You have to hand it to the Dodgers: they know how to stick it to a rival.
Someone in LA's public relations department was channeling Bill Veeck when the organization decided, in a sincerely philanthropic move, to host "Steroid Awareness Day" on Thursday night.
By pure coincidence, the event just happened to come during a series against the hated Giants...with much-maligned slugger Barry Bonds just one swing away from matching Hank Aaron on the career home run list.
Imagine the media circus that would have ensued had Bonds actually gone yard in one of his three at-bats—much less if he had done so twice. The ignominy would have been icing on the cake for his critics.
It's unfortunate for the baseball world that the pursuit of such a hallowed record has turned into such a sideshow (think World's Strongest Man
meets one of the big heads of Easter Island
). Perhaps the very fact that 755 is held so sacred explains the furor.
Indeed, the keepers of baseball's cherished numbers have always been the so-called "purists," so it should come as no surprise that there is and always will be a crusade to keep the record books untainted.
And in that spirit, it's important to take one more look at the career of the Man Behind the Number.
The Hammer will be passed, of that there can be little doubt. But time should be taken to appreciate his record while it is still unsullied, before it is tied and passed and mired in controversy—while, for at least one more day, Henry Aaron is still the Home Run King.
The first word that comes to mind when describing Aaron's career is "consistent." Like Tim Duncan in today's NBA, Aaron quietly composed one of the most outstanding resumes in baseball history with year-in, year-out production.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Aaron's steadiness is the difficulty one has in identifying his worst season. In 1964, at age 30, Aaron posted his lowest seasonal home run total (24) since he was 20...and would not dip below that line again until he was 40. Aaron also batted .328 and scored 103 runs in 1964, ranking third and fourth best, respectively, in the National League.
The word "consistent" is sometimes a backhanded compliment in the sporting world; it suggests good but not great, partly due to the lack of a "wow" factor. Consistency does not produce a rush of instant recognition. In his 23-year career, for all of his gaudy stats, Aaron won only one MVP, and otherwise never finished higher than third in voting.
Consistency gets a bad rap. But ask a professional athlete what he'd most like to improve about his game, and more often than not the answer is "consistency."
Many hitters experience flashes of greatness. They're the ones who roar out of the gates, or have monster Augusts to salvage what would otherwise be statistically horrible seasons. Some "fall victim to their own success," a phrase that indicates nothing more than a failure to sustain a high level of performance.
A consistent career is like a work of art. Books are not judged on individual chapters but rather on the quality of the work as a whole. It's unfortunate that careers like Aaron's aren't fully appreciated until they're able to be examined in historical context—but better late than never.
The numbers Aaron produced over the course of his 23 seasons are nothing short of transcendent. His excellence stretched across all facets of the game: He's first on the all-time home run list, first in runs batted in, first in total bases, third in runs scored, third in hits, and third in games played. His outstanding defense as a right fielder earned him three Gold Gloves. He played in two World Series and won one. The Milwaukee Braves' seven-game victory over the New York Yankees in 1957 saw Aaron hit .393 while belting three home runs.
The numbers, awards, and records tell a large part of Aaron's story, but his contribution to the game wasn't limited to the field. After he retired, he continued—and still continues—to carry himself with quiet dignity. He remains a goodwill ambassador for Major League Baseball and a figure on which all generations of baseball players can model themselves.
That Aaron can maintain such positive energy is all the more remarkable because, like Bonds, he did not have a smooth ride to the top of the record books. Racial tensions still ran high in America—and especially the American South—in the early 1970s. It wasn't unusual for Aaron to receive death threats as he marched towards the immortal, incomparable Babe Ruth. And still he pressed on, unfazed, just as he had his entire career.
Now, Aaron is arguably the most respected man in sports.
The legacy he carved for himself guarantees Aaron a permanent place in baseball lore. But it remains to be seen how much the fall of 755 will dim the light of fame in which the Hammer still lives.
For the sake of the game, let s hope the impact is negligible.
There's enough awareness of steroids as it is.
NOTE: All statistics provided by baseball-reference.com.