Barry Bonds implies that he's Aaron II - an oppressed hero/martyr: St. Sebastien pierced by redneck death threat arrows (letters, e-mails).
Hank Aaron: beloved in the relatively progressive Milwaukee of the 50's. But when the Braves moved to Atlanta, Hank was playing in the not really so ' New South' of the late 60's and early 70's; only enlightened Jimmy Carter Georgians revered him. Heck boy, the minor league franchise that played in Atlanta before they got the Braves was called the Atlanta Crackers (!):
(Foghorn-Leghorn voice) "Uh, I say, I say, I sayuhhh-Wwwwwelcome folks, hot summah day here at Crackah Park. Whites in the shade, Coloreds in the bleachahs - all fanning themselves with scorecards 'n straw hats. I'm Bull Connor (Google the name if it doesn't ring a bell.), your public address-radio announcah, and these are yuhhHHHr AtlantahhhHH Cuh-rackahs!!!!!"
And the rest of USA-1974 wasn't exactly mellow about a guy passing the Great White Babe. Cincinnati: pretty red-necky. St. Louis with the separate drinking fountains until the early 60's. They heckled Dick Allen out of Philly because white-flight fans thought he was getting uppity when he didn't want to be called Richie anymore (Allen should be in the Hall of Fame, but led the league in homers when 32 did the trick and voter/sportswriters had bad memories of Allen's retrospectively understandable 'attitude.'). Maybe Aaron woulda got his due in the capital of baseball. Too bad he didn't come up with the NY Giants - he would have been properly respected in New York and San Francisco.
Believably/Unbelievably the Yankees took a pass on Hank Aaron.
The Yankees didn't have a black ballplayer until Elston Howard - a guy who didn't get to start at catcher until Casey Stengel got canned and Yogi Berra said his knees needed to move to left field. Believably/Unbelievably 'Ole Perfessor' (Stengel) initially said of Howard: "When I finally get a nigger, I get the only one who can’t run." And if you think Yankee Mgmt was racist, take a trip North to the Fen; the Red Sox were the last franchise in baseball to hire a black ballplayer. I used to go to Fenway in the early 80's; Sox fans used to put 1978 MVP Jim Rice through the redneck ringer as only pale, pimply-faced Southie's can. And they knew he was their best player!
Meanwhile, Bonds has played in super-tolerant San Fran. He's always been rightly revered for his skill sets + Dad-Bobby & Uncle Say-Hey pedigree. Paris by the Bay has overlooked his 24 plus 1 needs - even takes pride in being amenable to a diva that small-town Pittsburgh couldn't handle. (Another way of putting it: if he was a jerky white guy like Pete Rose, he wouldn't have been quite as much of a target in the Cincinnati Red, while Pete and his baggage would have been less popular than Barry and his baggage if he had played in the cradle of the Black Panthers). Redland is rednecky. San Fran is rednecky about rednecks.)
Barry has always been extra jerky. Sometimes just a bad guy. I still wish they'd get him on something truly bad like spousal abuse or the hand-deliveries of 9,999 hush$ units to his Arizona mistress (using card show cash). I don't want to hear his conspiracy monologue if he gets forced out by the grandstanding 'Roid police. (A pox on both Houses.) I want him to leave quietly under security escort - a humiliated inside trader cleaning out his desk w/Bud Selig watching the proceedings from a monitor in his office. Bonds doesn't deserve an operatic ending. Just Al Capone leaves the scene on tax charges.
Kudos to Selig for defending the integrity of the pastime - with restraint. He knows it would look like a conflict of interest if he went after Barry too hard. Bud is a big Hank fan. Bud's a Milwaukee boy raised on 50's Braves - a kid who learned to be less racist than his age-demo by watching how well Aaron did his life. Just a few seasons after Bud brought the expansion Pilots to Milwaukee after only one season in Seattle, he signed the aging Aaron to DH for 2 seasons to fill the same County Stadium where Hank and the Braves played in the 50's.
I got to see Aaron play at Yankee Stadium when Bud's Brewers came to town in '76 (Hank's last campaign). He was no longer base-stealer lean; knees said no more standing in right field pasture for the full 9. But his eye-hand/wrists could still turn the good fastball into a mistake. 'Catfish' Hunter did Hank the favor of trying to sneak one by him; Aaron lashed it into that big left field gap. ('The Cat' was the kind who didn't mind serving one up if it wasn't going to effect the outcome of a pennant race.).
I still have the scorecard somewhere. Dad added several exclamation points to the two horizontal lines he penciled in for Aaron's double. The Milwaukee Mgr sent a kid in to run for Aaron; the Stadium Crowd gave Oh-Henry the standing O as he did his distinctively mellow jog off the field (the one you see in the old tape of him heading home after 715). I think we got a tip of the helmet just before he stepped down the dugout steps. The house was packed because New Yorkers knew it was probably the last time they were gonna see Aaron play. Lots of folks with Mets caps were there - NL fans already knew Hammerin' Hank was just as good as Willie Mays:
No basket catches, but perhaps a bit cooler in the clutch?
Nobody was disinterested when Hank passed the Babe.
***Thx to the Kathirithamby bros. for inspiring this rave.***
Labels: Hank and Barry