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updated: 4/13/2014 11:07 PM

Aaron or Bonds? Time to let go of that angst

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  • Hank Aaron speaks during a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of his 715th home run as the actual bat and ball from the hit stand on display before the start of a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets on April 8 in Atlanta.

      Hank Aaron speaks during a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of his 715th home run as the actual bat and ball from the hit stand on display before the start of a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets on April 8 in Atlanta.
    Associated Press

  • In this April 8, 1974 file photo, Atlanta Braves' Hank Aaron eyes the flight of the ball after hitting his 715th career homer in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Atlanta.

      In this April 8, 1974 file photo, Atlanta Braves' Hank Aaron eyes the flight of the ball after hitting his 715th career homer in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Atlanta.
    AP Photo/Harry Harris, File

 
 

I am warning you, this is another (hopefully final) column on the baseball steroids issue. The occasion is last week's 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record.

You may be wondering what a 1974 milestone has to do with the steroids era. A lot, actually.

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You see, many people still consider Aaron the rightful home run leader and not Barry Bonds, who, in their minds, holds a tainted record.

On Twitter, I was asked who I believe to be the true all-time home run king. The easy (and technically correct) answer is Bonds -- and will continue to be until somebody hits 763.

But that's too simplistic, right?

I guess my answer is this -- if you want to say Aaron's 755 is it for you, and that 762 has no meaning, I won't lose any sleep over it.

But why do we have to erase the steroids era? It's just an era, like the dead-ball or the live-ball era.

Bonds' accomplishments -- artificially enhanced or not -- do not take away one ounce of the admiration I have for Aaron. Nor does the McGwire/Sosa home run race of 1998 diminish the magical Maris/Mantle odyssey of 1961.

Furthermore, nothing anybody does until the end of time should take away from the contributions made to baseball by Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey or Casey Stengel.

A great thing about our game is that we hold its records, its heritage and its long-retired and deceased heroes dear to our hearts. And whenever the modern baseball world interferes with or "attempts" to erase, obscure or offend those memories, we tend to lash out and immediately condemn.

But indulge me for a moment. The game changes with technology. Guys from the 1960s didn't have the same access to conditioning and nutrition that more modern players do.

Big-leaguers of the past 20 years have had more choices to make in terms of how to maximize their potential, and it's naive to think many wouldn't take advantage of it.

In fact, it's kind of ridiculous to assume that no player in the 1950s or 1960s would have jumped on the PED bandwagon if offered the chance.

Aaron himself admitted in his autobiography that he tried amphetamines. A big deal? Not for me.

But if you can't even consider debating whether greenies were performance-enhancers but hold Bonds to some sort of standard we aren't willing to apply to the stars of our youth, I have a problem with that.

The bottom line is, Aaron's legacy is intact in my book. Regardless of what Bonds did or anybody else does. I'm sure if we asked Hank himself, he also would tell you that what he accomplished didn't in any way lessen the impact Ruth had on the sport.

One last thought. Aaron's standing as a ballplayer was enhanced because people also liked him as a human being.

The opposite seems to go for Bonds -- his accomplishments get mitigated by his reputation as a petulant, insulated superstar. It simply was way easier for fans to root for Aaron than Bonds.

Look, I get it. That's human nature.

Me? I don't particularly care that Bonds wasn't a nice guy or a media darling. As a baseball fan, I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed some of his greatest feats. Conversely, I'm sad that I never got to see Aaron play and that I was too young to remember the tiebreaking blast in '74.

So, let go of your angst. Remember Aaron's career and, if you're old enough, recall where you were the night he hit number 715 and don't worry about what has gone on since.

That moment in time is preserved forever.

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