By In Baseball

It’s not THAT good to be the king

Henry Aaron is NOT The Home Run King. This sounds like I’m going to follow up 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 and Ralph Kiner were great home run hitters. 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. It 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 were never the right thing to count anyway. Several players through the years — 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 — this is what people yell when they’re trying to get people to come into the store in Las Vegas and get an autograph. “Come see the Hit King.”

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 and it never was. 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.

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82 Responses to It’s not THAT good to be the king

  1. can you clarify “runs created” is that just RBIs or is it another stat?

  2. Richard Aronson says:

    Funny, I never thought of Aaron as a Dodger killer (that was Mays, or McCovey) perhaps because his teams weren’t as good. Now I feel sad that his only MVP came in neither of the THREE years when he led the NL in OPS and OPS+. His MVP year was a career best in only one stat: RBI, and was only sixth best in WAR. Oh, how little we knew back then.

    • All I remember though is Vin Scully seemed to forever be saying in the 9th inning, “tying run is on and , wouldn’t you know it, here comes Henry Aaron”. Scully preferred calling him Henry for some reason.

    • normkat says:

      I go back to the Brooklyn Dodgers and can remember Aaron’s rookie year, which was met with fear by all us Dodger fans because we knew he was going to be great and they already had Mathews and Spahn. It’s still a mystery to me how the Braves didn’t win six or seven pennants from 1957 to the late 60s.

      I saw Aaron hit what I consider to be the ultimate home run off Koufax in 1957. Koufax then threw even harder than in his prime, when he sacrificed a few MPH for control, and he threw Aaron one of his best. Aaron hit it over the right field wall at about the 320 foot mark in Ebbets Field, over a fence that was about 40 feet high. The ball was still rising when it cleared the fence — rising in a straight line, not a parabola. It was a night game so I didn’t see where it landed, but there’s no way it didn’t travel over 500 feet unless it hit something. What would happen if the best hitter connected with the best pitcher’s best fastball? I think I saw it and it was awesome.

  3. otistaylor89 says:

    Two careers that I find the most similar in team sports were Kareem Abdul-Jabbars and Gordie Howes. Kareem averaged 20 points/game for 17 straight years with the greatest repetitive motion in sports history(The Sky Hook) and Gordie was in the Top 10 in scoring for 20 years in a row….and then played 8 more years of professional hockey.

  4. Matthew Clark says:

    What a fantastic piece of writing. And absolutely spot on.

  5. Bill Chambliss says:

    Thanks for this reminder of true greatness. For some reason, Hank is easy to forget about.

  6. If Aaron was the king of anything, it was class.

  7. Something to remember about home run number 715. There were very few nationally televised baseball games back then. You had the Game of the Week, and you had the post-season and the All Star game, and that was about it.

    The game in which Aaron hit home run number 715 was one such nationally televised game. It’s why Vin Scully made the call. So basically, America was tuning in for that one game—that one chance to see Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s mark on national television. Not only did Aaron do it, he turned to the hitter behind him, Dusty Baker, and told him he was going to homer that at bat and get it over with. Just like Babe Ruth, he called his shot.

    There is much discussion on this blog and elsewhere about clutch hitting. You will find it argued by Joe and others that such a thing is a myth, a product of magical thinking. Yet through the most intense pressure a baseball player had faced in a generation, playing in the South with death threats coming in daily, Henry Aaron was able to maintain his focus and deliver in prime time in his one shot before a national audience. If that ain’t clutch, my friends, then we need to create a new word to describe it.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      Sure, that was clutch. But nobody says clutch hitting does not occur. Obviously, clutch hitting occurs all the time. What Joe and many others argue (and what all the evidence appears to demonstrate) is that clutch hitting does not exist AS AN ABILITY. The ability is simply hitting. Sometimes it happens in the clutch because sometimes hitters come up in clutch situations. But there;s no special ability to hit in the clutch and one example of a clutch hit, no matter how big, does nothing to alter that.

      • That is true, passing Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list on national tv with people threatening to kill you is admittedly a small sample size of one. Just as the home run Cal Ripken hit on the day he broke Lou Gehrig’s record happened to have occurred on the only day in baseball history it could have occurred. Again, a sample size of one. Obviously, these are not evidence of players rising to meet a supreme moment, because such an ability cannot possibly exist, so there is no point in celebrating them.

        • tomemos says:

          Rick, for someone aiming to celebrate players rising to reach the height of sporting potential, you sure are doing it in a petty, sarcastic way.

        • Spencer says:


          What happens if Aaron tells Baylor that and DOESN’T homer?

          I’ll tell you what happens. No one repeats the story, ever.

          Same thing with Ripken, if he doesn’t homer we just celebrate the day.

          It’s fun that they both homered in those situations but it’s not because they had some clutch skill that they unveiled for those moments. They’re really just fun coincidences, don’t ascribe greater cosmic meaning to them. You’re dealing with a huge selection bias (ie we don’t hear these stories if they don’t homer)

          I’ll add something I always say. Let’s assume these guys are that clutch and have another level of greatness they can just access when they want. If they DON’T do that all the time aren’t they really huge assholes who don’t put enough effort in. Do it all the time!

          But of course this isn’t the case, because that’s ridiculous.

          • DM says:


            Well said……except for calling Baker “Baylor” 🙂

            And, one more thing, Rick….I wouldn’t call Aaron’s home run “clutch” simply because he hit it on national TV. If he hadn’t hit it that game, he would have hit it later. He was going to break the record. It wasn’t exactly an all-or-nothing situation…. it was good timing.

        • MikeN says:

          I’d like to see someone do an analysis of these letters that Aaron has kept, try to determine if they were written by the KGB. In The Sword and The Shield, an ex KGBer said they engaged in letter writing campaigns to stir up race. Doesn’t mention Aaron but mentions the LA Olympics.

      • Guest says:

        The evidence demonstrates that an instance of clutch hitting (however we want to define clutch) is not a good predictor of future instances of clutch hitting. The evidence does not demonstrate that clutch hitting does not exist or is not a skill. Lots of double negatives there, I see. But it is a point worth, er, pointing out.

    • DM says:

      “Just like Babe Ruth, he called his shot”

      Rick…..Babe Ruth’s “called shot” was a hell of a story….but it’s a myth.

      This from Frankie Crosetti, Ruth’s teammate…..After Ruth was egging on reporters about how he called the shot, he sat next to Crosetti, winked, and then told him, “You know I didn’t point, I know I didn’t point, but if those bastards want to think I pointed to center field, let ’em.”

      This quote from Babe Ruth to Hal Totten, a Chicago broadcaster who interviewed Ruth the spring after the supposed called shot: “Hell no. Only a damn fool would have done a thing like that. There was a lot of pretty rough ribbing going on . . . there was that second strike, and they let me have it again. So I held up that finger . . . and I said I still have one left. Now, kid, you know damn well I wasn’t pointing anywhere. If I had done that, Root would have stuck the ball in my ear. I never knew anybody who could tell you ahead of time where he was going to hit a baseball.”

      Not as much fun as the myth, I’ll grant you….but the truth needs to be acknowledged.

    • DM says:

      Oh, and one other thing about Aaron “calling” his shot to Dusty Baker….

      Yes, that’s the story Dusty Baker tells now, 40 years later. Maybe Aaron said something to him on his way to the plate, maybe he didn’t. Those are the kind of things that, over time, can get stretched a little.

      What’s more likely is what was reported by Milt Richman of UPI the following day, when he made reference to a conversation at batting practice before the game among Ralph Garr, Aaron, and Baker. They were looking at the huge number newsmen and cameramen, and Garr reportedly said “Lord, Almighty, we’ll sure be glad when it’s all over with.” Aaron replied “I’ll get it over with tonight. Don’t worry. I promise you I’ll do it”.

      So, are you gonna believe the account of reporter the day after it occurred, or Dusty’s memory 40 years later? The account of what was being said around the batting cage is much more plausible. That’s very different than saying you’re going to hit one as you’re getting ready to go up to the plate for a specific at-bat. As you probably know, he walked his first time up, and homered the second time up. His saying something like that to two younger team mates before a game, standing around the batting cage waiting to take batting practice, smacks more of confidence and trying to assure them that the unusual attention would soon be over, rather making a bold prediction as you’re walking up to the plate. There is no way that a player would truly call a home run on a specific at bat, unless you’re Crash Davis and you’re in a movie. It doesn’t work that way in real life. I’ll take the newspaper account the day after the historic event rather than Dusty’s tall tales all these years later.

      • It very well could be that Aaron made his prediction at the batting cage instead of the on-deck circle. It could have been both. I wasn’t there. But that he made his prediction beforehand, and made that prediction come true, seems to be the important thing here. Aaron was no Muhammad Ali or Joe Namath. He was not a boastful man. Nor was he a pure home run hitter, as Joe said. For Hank to guarantee, I’m going to homer tonight, and get it done—if anything, to add to the incomparable pressure he was already under—speaks volumes of the man in the moment. That the Babe Ruth story is probably apocryphal—he would of course later claim he called his shot, but he was probably just indicating the count, as you said—makes Aaron’s statement all the more amazing.

        • DM says:

          Aw…Rick. He didn’t guarantee a damn thing. At best, It was a casual statement made around the batting cage. Get your head out of clouds. He wasn’t a god. Spencer’s right….if he hadn’t homered, no one would have ever known about his “guarantee”. Ever been around a batting cage before a game? All kinds of things are said and then forgotten forever. No one guarantees they’ll homer. No one is foolish enough to categorically state that he will do that. For starters, he couldn’t even be sure that they would give him anything to hit. You just like believing in myths, legends, and stories. That’s fine… works for you. Just don’t expect others to buy into the fantasy.

    • Mike Dumas says:

      Nitpick: Scully’s call was local, on Dodgers radio. NBC’s lead announcer in those days was Curt Gowdy.

      You can hear all three play-by-play calls (Gowdy’s, Scully’s, and Milo Hamilton’s on Braves radio) here:

    • otistaylor89 says:

      One of the big build ups to 715 was “Who was going to catch the ball?”. It’s hard to believe now, but Tom House’s 15 minutes were pretty big and lasted a while.
      Aaron got the whole thing over pretty quickly (unlike Yaz’s 3000th hit, which took like forever). His 714th came before we even got home from school on inning day and then he gets it done on national TV.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Vin Scully did not call the game on the national broadcast; that would have been Curt Gowdy. Scully did the game for radio. You can find Scully’s, Gowdy’s and Milo Hamilton’s calls on YouTube.

  8. Brad says:

    The fact is: Bonds cheated. Before steroids he was good for 30-40 hrs every year. He got jealous of the attention given to McGuire and Sosa (two others cheats) and swelled into a surly, unlikeable home run monster. In my mind, and I think the minds of many others, Hank Aaron is still the career home run leader.

    • Doug says:

      For God’s sake, can’t you lay off and just celebrate Hank Aaron for who he was as a ballplayer without needing to insult Barry Bonds for who he was? Hank Aaron was an incredibly talented ball player, one of the best hitters there’s ever been, possibly unparalleled in terms of his longevity as a power hitter and an all around hitter, and by all accounts one of the great class acts of baseball.

      Do we have to descend into the muck to discuss the complexities of PEDs, and accuse Bonds, and defend Bonds, and throw dirt on everyone involved? Or can we just let it rest at appreciating Hank Aaron for who he was?

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      Yeah, but you kind of missed the whole point of the article. Records are fun, but greatness is what matters. Every significant “unbreakable” baseball record is a product of unique circumstances. Aaron, after all, only had the record because he spent the second half of his career playing at the Launching Pad. Put Willie Mays in Fulton County Stadium–or, really, anywhere except Candlestick, and he might have set a record that even Barry couldn’t touch.

      Who cares? Aaron is great. Mays is great. Barry is great, too. I wish he hadn’t hit 73 home runs in 2001 because then we wouldn’t have these endless, distracting arguments about either of his HR records. But he did, and unless we want to annul the entire period from 1990-2005 (in which case, several teams need to return their trophies), let’s just enjoy the greatness.

    • Tim says:

      Brad, you know that Aaron took amphetamines, right? And that they’re considered a performance enhancing drug? For the record, I don’t care that he did, but it always strikes me when people get all worked up about Bonds cheating and not caring that many of their heroes like Aaron and Mays did the same thing.

    • The fact is: Aaron cheated. Without greenies, he would have been good for 12 or 15 really good years. He swelled into amphetamine-boosted, home run monster. In my mind, and I think the minds of many others, Ruth is still the career home run leader.

      • Mark Daniel says:

        That’s a giant leap. The whole Aaron-greenie thing is based on this quote from Aaron in his book “I Had a Hammer”. The quote is about the 1968 season: “I was so frustrated that at one point I tried using a pep pill ”a greenie” that one of my teammates gave me. When that thing took hold, I thought I was having a heart attack. It was a stupid thing to do”.

        People have taken that quote and built up some myth that Aaron was a long-time, rabid user of greenies such that he “swelled into” a home run monster. That’s ludicrous.

  9. Thom says:

    As a longtime reader and fan, I think this is one of your best-written pieces. Thanks

  10. John says:

    Wow, what a great piece. If anything, Hank Aaron is underrated. I am old enough to have seen #715 on TV, and I have long been aware of his magnificent career, but even I had forgotten the lead Aaron had on the second-place position in RBI and total bases.

  11. tombando says:

    Hank ruled. He never seems to et his due. I’ll avoid saying the ‘B’ word and just applaud what Aaron did. He’s the home run king, piss on the other guy. Give Jaime Quirk enough of what The Other Guy was having, and he’d have prob made a run at 40 a yr himself *coughluisgonzalez*

  12. davidgardner32D says:

    Wonderful tribute, Joe. It’s ironic, but by passing Ruth’s record Aaron accomplished something that actually detracted from his long-time all-around excellence…and Aaron has always had real character and class.

  13. Ross says:

    Interesting to note, though, that Bonds has the advantage if you add walks to total bases: 8534 to 8258

    • Ian R. says:

      This is true, though if you only count unintentional walks, Bonds’ advantage disappears.

      On the other hand, if you count stolen bases (which do, after all, advance the runner a base), Bonds absolutely crushes Aaron.

      • Spencer says:

        @Ian R

        And why on earth would we exclude intentional walks?

        • Ian R. says:

          Because an intentional walk is a manager’s decision rather than an indication of any particular skill on the batter’s part?

          Yes, I know that Bonds was an absolute beast, and he was walked because of it… but I do draw a distinction between bases that are earned (via hit or unintentional BB) and bases that are given (via IBB). If we’re changing the definition of total bases anyway, we may as well look at it from a few different perspectives.

          • Aaron did have a much tougher lineup around him than Bonds with the Giants. Mathews hit behind him much of the time, and when he hit fourth, Joe Adcock and Wes Covington were around as well. Bonds had only Jeff Kent, and in his Pittsburgh days he batted fifth much of the time. In sum, a manager walking Aaron was taking a much bigger risk with the next hitter than a manager walking Bonds. But you can’t blame Bonds for any of that, and an intentional walk is still a man on base. So yeah, it’s not a bit irrational to count intentional walks in the equation. About the only intentional walk that shouldn’t count for much is when they pass the #8 hitter in the NL to get to the pitcher.

        • John Gale says:

          Well, we should exclude walks entirely, since total bases isn’t primarily about getting on base, especially in ways that don’t involve swinging the bat. It’s sort of a counting version of slugging percentage. There are other stats that factor in a player’s ability to get walks. Let Aaron have his total bases record.

  14. Will3pin says:

    Fall of ’73, I recall routing really hard for Aaron to break the record before the season ended. He didn’t get there (duh), but I recall it being really cool that he ended the year one back at 713. Hank certainly seemed motivated to get the record in ’73 – 40 jacks in under 400 at-bats, which was probably the most prolific HR period of his career.

    Back then, Street and Smiths annual spring issue was always “the Bible” for people who liked keeping a running tally of All-Time leaders for major statistical categories. A coveted feature was their “Players Targets” page that had the all-time leaders for Hits, Home Runs, RBIs (and on the Pitchers side — Wins, Strikeouts, Shutouts).

    This was a page I would reference all season, and add the season stats that appeared in the Saturday newspaper to Players Targets stats to see how many spots Gibson had moved up on the Strikeout list, or how many hits Kaline needed to pass DiMaggio. I remember how cool it was getting the Spring ’74 issue or Street&Smith showing Aaron at 713 Home Runs, ONE behind Babe Ruth. And Aaron’s name being in bold, denoting him being still “active”.

    Another caption I fondly recall from Street&Smiths’s was “Hank Aaron who wore #44, hit 44 homers, 4 times in his career”.

    Wish I had held on to my stack of Street&Smiths…

    • ctp515 says:

      How much I miss those Street & Smiths! Is there any publication quite as effective as a one-stop reference for a baseball season these days?

  15. Of course, if Mays doesn’t lose two years to the military, he catches or overtakes Aaron in many of these categories.

    • Jamie says:

      I don’t think he was going to hit 95+ homers with 395+ RBI, and 790+ total bases in 2 years. He was phenomenal upon his return at age 23, but there is nothing about his age 20 or 21 years to indicate he would have reached those numbers.

      • Aaron had no down years from ’55 to ’73: 19 years. Give Mays those two years back, and he would have had the same between ’51 and ’73: 23 years. Aaron had 2553 runs created: 125/season. Mays had 2368 runs created: 128/season. Give Mays two seasons back, and he very likely makes up the 185 runs. Of course, Ted Williams has 2382 RC, 168/season. Give him 4 or 5 seasons back and he blows everyone away, including Ruth and Bonds.

    • Patrick Bohn says:

      Even if he lost 40-50 HRs and 200-250 RBI, his carer died too quickly to expect him to add much at the end of his career in pursuit of it.

    • Ryan says:

      If Ted Williams doesn’t lose almost all his peak years to military service no one touches him. Doesn’t change the greatness.

    • Bryan Berry says:

      Steve Treder at the Hardball Times actually did this exercise back in 2005.

      Mays ends up with 719 home runs for his career, breaking Ruth’s record a year before Aaron does. Ted Williams ends up with 709– assuming he retires in 1960. (And of course he runs away with the career records for runs scored, RBI, and walks. Though he still doesn’t lead in total bases; in that projection he ends up with 6,481, or still 400 short of Aaron, though he does retire as the leader in that category.)

  16. otistaylor89 says:

    Not likely. 660 is pretty far away from 755. He may have gotten to 715 1st – maybe. More likely? The 1973 WS disaster would have happened in 1971 or 1972.

  17. Daniel says:

    Hank Aaron had 3,771 career hits. He hit 755 home runs. Which means, if you take away all of his home runs, he still has 3,016 career hits. That to me is amazing!

  18. Patrick Bohn says:

    The only thing about that Howe stat was that much of it came when the league wasn’t very deep. In 1966, for example, there were still just six teams in the league, and only 76 forwards even played more than 10 games. Howe was fantastic, but in his era, being in the Top 10 meant a lot less than it did in say, Gretzky’s, where there were 21 for most of it

  19. Ty Sellers says:

    My father was a student at Emory University in Atlanta in 1974. Having grown up in Georgia he was a huge Braves fan (attended both Braves and Falcons inaugural Atlanta home games). He also has a great sense of history and a love of sports which led him, during the winter before the season, to purchase 30 tickets to the Braves home-opener for he and some of his fraternity brothers.

    After Aaron homered on opening day in Cincinnati the excitement really started to build. There was a great sense that, despite only having purchased tickets for the opening game, that they would be in attendance when Hammerin’ Hank made history.

    Being college students, members of a fraternity at that, these young men were imbibing on some adult beverages as the events unfolded. After Downing retired the Braves in the 3rd inning a few of these young men felt the call of nature, my father included.

    With the anticipation of a historic night, Fulton County Stadium was filled to capacity (possibly the first time ever). If any of you ever attended a game at Fulton County Stadium you know how awful the restroom situation was. Well, the crowds and the poor facilities led to there being quite a hold-up for the john. Five minutes passed, Ron Reed retired the Dodgers 1, 2, 3. Aaron was due up second in the bottom of the 4th. That dang bathroom line was moving as slow as molasses. My dad’s buddies are wondering if the guys are going to make it back in time to see Aaron come to the plate. Darrell Evans reaches on an error, Aaron is coming to the plate, where the hell are they?

    As you know, on a 1-0 pitch from Al Downing, Henry Aaron become the first major league baseball player to hit 715 career home runs. The crowd went crazy. In a fit of drunkenness, two kids from the University of Georgia ran on the field to “help” Hank run the bases. And from what 27 of my father’s fraternity brothers could tell, he and two of his friends were in the bathroom “pissing away history.”

    This story has been told to me for as long as I can remember by almost all of my dad’s old fraternity brothers that I have met. My father claims to this day that he and the two other guys were standing at the atrium at the top of the steps from their seats and did in fact witness Aaron hit 715. Either way, this story always cracks me up and we give my dad a hard time about it.

  20. itchiemayer says:

    Sadly, a man I have admired since I first started following baseball in 1971 made an unfortunate remark (in my opinion) in an interview with Bob Nightengale. That I oppose President Obama’s policies is not because of the President’s race. Too bad Henry Aaron buys into the race-baiting of the left.

    • Chris says:

      u mad bro?

    • uncle raameau says:

      methinks thou doth protest too much…

    • Brett Alan says:

      Aaron did not say that you oppose Obama’s policies because of race. He didn’t mention you, nor did he say that everyone who opposes the president does so because of race. He said that Obama has been treated poorly because of his race. Which, in fact, is a pretty hard statement to argue with–what other President had his citizenship questions by members of Congress or was heckled during a State of the Union speech?

      So I guess you oppose President Obama’s policies because you’re either getting inaccurate information or you’re not reading the information you get very accurately.

  21. joe MacPhee says:

    Ironic that both Aaron and Bonds had there best five year home run stretch between the ages of 35-39!

  22. Bill Watson says:

    Don’t know if this has been covered in previous conversation re “clutch”. Why is it not possible for an athlete to deliver in a more challenging situation, intentionally, unintentionally. That is, what about the fact of the “zone”.
    My understanding is that changes in cognitive function have been quantified in recent sports/medical research. The capacity for the athlete to produce/reproduce what has been practiced, and executed in competition previously, in “high-leverage” situations can be applied to baseball performance.
    One aspect of “clutch” may be the ability to “slow down time”, so that the hitter better sees the pitch, and thus it is easier/smoother/quicker to move the bat.

    Perhaps analogous is the way a racing car driver can produce faster lap times, by “slowing down”, by letting the track come to him. I have seen this happen many times.

  23. Joe says:

    Will, be glad to send you stack of Stree & Smith covering Aarons career, all you have to do is pay the shipping

  24. Brad H. says:

    Aaron may very well have created 100 runs in 1972. After all, it was a shortened-season due to the work stoppage.

  25. Peter Uelkes says:

    If you take away those 755 homers, Aaron would still have over 3,000 hits (to quote Tim McCarver). Beyond amazing.

    Another great piece of writing!

  26. KB says:

    Of course Vin Scully only called him Henry Aaron. I could never imaging Scully, with his majestic delivery, calling anyone Hank. Now Harry Carey OTH, Harry should have, and probably did call just about anyone he ever met with the name Henry, Hank. It suits Harry’s blue collar, have a beer on me approach. Scully, probably never had a beer in his life, or at least not in the life I imagine him leading. And the name Hank never rolled off his tongue.

  27. […] Hank Aaron’s legacy is about more than home runs, says Joe Posnanski. Nate Silver agrees. […]

  28. dave ensley says:

    Thank you Joe a beautiful piece on my favorite player of all time.

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