear entrepreneur Mark Ecko, who offered baseball fans the ability to decide what to subsequently do with it by voting online through the web site Fans were offered three choices in the vote: bestow the ball intact to Cooperstown; brand the ball with an asterisk before sending it to Cooperstown; or blast the ball into outer space.

Courtesy of Mark Ecko

Over 10 million votes were cast. The result? Brand the ball with an asterisk before putting it on display forever at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

If we can consider the Bartman ball as acting in proxy for the simulated spectacle of torture and execution, should we not extend our analysis to consider the Bonds ball as a proxy in a similarly spectacular fashion? And if so, what does the collective desire of baseball's voting fans to have the proxy branded reveal in this analysis?

Once again, in administering mechanisms of control older methods return to the fore, but with the necessary modifications. The branding of human beings has a long and varied history, most notably to mark slaves as a form of property or to identify and punish the criminal. Later, as the practice of branding extended to domesticated livestock, the presence of a brand on an animal often constituted prima facie proof of ownership.

While baseball holds a special and important place in the topography of American collective consciousness, the nation's historical legacy of slavery holds perhaps an even more important place in its collective subconsciousness. We might suggest that the desire to brand the record-setting baseball is a collective expression of that subconscious awareness — Bonds should be branded (in simulation).

From now on, the presence of an asterisk on cowhide — the scarlet punctuation, as it were — will be considered prima facie evidence of guilt in the absence of hard physical evidence. But it will also serve as a reminder of ownership: the career home run record (and indeed all of baseball history) does not belong to Bonds but rather to The American People. Moreover, it is the body of Bonds himself (and indeed all other baseball players) that is symbolically owned by The American People, a lesson that will be internalized by every future visitor to Cooperstown.


11 responses to The Branding of Bonds*

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  1. Alex Sillett says:

    The asterisk really represents a lot towards the game of baseball, Barry Bonds and the homerun record, however I do not feel that it encompasses societies ownership of Barry Bonds or his homerun record. The amount of hype that has been brought forth (over 10 million votes) over this insinuates that society does not own the sport, but the sport has taken control of the society. The asterisk shows that enough people care about the game of baseball in order to preserve its dignity, because it means the world to them. This is no difference from this situation then a reality TV show such as American Idol where the viewers call in to vote for the person they want to win. The show does this to make the viewers feel like they are a part of the show, where really it increases the shows ratings, income and inevitably popularity. In both of these situations society is not in control they just have the misconception they are in control. If society will take time to vote on something that is so important to them, be it a homerun record or a singing "star" something that really provides no substantial benefit to society, but every benefit to that media, then who really is in control?

  2. Jessica Nap says:

    I agree with the idea presented that slavery is of greater collective sub-consciousness than baseball, but I disagree with the idea that Bonds is a slave of the people or the game. A slave is a person who is basically dominated by another person or influence, they don’t have choice, but Bonds had that choice. He made the choice to play baseball, to be great at baseball, and he might have made the choice to take steroids. It is the media that has placed that asterisk on the record setting baseball. There is no proof that Bonds cheated by taking performance enhancing drugs yet the public voted upon putting this asterisk on the ball before even knowing the truth. This was caused because of the media’s influence on society. I mean there must be some reason why he was able to set the record in over 2500 less at bats than the previous record holder. The media made it appear as though it couldn’t have been hard work or natural talent that won Bonds the home run title it had to have been steroids. As a result of heavy media influence throughout society an asterisk has been placed on baseballs most predominant record.

  3. Katie Ferguson says:

    The Steve Bartman issue is an event that made a vast change in sports history as the cubs were going into the play-offs as the number one team. These few seconds of Bartmans experience at a Cubs game changed his life forever. I do not agree with how society treated him, but I do agree with the idea of hopefully everyone learned there lesson. It is natural instinct to become excited and try and catch the ball in the stands. This is an issue which could have happened to any individual and was clearly not an act of sabotaging the Cubs win.
    Secondly, I disagree with the idea that Bonds is a slave of the people or the game. Bond had the choice to be a baseball player and to take performance enhancing drugs. He did what he did, because he saw it as acceptable. This eliminates the idea that Bond is a slave, as slaves do not have the choice to do what they do; force against their own will. The use of performance enhancing drugs should be individual choice. With or without taking steroids Bond was a great baseball player and deserves the recognition for that and for making a record, not for being the individual who went against societies norms. There fore an asterisk has been created to prevent such events from reoccurring.
    I still question it all, why do we let what society sees as acceptable the way we live our lives and engage in athletics?

  4. Kevin Paquette says:

    I see branding the record-setting baseball in a slightly different light. Instead of the public laying claim to Barry Bonds, I feel that the public has laid claim to what they perceive to be just. allowed the public at large to have their voices heard; to make a stand. It was decided to brand the ball. I see this branding as a branding of the publics disapproval, not a simulated branding of Barry Bonds. When a baseball fan walks through the Hall of Fame and sees the branded ball enshrined, he can say to his son or daughter that he took part in branding that ball with public disapproval. I wonder how Barry Bonds feels about having the record-setting ball branded?

  5. Alex Kidd says:

    The Barry Bonds issue is definitely an interesting topic of discussion, one that will be had for years, as it seems there is not direct end in sight. Which is to say that no actual truth will ever be produced. In response to the idea that Barry Bonds has been branded through the asterisk on his record breaking home run ball seems like an exaggeration to say the least. I think it’s a proper depiction that those who voted believe it is important to never forget that there was always speculation about Bonds’ natural ability to hit home runs. When a person in society is accused of committing a crime they are “innocent until proven guilty” with an option of this occurring based on the opinion of a jury of your peers. The legal system generally convicts a man based on the votes of 12 jurors, in this case there were over 10 million jurors. Do I think Barry Bonds is a criminal? No, but it is important that we don’t fall in the trap of celebrating his achievement without at least taking a second look. In order to really brand Bonds would be for the American People to say that this ball shouldn’t be in the hall and thus in a way, sentencing him to death and branding him a cheater. However, they didn’t vote to banish his record, where some athletes (ex. Marion Jones) have been erased completely. The asterisk is just a subtle reminder to the visitors of Cooperstown that 756 is just a number and there is a story behind everything.

  6. Cam Bishop says:

    To start, I am going to come right out and state it: 'I personally believe that Barry Lamar Bonds knowingly took performance enhancing substances, including, but not limited to steroids and HGH.'

    And now the really controversial part:
    Bonds' alleged steroid use should not disqualify him as one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. His numbers truly speak for themselves. In his prime (for a baseball player that is generally equated with age 27-32) he was a 5-time all-star, 2-time National League MVP, and 5-time Gold Glove winner. Only Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) has statistics in his prime that match Bonds'. In addition, please don't forget that he is the only player in baseball history to hit at least 500 home runs and have at least 500 steals in their career and he is one of only four players to hit at least 40 HRs and record at least 40 SBs in a single season. Add to those distinctions that he currently holds the all-time record for most career home runs (762), most walks (2558), and most intentional walks (688) and the argument can be made that perhaps he is THE greatest offensive player in baseball history.

    With all of that in mind, it is necessary to make one extreme distinction. Barry Bonds, the individual, is NOT the same as the legacy of being Major League Baseball's most prolific home run hitter. Barry Bonds, the athlete, is not being branded with an asterisk and should not be considered a slave. By definition, slavery is the ownership or domination of an individual by another individual or influence. Bonds' excellence has allowed him to sign a contract that ensures that he is neither owned by another nor dominated unless by his own choosing. By negotiating contracts worth between $15 and $20 million per season, he has ensured that he is not owned and by including stipulations that give him personal control of his media exposure he has guaranteed that the media and outside influence will not dominate him.

    In contrast, Bonds’ legacy as MLB’s home run leader is socially determined. The legacy one leaves is dependent on how they are viewed by society and what each member of the public chooses to remember about that individual. It is this aspect of legacy that relates to slavery and baseball. Based on the aforementioned definition of slavery, the public could be thought of the owners of the MLB home run leader legacy because they have displayed their influence through democratic process via Marc Ecko’s website. And if, in fact, society is the owner of this legacy then the branding of the ball with an asterisk could be viewed as an attempt to retain ownership or a refusal to transfer the record to Bonds because they fear that his alleged steroid use would taint the legacy of a Home Run King.

  7. Michael Zwolak says:

    The branding of Barry Bond’s record breaking baseball with an asterisk says a lot about the socially constructed nature of sport. What is acceptable and what is unacceptable is completely decided by society and comes with a great deal of controversy. The asterisk is a symbol which represents both disagreement, and to some extent, is a challenge to the validity of the record. But how can society justify placing an asterisk on one record while allowing others to remain untarnished? During the time of the record breaking run, many believed that the idea of an asterisk was justified. This was due to the fact that Hank Aaron was clean of performance enhancing substances at the time he wrote the previous record, whereas Barry Bonds most recently was not. Thus justifying the idea of an asterisk, based on the presence of difference. Where then does society draw the line on what is an acceptable difference, and what is not? Should Sydney Crosby’s record for youngest player in NHL history to obtain 100 points in a season be struck with an asterisk because he obtained this record with a composite hockey stick, whereas the previous record was set in 1982 by Dale Hawerchuk using a wood stick? An obvious difference exists here, but has never been questioned. Similarly, a difference lies in NBA records originally set before the introduction of the three point line and those same records being broken afterwards. Is it not an acceptable fact that as time changes, so too will sport, equipment, rules, and even some athlete’s bodies. In the same ways that science is used to develop advances in new sporting equipment, it is used in order to develop new ways to transform future athletes into machines. We still continue to accept performance enhancing equipment, but disapprove of performance enhancing substances. The simple fact that we as a society choose to embrace changes in equipment but are weary to allow change in our athletes, allows us to see how this topic is based on a socially constructed acceptance. The only way to truly maintain the sanctity of sporting records, is to have all things remain equal. That being said; shouldn’t all records be marked with some sort of asterisk showing it’s inconsistencies to those that came before it?

  8. Lisa Clarke says:

    I have two separate comments about this issue. First of all nothing Barry Bonds did was illegal. They could say that being able to watch video of pitchers previous games would be an advantage to hitters since that has become available. There are many changes to the game of baseball, physicality being a huge one. Technology/knowledge concerning baseball has improved and has given athletes more resources to become physically stronger (better work out machines, pitching machines, personal trainers, etc). Babe Ruth’s era didn’t have near the technology and knowledge we have now. Strength and technology also goes along with the pitchers being significantly better because they have more speed and better pitches (more difficult to hit). One pitcher would pitch an entire game in Babe Ruth’s era if they were good enough, no matter how tired they were. That would never happen in baseball today. Even with steroids, it is still extremely difficult to hit home runs. It is especially hard for Bonds who has been walked intentionally more than anyone else in history. He has gotten significantly less opportunities to hit homeruns than anyone else because he was pitched around or walked so often, yet still hit more than anyone else. People need to take into consideration all of the improvements in baseball over the years and consider the fact that Barry Bonds not only needed physical strength to hit the ball over the fence but a considerable amount of mental and physical skill as well.

    The second thing I wanted to talk about is in regard to the asterisk. The use of the asterisk has been used throughout baseball history. This is not the first time it has been used, and just so happens it is used in accordance with that of a black athlete. The colorations are there, but the asterisk was also used with Roger Maris (White Athlete) and his pursuit of the single season homerun record. It was used when Maris broke the record; he did it within the confines of a longer single season schedule, therefore changing the original standard.

  9. Ryan Langille says:

    I believe Barry Bonds used steroids, 100%. As we've seen in the media, Bonds could be serving jail time for his actions of denying the fact he used steroids under oath. I can agree with everyone making Barry Bonds as public enemy number one in baseball when it comes to this topic, but that is simply because he was the only one in the running to break an extremely historic baseball record. How many other players are using the same steroids as Barry Bonds, and not being caught, but simply don't have the natural ability and baseball talent to acheive so many home runs. Steroids alone are not the result of 500, 600, 700+ homeruns. Hitting and making contact with a baseball at 90mph is a talent and takes years of practice. Being able to hit home runs and being the greatest offensive threat besides Alex Rodriguez in the history of the game, has a little more to it than steroids. I am not a huge baseball fan but from what I've seen when watching it, Barry Bonds was able to complete this feat steroids or not with being walked more than anyone ive ever seen. Pitchers are scared to throw it to him.

    I will not call Barry Bonds a "slave" of the american people, even though he's clearly on steroids. He has been tortured by the media and fans and has been able to find a way through all the harrassment. I will agree that an "asterisk" is suitable for his record breaking baseball and the public has spoken, but the fact is he should not be banished and looked down upon by the entire baseball population. Who is to say that the next possible candidate to break baseballs greatest record (most likely A-Rod) isn't using steroids too. If all sporting figures are going to be accused of performance enhancing substances everytime they break a record, than what is a record really? Should records be separated between Pre-steroid use and post-steroid use? The same way as the modern era is sometimes separated from the pre-modern era in sports such as hockey. Athletes have an advantage nowadays in the way that there is better technology and better training, and they are probably much better than the athletes of yesterday, but how do you compare, if Hank Aaron is better or worse than Barry Bonds, you have to look at athletes and the time period they played in, the game is completely different. The asterisk will serve as a moment in history never to be forgotten, but this is not the end, and until somehow steroid use is either controlled or just finally allowed and we have an entire world of steroid using professional athletes, there's going to be giant asterisks placed on the outside of every hall of fame building in every sport!

  10. Deanna Fidler says:

    I believe that the action of Cooperstown putting an asterisk across his baseball will be a beneficial action, as it will be a reminder of the trouble that the talented Barry Bonds went through due to the social pressures of being the best. I believe that everyone's actions are done due to social interaction that has conformed one into who they are today. Therefore, Barry Bond must have had pressure from his peers to take illegal substances in order to help him reach to above something that he was (at the current moment, without substances to enhance his performance), which can be seen as taking the easy route by cheating to succeed and take away from someone elses well earned success. Therefore, we need to keep in mind that we have to be careful of what message we portray to others, including our friends and elite athletes of our nation, so that we do not encourage them to take such steps as Barry Bonds did to do things that will ultimately have a negative effect on their future. This is a serious issue that needs critical research and thought.

    If Cooperstown did not keep this ball displayed in their Wall of Fame, they may portray a message that they are trying to hide the occurrence due to embarrassment. Although, this issue needs to be remembered in order to learn from mistakes.

  11. sportsBabel » a stitch in time says:

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