January 16, 2005


Hammer Time: Aaron has nothing against Barry Bonds, but the memories of his chase for Ruth's record will keep him out of the spotlight (Bill Plaschke, January 16, 2005, LA Times)

The circus is coming, and he knows it.

"I can almost see it," Hank Aaron says with a chuckle.

The circus is coming, the guy with clown arms leading the parade, accusations and suspicions trailing clumsily behind, and, Lord, does baseball need Hank Aaron.

It needs his dignity in the stands when Barry Bonds swaggers through 755. It needs his integrity beside the plate when Bonds stalks through 756.

Baseball desperately needs the quiet majesty of its career home-run leader to soften the callous chase by the unlikable guy who is within 52 homers of catching him.

Aaron chuckles again. Baseball needs him? How about the time he needed baseball?

Where was baseball three decades ago when he was running this same race, only with twice the curves, chasing Babe Ruth while dodging hate mail and death threats and ignorance?

The aging hero cannot outlive the scars, and he has no interest in reexamining them.

The circus must go on without him.

"I'm not going to go," he says. "I had to live it for two or three years, and I don't want to be pushed back into it. I don't need to be there."

It's not about steroids, he said, it's about something far more lethal.

It's about memories.

"That's enough of it," says Aaron, 70. "I don't want to rehash it. I don't want to talk about it no more. It's about Barry and his family. They deserve the glory."

On a weekend when we celebrate the Civil Rights achievements of Dr. King, it's worth recalling how pivotal to the struggle was the grace and class demonstrated by guys like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, who hadn't been trained for public roles but had to take them on anyway. Because he endured for so long, many have forgotten that even Mr. Aaron had to start his career in the Negro Leagues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 16, 2005 10:01 AM

Plaschke's an idiot. He's the classic Southern White Liberal, it's always about race, just like to a guy with a hammer everything is a nail.

The attacks on Hank Aaron were way overblown, unlike the experience of Jackie Robinson. Also, MLB clearly wanted him to break the record. When he did so, Al Downing, a fellow Black man, all but threw him softballs.

Aaron has parlayed his chase of Ruth's record and the allegations of threats against him into an industry. He was by no means the best player in his day, by no means the equal of either Mays or Mantle and probably not Clemente. He benefitted from playing in a hitter's park, where Davey Johnson once had a 43 homer season. Atlanta Stadium was known as the 'Launching Pad.' Aaron plays the Angry Resentful Black Man to the hilt and gets compensated really well for it.

Whether Bonds used steroids is an open question. It would be nice if the Plaschkes of the world had some understanding of the meaning of the word 'evidence' before they make allegations. Bonds plays in a tough park to hit in, gets fewer chances to hit homers because his team has a crappy lineup so he gets intentionally walked all the time, and plays in the age of relief pitchers.

If Bonds kissed the butts of third-rate scribblers like Plaschke, he would be a hero. But Bonds is a surly, objectionable self-centered jerk apparently, just as Ty Cobb was, and so Plaschke can engage in defamation with impuniyt.

Posted by: Bart at January 16, 2005 2:25 PM

Aaron did not suffer insults on the field (as Jackie Robinson did), but he certainly endured death threats off the field.

Sans steriods, will Bonds be able to hit 53 more? He may need 3 years to do it, if then.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 16, 2005 10:38 PM


Aaron faced even greater abuse on the field, playing in the Deep South in the white minor leagues.

Posted by: oj at January 17, 2005 12:37 AM

You're right - I forgot about the minors.

Strangely enough, the worst bigotry many players faced was in the midwest and in CA (in the late 50s and very early 60s, also in the minors).

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 17, 2005 8:16 AM