by user The douglas

I want Barry Bonds to pass Babe Ruth.

Yeah, I said it. It's not because I like Barry Bonds. I rather dislike the fella. This has more to do with Hank Aaron.

The home run is baseball's most sacred stat. They're dead sexy. Kids don't want to go to the ballpark and see sac bunts and ground ball pitchers. Sportscenter doesn't show every stolen base or double play. They will, however, replay a towering home run again and again. Chicks dig the long ball.

Here's why I don't care if Bonds passes Ruth. BABE RUTH DOES NOT HOLD THE RECORD. The record belongs to Hank Aaron, perhaps one of the most under-appreciated sports legends in history.

Not that being second is all that bad. 714 home runs is a major accomplishment. However, I will contend that it was a much different era. Babe Ruth, given his stature and bad habits, might not be more than a modern-day Bob Hamelin. Ruth was certainly ahead of his time, and dominated the 20's and 30's like no one else in history. But this isn't pre-WWII. Comparing eras is like comparing apples to convertibles, and perhaps Ruth would have taken advantage of all we now know about diet, exercise, training, and sports medicine. We'll never know...but I'll say the game has evolved.

Ruth's era was also a time of major corruption in MLB. To me, fixing games is a far worse crime against baseball than steroids. Cheating was rampant...but we can't legitimately place Ruth's fingerprint on any closed-door debauchery during his playing days. With the exception of the Black Sox scandal, there remains no asterisk next to all the players who threw games, because there's no smoking gun. Hmmm.

The Roaring 20's were an interesting time in American history, and Ruth was at the forefront. He became the first ultra-mega sports celebrity in a world where American excess was booming out of control. Everybody loved the Babe. He was such a fun-loving guy. There's no way that would go to his head, right? Check out these excerpts from wikipedia:

Despite his success on the field, Ruth had started to become a headache for the Red Sox. In July 1918, Ruth ignored a sign from manager Ed Barrow during an at bat that led to a heated verbal spat when Ruth reached the dugout, and Barrow fined Ruth $500 when Ruth threatened to punch him in the nose. Ruth threw a tantrum and quit the team for a few days, and it was reported he had signed a new contract with the Chester Shipyards, a Pennsylvania-based pro team. It was also during the 1918 season that he started to refuse his pitching turns in the starting rotation, often citing injuries that Barrow would question. By this time, Ruth considered himself an everyday outfielder and had no more desire to pitch. "I'll win more games playing everyday in the outfield than I will pitching every fourth day," Ruth remarked. After his 1918 season, Ruth had the leverage of knowing he had become baseball's biggest star, and before the 1919 season, he was blunt with the Red Sox—he wanted to play every day and not pitch at all. Initially, Barrow and the Red Sox acquiesced, but injuries to the Red Sox pitching staff in 1919 forced a balking Ruth back into the rotation for spot starts.

There were also Ruth's off-the-field indiscretions. His late nights of partying and boozing were further sources of irritation to the franchise, and he had numerous fights with Barrow over curfew violations. Eventually Ruth was forced to write Barrow notes on what time he came in each night (notes Barrow never verified). He signed a 3-year contract in 1919 for $10,000 a year, but at the end of the 1919 season, he demanded $20,000 a year and threatened to sit out the 1920 season if he did not receive a new contract. Ruth was certainly worthy of the price, but he also needed more money to finance the large amount of money he spent on fast automobiles, fine clothes, and entertaining his many women "friends." Red Sox owner Harry Frazee commented, "If Ruth doesn't want to work for the Red Sox, we can work out an advantageous trade." To some people, Ruth had become an enfant terrible, although after his 1919 season, it seemed almost inconceivable that anyone would seriously recommend trading him.

Thus, your prima-donna sports star was born.

Back to Hammerin' Hank. All he did was become the all-time leader in not only home runs, but total bases (6856), RBI (2297), and extra-base hits (1477). He also ranks third in hits, third in games played, and fourth in runs scored. He was a 21-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winner. And he did it all in the face of tremendous adversity. He was the last Negro Leagues player to cross over to MLB, and had to endure countless bouts with racism and numerous death threats. Again from Wikipedia, as Aaron neared Ruth's record:

"Dear Nigger Henry, You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. ... Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move."

He dealt with it all. Today's players certainly don't have to deal with what he went through. Hank, along with Jackie Robinson and all the great African-American athletes that broke the color barrier and lived through the civil rights movement, are the epitome of courage, character, and strength. Hank did it with a quiet humbleness. He went about his business each day and performed to the best of his ability. What more could you ask for from a professional athlete?

Aaron's home run record is a testament to longevity and durability. He never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season (actually finished second that year to Willie Stargell's 48 in 1971). In fact, he only led the league in HR's 4 times in his career. He's only 34th all-time in HR/AB ratio. He played in more games than Cal Ripken, and collected more hits than Stan Musical. Aaron went out there to do a job, and he did it with great consistency and perseverance.

So as Barry nears the "sacred" 714, I say let him pass Ruth. Let it pass with little-to-no fanfare. We'll just be replacing one legend with questionable character with another. When Bonds starts creeping up on 755, let the primal outrage begin.


Mon 05/08/06, 7:24 pm EST

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