Hank Aaron

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


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.

Phil Nevin: managerial candidate for the Nats, Mariners, Marlins and Padres

Phil Nevin

Phil Nevin retired following the 2006 season so he was too early to join the trend of All-Star players who, rather than simply wait around for a big league managerial job to be handed to them, actually went and managed in the bus leagues for a while.

He started in independent ball, jumped to the Tigers’ Double-A team and then Triple-A team and then, for the past two seasons, managed the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A club in Reno. In short, the man has paid his dues and has had good reviews from his players everywhere he’s been. So this is not too much of a surprise:


The Padres feel like the most natural fit given that Nevin’s best seasons came with the club and given that he makes his home just outside of San Diego. But all of those jobs are fairly desirable, either for personal reasons or because they’re fairly talented clubs who underachieved in significant fashion this year. Nowhere to go but up, right?

No hearing today: Chase Utley to be eligible once again

Chase Utley
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Chase Utley‘s suspension is quickly turning into a more theoretical than actual thing.

Following his Sunday suspension for sliding into Ruben Tejada and breaking Tejada’s leg, Utley appealed. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement players are eligible pending appeal, and because MLB, the union and Utley’s agent could not get together for a hearing yesterday he was eligible for last night’s game. Of course he didn’t play.

Now, Tim Brown of Yahoo hears from a source that there will be no hearing today either.

This is simultaneously interesting given how much of a to-do the whole matter has become and boring given how, in reality, Utley is a pretty unimportant piece of the Dodgers roster at this point and his presence or absence will, in all likelihood, not affect any game on a level even approaching the manner in which he affected Game 2.

Clayton Kershaw on short rest: an OK idea if Mattingly has a quick hook

Don Mattingly

Last night, as Brett Anderson was being tattooed by Mets batters, I wondered when we’d see Don Mattingly amble out of the dugout to take the ball from him. Turns out he didn’t. He let Anderson finish the third inning having given up six runs and turned it over to the pen for what was essentially a mop-up job.

Maybe that was defensible. Maybe Mattingly realized that, even though the Dodgers would end up scoring more than six runs on the night, the game was already out of hand. Sort of a gut thing, maybe. Let’s not dwell too much on that except to say that Mattingly’s hook was not terribly quick given that his pitcher was having issues.

His hook had better be quicker tonight.

Clayton Kershaw is going on short rest. Historically, pitchers haven’t done too well on short rest in the playoffs. But Kershaw, who pitched on short rest in both the 2013 and 2014 NLDS, has been generally OK. He has, at the very least, given the Dodgers a chance to win.

In Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS against the Braves he allowed two runs — unearned — in six innings. He didn’t figure in the decision in that one — it was the infamous “Craig Kimbrel standing in the bullpen but not being used as the Braves’ season effectively ended in the eighth inning for some reason” game — but the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS.

Last year’s NLDS appearance against the Cards was less-than-stellar. On regular rest he was beat up badly in Game 1, allowing eight runs in six and two-thirds. Then, in Game 4, he came back on only three days’ rest. And, for a while, he pitched well, allowing zero runs through six innings on 94 pitches. Normally Kershaw can go longer than that, but on short rest? Seemed like a bad idea to send him out for the seventh. Mattingly sent him out for the seventh, however, and eight pitches and a Matt Adams home run later the Cards led 3-2 and the Dodgers’ season was over.

Don Mattingly doesn’t have a lot of options tonight and didn’t really have them even before burning Alex Wood last night. He has to use Kershaw and it’s the right decision to do so. Go with what brung ya and go with your best. But he needs to remember that his best on short rest isn’t the same as his best at other times. He should plan for, at the outside, six innings from Kershaw. Indeed, he should be ecstatic if he gets six. A reasonable plan would be for less and to have a reliever ready to go at basically any time in the game.

The Dodgers’ entire season is on the line tonight and Mattingly’s job may very well be on the line too. If he’s on his keister in the dugout watching Kershaw put two men on with nobody out in a close game, he may as well just tender his resignation right then and there.