Hank Aaron

It’s the 40th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th homer — but please, don’t call him the Home Run King

133 Comments

40 years ago tonight Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. It’s a moment always worth re-visiting, so let’s:

I can never get enough of that video. Just how easy Aaron’s swing was, even 20 years into his career. Buckner climbing the outfield wall. Those wackos running onto the field and congratulating Aaron. I mean, the guy had death threats leading up to that moment and suddenly two dudes run up from behind you like that? If that happened today those two would be in Guantanamo or something.

One thing I love from the video is Al Downing’s recollection of it all. He gave up the homer and, unlike some other pitchers who would up on the other side of famous hits, he had absolutely no problem with it, acknowledging that, sometimes, the guy on the other side of things is going to get the best of you. And when it’s someone as insanely-talented as Hank Aaron, that’s going to be way more often.

My enjoyment of all of this stuff is unsurpassed. But it is just enjoyment.

One thing we’ve heard more and more of in the past few years is that Hank Aaron’s 715th home run remains — even to this day — the moment when baseball’s Home Run King was crowned. That when Aaron was passed by Barry Bonds in August of 2007 it somehow didn’t count. We heard it again just yesterday afternoon and I expect we’ll hear more of it today.

I understand this. From an enjoyment perspective I found Bonds hitting number 756 off Mike Bacsik to be far less moving. Indeed, it wasn’t particularly moving at all given all of the controversy surrounding Bonds by that time, the arguments it entailed and the fact that, unlike Aaron, Bonds was never anyone you rooted for, even if you admired his accomplishments. I appreciated his dominance, but I can’t say I found it aesthetically pleasing most of the time. Certainly not as pleasing as watching old video of Aaron. And, yes, even someone like me who has made a second career out of defending PED-users from excessive, counterfactual criticism, I can appreciate that Hank Aaron’s accomplishment is more impressive than Bonds’ on a qualitative level given Bonds’ drug use, the small parks he hit in, the equipment he had at his disposal and a host of other factors.

But with all respect to Mr. Aaron, I do draw the line at asserting the counterfactual. He is not baseball’s all-time home run leader. Or its “true” Home Run King or however people wish to characterize it. To say that is to go beyond expressing your enjoyment of his accomplishment and your appreciation of him as a player and claiming that those qualitative things — and whatever disdain one has for Barry Bonds — trump the actual record of history. The record of history — which is devoid of judgment and opinion — states that Barry Bonds hit more home runs than Hank Aaron did. Baseball recognizes this fact without qualification.

We should as well. To do otherwise is to invite chaos, as each of us brings our own values and assumptions into an assessment of the records. Maybe that’s easy to do with an Aaron-Bonds comparison, but what if I were to point out that the top five all-time pitching wins leaders had ridiculous advantages that Warren Spahn never had, thus rendering him the “True Wins Leader?” What if I were to note that Ty Cobb had similar disadvantages that Pete Rose never had and thus he was the True Hit King? We could do this with most records. Doing so would be silly in most instances and would render the idea of an actual record book — the thing people who call Hank Aaron the True Home Run King say they are trying to protect — and utterly meaningless thing.

So celebrate Hank Aaron. Hold him in higher esteem than you would Barry Bonds. Consider his accomplishments more impressive if you feel that way. But stop there. Don’t claim that black is white. Don’t claim that Hank Aaron is the real and true Home Run King. Because that’s just nonsense.

James McCann is in The Best Shape of His Life

Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann blows a bubble while warming up during a spring training baseball workout, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

As I note every spring, “Best Shape of His Life” stories aren’t really about players being in The Best Shape of Their Lives. They’re about players and agents seeking to create positive stories.

We know this because the vast majority of Best Shape of His Life claims are about guys who were either injured the season before, guys who had subpar years the season before or players whose conditioning was a point of controversy the season before. These folks, or their agents + reporters who have little if nothing to write about in the offseason = BSOHL.

James McCann hurt his ankle last season and had a subpar year at the plate. So not only is he a perfect BSOHL candidate, he went old school with the claim and hit it right on the money, verbatim:

Spring training is less than a month away, folks!

Bo Jackson is not gonna change kids’ minds

1989:  Bo Jackson #16 of the Kansas City Royals practices his swing as he prepares to bat during a game in the 1989 season.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images
6 Comments

Last week Bo Jackson said that, if he had it to do all over again, he would have never played professional football and that he would never let his kids play. The sport is too violent, he said. “I’d tell them, ‘Play baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, just anything but football.’”

Fair enough. Thom Loverro of the Washington Times, however, thinks that Bo could do more than simply give his opinion on the matter. He thinks Bo should become an official ambassador for Major League Baseball:

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, pick up the phone right now and call Bo Jackson. Tell him you have a job for him — vice president of something, whatever you would call the man in charge of converting a generation of young athletes to baseball. And pay him what he wants.

You won’t find a better symbol of the differences between the two sports than Bo Jackson. After all, he was an All-Star in both. Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball.

Bo, tell the children — baseball over football.

The Children: “Who is Bo Jackson?”

Yeah, I’m being a bit flip here, but dude: Jackson is 54 years-old. He last played baseball 23 years ago. I’d personally run through a wall for Bo Jackson, but I’m 43. I was 12 when he won the Heisman trophy. While he may loom large to middle aged sports writers, a teenager contemplating what sport to play is not going to listen to someone a decade or more older than his parents.

This isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s indicative of how most columnists process the world through their own experiences and assume they apply universally. It’s probably the biggest trap most sports opinion folks fall into.