Hank Aaron AP

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.

David Wright: Matt Harvey made a mistake not talking to the media

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19: Pitcher Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets walks off the mound after being relieved during the third inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on May 19, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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The day after Matt Harvey left the clubhouse without talking to the media following yet another bad start, Mets captain David Wright spoke to the press about the whole affair.

Despite column, after column, after column after column in which Harvey was portrayed as a prima donna, was called names and otherwise had his character impugned for not talking to the press, Wright, amazingly, found a different tone to strike. Specifically, he managed to note that (a) it would have been better form and would have shown some accountability for Harvey to talk to the media; while (b) simultaneously acknowledging that Harvey is going through a bad time like most players go through and that it’s understandable that he’d make a mistake in this regard. Which Wright calls a “lapse” which he doesn’t think will happen again and about which Wright will likely talk to Harvey.

Most amazingly, Wright does all of this without calling Harvey names, saying he’s a phony or bringing up minor incidents from years ago in an effort to disingenuously cast Harvey not talking to the media as just the latest in a series of serious and escalating transgressions and/or failures of moral and ethical worth. How he did that I have no idea. Unlike the learned members of the sporting press, Wright didn’t even go to college. Maybe he’s mistaken to think this situation is somewhat complicated and emotional rather than one of stark right and wrong? Clearly, Wright must be mistaken. Life really is that simple, after all.

Or maybe Wright was simply able to appreciate that another person’s struggles are not about him. And that the healthy first impulse when someone who is struggling makes a mistake is to have at least a modicum of empathy and understanding rather than enter into a competition with one’s colleagues to see who can roast that struggling person the hardest.

But again, maybe that’s just crazy talk from a person who didn’t go to journalism school.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 25: Brandon Crawford #35 of the San Francisco Giants is congratulated by George Kontos #70 and Matt Cain #18 after hitting a walk-off RBI single against the San Diego Padres during the tenth inning at AT&T Park on May 25, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 4-3 in 10 innings. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The lite version today, as I mourn the last day of school for my kids. Really, kids should go to school until mid-June. And then start school again in late June. School all year with no breaks except for, maybe, when the parents want a vacation. It would make the world run way, way better.

The Giants continued to roll on yesterday, winning in walkoff fashion with a Brandon Crawford RBI single in the 10th. They’ve won 13 of 14 games and now would be a good time to remind y’all that I picked them to win the World Series. The Yankees’ six-game winning streak was snapped thanks in part to a couple of homers from their old friend Russel Martin. A couple of streaks continued, hitting streaks that is, from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts with the former’s standing at 29 games and the latter at 18. The Braves fell to the Brewers in 13 innings, causing one to wonder what on Earth would make someone watch a 13-inning Braves-Brewers game if they weren’t being paid to.

Anyway, summer unofficially begins this weekend. If you’re like me and your kids will be hanging around constantly now, claiming they have nothing to do, summer begins at about 3pm today.

Here are the scores

Mets 2, Nationals 0
Phillies 8, Tigers 5
Twins 7, Royals 5
Cubs 9, Cardinals 8
Rangers 15, Angels 9
Indians 4, White Sox 3
Giants 4, Padres 3
Blue Jays 8, Yankees 4
Pirates 5, Diamondbacks 4
Red Sox 10, Rockies 3
Brewers 3, Braves 2
Marlins 4, Rays 3
Astros 4, Orioles 3
Mariners 13, Athletics 3
Dodgers 3, Reds 1

Video: Odubel Herrera’s glorious bat flip

DETROIT, MI - MAY 25: Odubel Herrera #37 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a three run home run during the fourth inning of the inter-league game against the Detroit Tigers on May 25, 2016 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera, playing in his second game since being benched for a lack of hustle, hit a three-run home run to extend his team’s lead to 5-1 in the fourth inning on Wednesday afternoon. After putting a sweet swing on an Anibal Sanchez 2-1 slider, Herrera flipped his bat in grand fashion. It wasn’t quite as emphatic as Jose Bautista‘s from last year’s ALDS, but it was glorious nonetheless.

To the Tigers’ credit, Herrera’s bat flip didn’t result in any shouting or fighting or throwing intentionally at hitters. So that’s nice.

Herrera is now batting .327/.440/.461 with five home runs and 17 RBI on the year. The Phillies selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Rangers ahead of the 2015 season and he’s proven to be the lifeblood of the offense thus far.

30 years ago, Dave Kingman sent a live rat to a female reporter

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Someone on Reddit’s /r/baseball page linked to this New York Times article from June 1986.

Dave Kingman, then with the Athletics, was 37 years old and playing in what would be his final season. He was fined $3,500, which is a little over $7,600 in 2016 dollars, for sending a live rat in a pink box to a female reporter, Susan Fornoff of The Sacramento Bee. The rat wore a tag that said “my name is Sue.”

Kingman refused to apologize, saying, “I’ve pulled practical jokes on other people and I didn’t apologize to them.”

According to Fornoff, Kingman had said to her that women don’t belong in the clubhouse, and Kingman had been harassing her since she began covering the team in ’85. The Athletics didn’t keep Kingman around after the season, and he ended up hanging up the spikes.

Pete Dexter wrote in more detail about the incident at Deadspin a few years ago. It’s a good read.

I wasn’t familiar with this story as I was still more than two years from being born when it happened. Sports media has made strides towards being more inclusive of non-white cisgender straight men, especially compared to 30 years ago. But, of course, we’re still a long ways away from an ideal world in which everyone is treated equally and everyone has equal access. Some of the best baseball reporting and analysis these days is being done by women and it’s nice to see sites, especially FanGraphs recently, make a concerted effort towards diversification.