(With apologies to Henry Aaron and Nate Hawthorne.)
The ballplayers at the oaken door of Bud Selig’s office had decided: Something must needs be done about Barry Bonds! The badass numbers he’d put up might stand forever — but mightn’t their gaudy brightness be veiled, and their jive-ass splendor somehow muted? Mustn’t this pumped-up fellow pay some price for the anabolic sorcery that had catapulted him — like his juiced longballs — into the upperdeck pantheon of Ruth and Aaron? And so they were here to demand justice, and to vent.
Beside the grim portal of Selig’s door sat a potted Pete Rose bush. Its blooms were withered, like the dugs of an old sow traveling the sports-memorabilia circuit, and it stood there now as a stern warning that gambling would not be tolerated, at least not under this commissioner’s otherwise blind eye.
At last the door opened! The jostling throng approached the high ebon desk at which Selig sat, imposing in black gown and white starched ruff. Enclosing his sweating head, and seeming almost to pinch it spitefully, was an oversized powdered wig. His face was wan and drawn, doubtless from the great weight of his many important indecisions, and from the infernal wig. It was thought that Selig had exiled himself here to his office to escape the elephantine scandal that with each Bonds homerun seemed to raise its massy trunk and blast him backwards with an explosive cataract of water: kerflooosh!
At last Ye Commissioner spoke. “Wherefore glare ye at me so? Art thou all in league with the fans and press? What wouldst thou have me to do?!”
The leaders of the mob had prepared for this moment. Quickly producing a spool of thread and a penny-farthing’s worth of scarlet-colored flannel, they presented their simple solution. And at long last, just as the early hour was announced — quack quack — on Imus’s new Sirius radio program, an agreement, such as both parties thought befitting the no-win situation, was struck.
One week later, at AT&T/Balco Field, the door of the clubhouse was flung open and there, filling it’s frame like the massive onyx statue of some bull-headed Egyptian god, stood the buffed, admonished figure. He it was who stood there, and none other than he was there a-standin’. How he stood!
As he stepped onto the field now, he bore an air of hurt dignity, for the endless jeers and boos stung, as did the rounds of dried flaxseed which some fired sarcastically at him with homemade air guns. His unnaturally brawny forearms were clutched across his curiously vast chest, as if to conceal something. But then, self-consciously, he let his arms drop… how they dropped! And there — there — on the breast of his uniform, in fine red cloth, surrounded with fantastic flourishes of golden thread, was a large embroidered asterisk! The rumors were true — and the goggling crowds drank it in: the Scarlet Asterisk!
To some it seemed a living symbol of his now at-long-last officially mitigated stats — a blood-gorged tick vengefully draining the very life from him and his puffed-up achievements! “And doth it not serve him right?” clucked one goodwife to her pimp, Shasta.
Most were giddy to see Bonds get this long-deserved come-uppance — and Selig, now hailed as a hero, penned a light-hearted memoir of the episode, titled Asterisky Business.
For many the scarlet notation had the effect almost of a spell, taking Bonds out of the ordinary relations with his fans and other team members, inclosing him in a sphere by himself, with three lockers and his own Barca-lounger and flat-panel TV. There quickly grew up around this blood-red flower of shame a morbid fascination, as though it were some palpable blister of evil, some inexpugnable birthmark — a latter-day mark of Cain, just for steroid-crazy sluggers!
Outrageous stories now appeared, mostly in the New York Post. Some had claimed, upon Page Six, that Bonds was bewitched, and that when he ventured abroad in the night, the asterisk did glow with an infernal fire! Others said that the six-arms of the asterisk were changed into the wheeling arms of the demon-goddess Kali, and that Bonds was a lousy tipper. One ancient moundsman said the asterisk was a succubus which decamped from Bonds whilst he slept, and flew into the forest where it “did consort with other daemon typography, which gyrated grotesquely about a flaming printing press” and in this wise called up their “Inky Father,” Johannes Gutenberg, who, appearing in the fire, bade them “frolic no more now, g’night.”
Bonds soon became a sideshow freak such as the culture produced from time to time, or weekly, depending upon which was more frequent. But wherever he roamed, he bore the scarlet asterisk, honoring his lifetime deal with the canny Comish.
Then, in latter years, whether seriously or merely to befuddle the media, the surly fellow began to treat the shameful symbol as a badge of distinction, as though ‘twere a bright boutonniere in his lapel! He took to crowing about the asterisk, thrusting his chest out when cameras appeared out of the bushes at Spago or in the Men’s Room at “21.” He even wrote a coy yet brazen book titled If I Took ‘Em that was never published, and to great acclaim. No one knew if it was all an act, and some said Bonds himself didn’t know, that he’d long since forgotten what the asterisk meant anyway, or perhaps had never known. Others said he’d made his peace with it at last, that he no longer regarded it as an enemy, but as a friend, a companion, a randy lover.
Later, in what seemed a final deranged stab at the media Bonds demanded — through a p.r. spokesperson — that he no longer be referred to by his own name, but by the glyph itself! The asterisk was henceforth to appear wherever his name should have appeared, and in as flattering a typeface as possible. He even demanded that it always be printed in scarlet ink!
Few took seriously this final outrageous demand of the aging, raging slugger. It wasn’t long before they instead sarcastically referred to him as “the Athlete Formerly Known as Barry Bonds.” And then as “the ‘roid nut with the restaurant on the Avenue of the Americas.” But as the years passed Bonds kept up the bold pretense. “Talk to the asterisk!” he would sometimes shout to reporters, who were unaware that he had secreted a microphone in it, and was being perfectly serious.
A compelling hint to his true feelings appeared in one of Bonds’ mistresses’ tell-all books, That’s Not Flaxseed, Fool! It relates a vivid and disturbing dream Bonds had. In the dream he found himself facing a grotesque pitcher whose very head was an asterisk devoid of human features, though it may have been Randy Johnson. But in this curious dream the pitch was an asterisk, too! Bonds knew this was his chance! He’d blast this damned asterisk out of the stadium — and the record books — with his custom-made $500 slugger, the one that did his talking for him!
The hurled asterisk approached. And now Bonds swung! How he swung! It was a very thunderclap — on steroids! But wait… what happened?! He had only caught a piece of it! O! — most foul! And it was caught by the catcher for a third strike!! Nuts! And then Bonds saw that the catcher’s head, too, was an asterisk, grinning and cackling! And everyone in the entire stadium had an asterisk for a head! What kind of an at-bat was this?! Then, in a final indignity, Bonds looked at the Jumbotron and saw that he did too!! He, too, was a juiced-up asterisk — a freaking typographic superfreak!! At this point he woke up in a sweat and said “Honey, you won’t believe what I just dreamt. Don’t tell a soul…”
As the years passed, asterisks came to be inextricably linked with the name and feats of the man. Schoolchildren everywhere took to calling the tiny star-like symbol a “barrybond,” accenting the first syllable, and it caught on. And, though the reason is less clear, ampersands, tildes, and umlauts came to be called the Alou Brothers.
But let us return now to the inauspicious portal of the commissioner’s office. The potted Pete Rose bush still clung to life, perhaps still hoping for a spot in the Hall. But as the years passed, it not only survived, but somehow it flourished! It surged with unnatural life — as though it had found a second botanical youth! Say what?! Yes. But whether it so throve by the addition of some illegal admixture matters not, dear reader, for just how it trebled the flower production of its previous best seasons is the bee’s wax of no mortal man! Let us gaze instead upon its swollen blooms, these sumptuous scarlet monsters the size of juiced Major League baseballs! We pluck one and present it to thee. Doth it not smell like victory?
And so today, those pilgrims who pass that ancient bush, so robust in late life, invariably comment that its flowers resemble scarlet barrybonds in April. . . April! When the lusty team-owners smack their lips with expectation, and the record books are again opened for business. Play ball!
– Eric Metaxas is the author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce & the Campaign to End Slavery and the just-published Everything ELSE You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask).