Don’t diminish Hank Aaron’s greatness by calling him The Home Run King

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Henry Aaron is NOT The Home Run King. That sounds like I’m going to follow with some rant about Barry Bonds breaking his record and how terrible that was … but I’m not. My thought here has nothing to do with that. Henry Aaron is not the Home Run King because that silly title would do nothing but diminish his greatness.

Pete Rose IS The Hit King. That title fits him, and it fits his career which was a relentless pursuit of hits. That’s really what it comes down to. Rose loved playing baseball, but hits were his business just as sausages were Abe Froman’s business and burgers are that king’s business and horror novels are Stephen King’s business. Rose needed to keep score, that was his great strength and tragic flaw, and his ambition was to be The Hit King. Other things did not play out as he had hoped. But he got his 4,256 hits and he had his coronation.

Henry Aaron was not a great home run hitter. To call him that diminishes him. Frank Howard was a great home run hitter. Harmon Killebrew was a great home run hitter. Reggie Jackson was a great home run hitter. Henry Aaron was a great HITTER — any qualifier put before that word cheapens his genius. Henry Aaron’s singular achievement is that he was great EVERY SINGLE YEAR from 1955 to 1973. That’s 19 consecutive seasons without anything resembling a down season. There really isn’t a record quite like it in baseball history.

Here’s just one way to look at it: In those 19 seasons, Aaron created 100 runs or more run 18 times. Nobody else in baseball history had 100 runs created 18 times in a career. But here’s the thing that tells you about Aaron: The one year in that stretch he did NOT create 100 runs? That was 1972. He had a down year at age 38. He ONLY hit .265/.390/.514 with 34 homers. He ONLY created 92 runs. His worst season would be almost anybody else’s best.

See, Henry Aaron gained fame for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record — it’s unquestionably the most famous accomplishment of his career. And the story of him breaking it in the face of racism and furor is a great American story. But, in truth, the home run record was merely a side effect of two decades of brilliance. He never came especially close to hitting 50 homers in a season, much less 60. He only hit more than 45 in a season once — even his teammate Eddie Mathews did it twice.

But Aaron was not a home run hitter. He just hit the baseball as hard for as long as anybody in the game’s history. The balls that went off the fence were doubles. The balls that went over were home runs. It was all the same to Aaron. His job, the way he saw it, was to hit baseballs hard and whatever followed, followed.

Aaron hit .362 against Koufax and slugged .579 against Drysdale; he hit more home runs against Bob Gibson than any other right-handed hitter and so thoroughly owned the brilliant young lefty Don Gullett (.462/.586/1.346 in 36 plate appearances) that it felt like there was no escape.

He spent the first half of his career in a pitcher’s ballpark. He hit. He spent the second half of his career in a hitter’s ballpark. He hit. He played in the years when the strike zone was from the top of the knees to the armpits. He hit. He played in the years when the strike zone was the knees to the top of the shoulder. He hit. He played when the mounds were low, when they were high, when they were in between. He hit. He cracked Nolan Ryan’s fastball, he cracked Steve Carlton’s slider, he cracked Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball. He came to the park every day with a plan and sense of purpose and the quickest wrists anybody ever saw. He relentlessly pounded against the shore.

He was the ocean.

To think of Aaron as The Home Run King is to think of the ocean as that powerful body of water that knocks down sand castles.

It was 40 years ago today that Aaron hit Homer No. 715, the one that passed Ruth, and so we are now getting that spate of stories and tweets about how Aaron — not Barry Bonds who hit more home runs — is the TRUE home run king. This is because Bonds used steroids. I must admit: This is one of my least favorite lines of sports conversation, and not just because of the steroid talk or the questionable mathematics involved. No, the big thing is that this suggests that Barry Bonds’ 756th home run in some odd way reduced the greatness of Henry Aaron. I did not — no more than John Unitas was reduced when Drew Brees broke his record or Jesse Owens is reduced every time someone run 100 meters faster than he did. Aaron’s career wasn’t the home run record. Aaron’s greatness had nothing to do with that number.

For that matter: Ruth’s greatness was not touched in any way when Henry Aaron hit 715.

This is an example of when numbers get in the way. We count things in sports because it adds meaning to the games. But those numbers do not sum up. If Tiger Woods somehow did win 19 majors — Jack Nicklaus said Tuesday he still believes Tiger will — that would not alter one thing about Nicklaus’ greatness, just like Jack’s amazing record did not change the wonderful golfing history of Bobby Jones.

Anyway, with Aaron, if you DO want to talk about numbers, home runs was never the right thing to count anyway. Several players through the year — Alex Rodriguez, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey, Mickey Mantle, Sammy Sosa and Eddie Mathews — were all ahead of Aaron’s home run pace through age 32. Aaron aged better than any of them, and he finished his career in a home run park so good it was called “The Launching Pad” and he set the record.

But let’s just say this: Nobody’s breaking Henry Aaron’s total bases record. Nobody. Ever. Aaron’s 6,856 total bases is 700 more than second-place Stan Musial. Barry Bonds, for all those splash balls he hit into the water and all those MVP awards, still finished his career about NINE HUNDRED total bases shy of Henry Aaron. Alex Rodriguez would need more than 1,400 more total bases to get into the Henry Aaron stratosphere. That record is just about untouchable.

Henry Aaron’s 2,297 RBIs hasn’t been touched either — it’s 300 more RBIs than Bonds had.

There have been a lot of kings in sports. Arnold Palmer is called the King. Richard Petty is called the King. Hugh McElhenny was called the King, LeBron James is called the King. Pele is the King, Jerry Lawler is the King. In baseball we’ve had King Felix, King Carl, King Kelly, King Kong, and a shlep of a third baseman out of Villanova named Fred Lear who played during Deadball and was called King for obvious reasons. And of course Pete Rose is the Hit King, just like the people yell when they’re trying to get people to come into the store in Las Vegas and get an autograph.

We don’t need any more kings in the castle. Henry Aaron is not the Home Run King. Barry Bonds has the record. He will have the record for a long time. Cy Young has the most wins. Ty Cobb has the highest average. Rickey Henderson has the most stolen bases. Barry Bonds has the most home runs. Baseball would probably have to change pretty dramatically for any of those records to get broken anytime soon.

But Aaron’s legacy is not a record. His legacy is a near-perfect baseball career. It is hitting for average, hitting for power, running the bases, playing good defense … every day. It is not easy to be near your best every single day. Some would even say it’s impossible. We’re all just human beings. But it’s not impossible. Henry Aaron did it.

Bronson Arroyo retires from baseball

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Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Reds’ right-hander Bronson Arroyo has decided to officially retire from Major League Baseball. At this point, the announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 40-year-old starter was placed on the Reds’ 60-day disabled list after sustaining a right shoulder strain several months ago and hasn’t pitched in a game since June.

On Saturday, the Reds honored Arroyo during a pre-game retirement ceremony, gifting the pitcher with a rocking chair and custom guitar, among other commemorative gifts. He returned after the game — a 5-0 loss to the Red Sox — and showcased another of his talents with a 40-minute concert.

The timing of the ceremony was fitting, too. Not only had Arroyo logged nine seasons with the Reds, compiling a 4.18 ERA and 16.4 fWAR over a whopping 279 starts in Cincinnati, but he also spent a memorable three seasons with the Red Sox from 2003-2005 and helped carry them to an incredible, drought-snapping World Series championship in ’04. While he didn’t have the most dominant run in 2017, dragging a 7.35 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 5.7 SO/9 through 71 innings before succumbing to injury, the fact that he made another run at the majors was miracle enough.

“It feels now like my senior year in high school and I’m ready to get out,” Arroyo said. “I’m honestly ready to go.”

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Athletics 1, Rangers 0: The Athletics extended their win streak to six games on Saturday, taking a decisive 1-0 victory on the back of Raul Alcantara’s quality start and Khris Davis‘ 40th home run of the season.

Nothing the A’s did during the game garnered as much interest as their actions preceding it, however. After being placed on the concussion DL earlier in the day, rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell joined the team for the National Anthem, where he became the first MLB player to take a knee in protest of the inflammatory comments made by President Donald Trump on Friday.

By all accounts, it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision — nor was it intended to be a one-time demonstration. Maxwell addressed Trump’s comments on Twitter and Instagram and held an open forum to discuss the issue with his teammates prior to the game (though not everyone appeared to be on board with his choice to kneel). He further explained his intentions in a statement to the press after the game, explaining his desire to show respect to his country while also taking a stand against “a racial divide”:

Maxwell announced his intent to kneel after Saturday’s demonstration, even before Trump’s latest Twitter rant called for a fan-led boycott of professional athletes who refuse to stand for the anthem. Whether his convictions will catch fire throughout the rest of the league (or the roster, for that matter) remains to be seen.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 1: Until the division standings shake out next week, it’s unclear whether the Yankees will begin the playoffs as division champs or wild card holders. Either way, they’re heading toward their second postseason appearance in three years and sixth in the last 10. Sonny Gray led the charge on Saturday, spinning six solid innings against the Blue Jays while Greg Bird put the Bronx Bombers ahead with a three-run homer, his sixth of the year.

Brewers 4, Cubs 3 (10 innings): The Brewers perfected the slow burn and dramatic finish of a true thriller on Saturday, taking a 1-1 tie through seven innings before Kris Bryant took the lead with a sac fly in the eighth. Orlando Arcia led off the ninth with a solo home run, but the Brewers failed to build on the rally and forced the game to extras.

Jon Jay drew first blood in the top of the 10th, lashing an RBI single up the middle to score Ian Happ, while Milwaukee recovered their missing mojo in the bottom of the inning and walked off with a smooth two-run homer from Travis Shaw:

Astros 6, Angels 2: Ah, how the mighty have fallen. After weeks of hovering within one or two games of a wild card spot, the Angels slipped to a 4.5-game deficit following an unusual six-game skid. The Astros were no help there on Saturday, holding the Angels to just five hits and a pair of Justin Upton homers in the loss.

Red Sox 5, Reds 0: For a second, right before he tossed his first 0-1 slider to Sam Travis, Reds’ rookie Luke Farrell had his eye on the Red Sox’ dugout. It was the first time he was going up against his father’s club, the first time a major-league player had faced a team managed by his father since 2004, and the first time a major-league pitcher had done so in MLB history.

It was also one of the reliever’s more polished outings of the season; entering Saturday’s contest, he held a 7.45 ERA, 7.4 BB/9 and 6.5 SO/9 in 9 2/3 innings. He fanned Travis on five pitches, then issued back-to-back walks to Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt. A throwing error advanced Bogaerts to third base, but Farrell quickly recovered, inducing a fly ball from Mitch Moreland to end the threat. The rest of the Reds failed to capitalize on the momentum, however, and dropped their first shutout since September 2.

Indians 11, Mariners 4: The Indians were back at it again on Saturday, proving Friday’s defeat an anomaly after Carlos Carrasco drove the team to an AL-best 97th win. After five scoreless innings, the Mariners finally emerged with their first run in the sixth — a Kyle Seager double — but there was no recovering from the Indians’ five-run outburst in the ninth, giving them an insurmountable seven-run lead. With the win, Cleveland is clinging to home field advantage through the ALCS, though they’ll need to top the Dodgers’ 98-win record to extend their advantage through the World Series as well.

Twins 10, Tigers 4: What’s there to say? The Tigers had a rubbish day. Jeimer Candelario botched a routine pop-up bunt from Brian Dozier that eventually went for a Little League home run. Miguel Cabrera exited in the first inning with his 20th bout of back stiffness this month. Candelario exited in the eighth inning with a knee contusion. The Twins plated eight runs in that same inning, just after Alex Wilson broke his leg on a 103.8-MPH comebacker. The team is playing .400 ball. Check back with them again in the spring.

Pirates 11, Cardinals 6: So much for closing that gap in the NL Central. An eight-run first inning was the first and last nail in the Cardinals’ coffin on Saturday. Lance Lynn couldn’t make heads or tails of the Pirates’ offense and departed after just 2/3 of an inning, marking his shortest (and worst) career start to date. That didn’t appear to faze manager Mike Matheny, who told reporters he’d “have to let that one go” given Lynn’s otherwise outstanding performance this season, but it also didn’t help the club advance in either the division or wild card standings. The team entered Sunday a full five games back of the division-leading Cubs and 1.5 back of a wild card spot.

Rays 9, Orioles 6: Speaking of postseason odds, the Orioles have, well, none. They were officially eliminated on Saturday following wins from the Rays and Twins. To their credit, they battled until the very last out of the loss, mounting a five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning before Alex Colome induced a two-pitch fly out from Trey Mancini to end the game. Better luck next year, guys.

Royals 8, White Sox 2: The White Sox’ season is all but over, but that didn’t stop Jose Abreu from making history on Saturday. The designated hitter plated Yoan Moncada with an RBI single in the first inning of the Sox’ loss, becoming just the third player in MLB history to begin a career with 25+ home runs and 100+ RBI in each of his first four seasons. Only Albert Pujols (2001-2004) and Joe DiMaggio (1936-1939) have replicated the feat.

Braves 4, Phillies 2: Entering Saturday, Henderson Alvarez had not won a major-league game since September 23, 2014. After tanking his final season with the Marlins and undergoing two major shoulder surgeries and finally working his way back to a major-league role with the Phillies, getting a win exactly three years later would have been some kind of poetic finale for his comeback in 2017.

Alas, it was not to be:

“That’s the way baseball is sometimes. You have to make every single out. There are things you cannot control,” Alvarez said after the game.

Nationals 4, Mets 3 (10 innings): Noah Syndergaard only tossed five pitches on Saturday, but it was exactly the kind of outing the Mets were hoping to see from their star right-hander. It’s been a slow path back to the mound after Syndergaard sustained a partial lat tear back in April, and his one-inning performance proved that he still has the velocity and stuff to make a full return next spring.

Things didn’t go as smoothly for the Mets during the rest of the afternoon. Adam Lind and Matt Wieters clubbed a pair of home runs, pushing the game to extras until Daniel Murphy broke the 3-3 tie with his 23rd blast of the season.

Marlins 12, Diamondbacks 6: If the D-backs want to clinch a postseason spot, they’ll have to go through Giancarlo Stanton first. The Marlins’ masher held Arizona at bay on Saturday, plating four runs and collecting his 57th home run of the year:

A two-run double, solo shot and run-scoring fielder’s choice brought his season RBI total to 125, the most in franchise history. The rest of the Marlins combined for another eight runs, delaying the D-backs’ playoff berth for at least one more day. Arizona could cement their wild card status with a win, a Cubs’ win over the Brewers or a Cardinals’ loss to the Pirates on Sunday.

Padres 5, Rockies 0: The Padres played spoiler to the Rockies’ wild card hopes again on Saturday, dominating in their third shutout of the month. Jhoulys Chacin fended off Colorado’s efforts with six innings of one-hit ball, whiffing six batters en route to his 13th win of the season. The Rockies now sit just one game above the Brewers and Cardinals, and with the Diamondbacks on the verge of wrapping up a wild card spot on Sunday, it’s shaping up to be a tense final week in the National League.

Giants 2, Dodgers 1: The Dodgers won’t get the opportunity to surpass their all-time win record this year, but they could still tie the 1953 Dodgers with 105 wins if they go 7-0 through the end of the season. On Saturday, the Giants got the upper hand against the NL West leaders, producing the go-ahead run with Denard Span‘s RBI single in the fifth and handing Madison Bumgarner his first win since August 15.