OP-ED: Say it: Hank Aaron is the real home run champion
Hank Aaron’s death last Friday brought forth a steady stream of highlights, respectful reflections and revelations about his baseball career. But one revelation was missing. We waited in vain to see a declarative sentence with just 10 words: Hank Aaron is major league baseball’s all-time home run leader.
Those words, whose truth is irrefutable due to his non-cheating record of 755 home runs, were neither spoken nor seen in print. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room.
Pause to take in the full meaning of this. Not one “official” baseball organization had the moxie to declare who the leader was. Not Major League Baseball, not on their website nor on their network channel; not ESPN, not on their website nor their network channel; not the Elias Sports Bureau either, despite their online blare of trumpets: “The Elias Sports Bureau is the Official Statistician of Major League Baseball.”
Toss in The Associated Press who referred to Aaron, sheepishly, as the “longtime home run leader,” which implies that Aaron only held the record from 1974, when he passed Babe Ruth, until 2007 when Barry Bonds, who surpassed him with the aid of performance-enhancing substances, reached 762. Since Aaron’s death, thousands of articles have been written, television spots aired, interviews conducted, memories divulged, documentaries reprised. Despite enough sports ammunition to make the rubble bounce, not one baseball commentator took a shot. Many of these media outlets told much of the truth about “Hammerin’ Hank.” Not one of them told the whole truth.
Now we have an historic confluence of three events. Aaron dies and we behold his life; Bonds came up for a Hall of Fame vote on Tuesday; and his cheating mark of 762 home runs is still held up. He failed to gain Hall of Fame entry again, likely because it’s common knowledge that he cheated, as evidenced by his physical changes and an absurd increase in home run production starting at the age of 35. In his first 14 seasons, he hit 420 home runs, for an average of 30 per season. Then, from the ages of 35 to 39, he averaged 51.6 home runs over a five-year stretch. Since this absurd home run total is not credible and is the very thing keeping him from Hall of Fame induction, then why are news organizations not acknowledging that Aaron is the record-holder?
In an email response to my question of whose record is recognized, Major League Baseball Network reporter and commentator Tom Verducci replied, rather cryptically, “Bonds officially holds the record.” He added, “But as I said on the air, and as we showed with a Sports Illustrated cover story I wrote from 2007, Aaron remains the people’s king, the true champion.” This fits the category of a near-answer merely, since the terms “official record-holder” and “true champion” ought to be the same person.
No one broadcaster or scribe could bring himself to say that Bonds’ total of 762 is untrustworthy due to performance-enhancing drugs. Thus, they couldn’t state what follows from that fact: that Aaron’s record of 755, a mark he held since he hit his 715th to surpass Babe Ruth on April 8, 1974, should stand.
— Kenneth Shouler is a philosophy professor at the County College of Morris. He was one of the panelists selected by Major League Baseball to pick its All-Century Team.