By Jason Menard
Now that Barry Bonds is but two dingers away from tying Hank Aaron’s career home run total, the pressure is mounting for Hammerin’ Hank to start following BALCO Barry around like a wayward Dead Head.
My question is why? Aaron is 73 years old and the way that Barry’s been hitting home runs lately, the record could be broken as soon as tonight or a month down the line. Is it fair to ask Aaron to turn into the world’s biggest groupie, following Barry’s oversized cranium from city to city on this less-than-magical mystery tour?
And for what reason? So Aaron can come out to a raucous applause, one that will probably overshadow the applause Barry receives for breaking the all-time home run mark of 755. After all, Aaron has long displayed grace, elegance, and dignity – three characteristics that aren’t exactly dripping off of Bonds.
Aaron chased down Babe Ruth and did so in the face of very real threats against his life. For a misguided few, the idea of a black man surpassing the Caucasian Babe Ruth was too much. Fortunately, as most racists are also cowards, Aaron was able to safely pass the all-time mark on Apr. 8, 1974 with his 715 th career home run.
Bonds has disgraced those who actually have experienced real racism by insinuating some of his negative perception is based upon the fact that he’s black. It’s not his skin colour that’s the problem – it’s his attitude, lack of respect for others, and general surliness that makes people hate him.
Aaron also received the support of Ruth’s widow, who stated that her husband would have enthusiastically endorsed Aaron’s campaign to break his own record. Those accolades aren’t exactly pouring in for Barry. Most people would be quite content to see him hang up his cleats shy of the record.
A short while ago I defended Barry because I think he’s good for the game in terms of attracting attention. As well, when he feels like opening up, he’s a good quote who doesn’t constrain himself with the standard baseball clichés. That said, do I think Aaron should be following him around to be in the park when Barry finally breaks his record? Only if that’s something he wants to do.
I don’t get the need to trot out former greats to celebrate someone breaking their record. If Aaron genuinely wanted to be there for Barry to congratulate him, then fine. But if he’s only going to show up because he feels he has to for HIS image, then there’s something wrong.
For 37 years, Aaron’s been the Home Run King. For many people, he will continue to be the only one worthy of the crown – a modern day slugging King Richard to Barry’s usurping John. And for some he may become akin to the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile – a veritable Dalai Hank, a king without a kingdom. In no way should Aaron’s reputation be tarnished by not being amongst the first to shake Barry’s hand once he makes that historic rounding of the bases.
For me it’s neither here nor there. Barry did hit those home runs. If he was juiced, he was not alone. And he’s the only one that’s even come close to Aaron’s record, so I give a solid measure of credit to his accomplishment. But would I feel bad if Hank decided to pass on the tour of the National League to wait for his pinnacle achievement between the white lines to be broken? Not at all.
I know I’d be bitter. After all, for years you’ve had the name Home Run King attached to your name and now the crown has been passed. Would I want to celebrate that? And sure, there’s an argument for showing grace and class, but Hank can do that by placing a phone call after that rerun of Matlock finishes. There’s no reason he has to wander around the country, waiting for an opportunity to clap.
As Bill Walton’s shown us, there are few things as sad as an aging groupie. In fact, the only thing worse may be one who’s obligated to attend because anything less would be an unfair denigration of his character.
Finally, by having Aaron attend in spite of his obvious preferences, it cheapens this and future moments like it – potentially when Barry has to swallow his pride and sit in the stands as Alex Rodriguez laps him on the homer track in just a handful of years.
The best of these types of moments come when they’re rooted in honest respect and appreciation. Those are the moments when fans and athletes alike stand up in pride. Faking it – like Major League Baseball’s going to do with Barry’s home run choice – represents a swing and a miss of an epic proportion.