The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.
Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)
Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.
However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.
The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.
Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer. (www.mlb.com)
The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.
Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)
Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.
After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.
Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)
Baseball is America’s pastime. It is also a reflection of America. Anyone can rise to the top of the game. It doesn’t matter where you come from, only your ability on the field. You can be born the son of a saloon keeper in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, Maryland and grow up to become Babe Ruth. You can be born to poor African-American parents in Mobile, Alabama and grow up to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and establish yourself as Hank Aaron, the Home Run King. You can grow up in Commerce, Oklahoma and become Mickey Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. You can be the son of Italian immigrants and grow up in The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri and become Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time. You can grow up in beautiful San Diego and become the greatest hitter of all time, as Ted Williams did. You can be a kid living in The Bronx, listening to the radio, wishing you were at the game and grow up to be Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.
Baseball can give people so much, yet it also has a shameful past. The exclusion of African-American players is indefensible. It will forever be a stain on the game. The resulting Negro Leagues are the truest American response to injustice. When faced with hatred and ignorance, players created their own leagues. Baseball in the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues was never perfect. However, African-Americans fought for their rightful place as equals in America with every pitch, hit, catch, and throw. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri continues to ensure this history, good and bad, is not forgotten.
Baseball is a reflection of what is good in America, but it can also reflect what is not good in America. (www.si.com)
Baseball, like America, is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here to play the game. Ichiro crossed the Pacific and become a legend in Japan and America. One of the greatest right handed hitter of all time, Miguel Cabrera, left his native Venezuela to leave opposing players and fans in awe at his skills with a bat. Peter Moylan had a second chance at baseball after working as a pharmaceutical salesman in his native Australia. Gift Ngoepe continues to create a path for other African born players, as the South African became the first African born player to appear in a Major League game. Baseball and America takes players from everywhere in the world as Ed Porray proved, he was born at sea.
America is a true melting pot. We are not a perfect nation. We have done horrible things to our own people, from the Native Americans to African-Americans to religious minorities to the LGBTQ community. We fight and argue for what we think is right, just like in baseball. The rules that govern how we play the game and live together need updating from time to time. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. We are stronger together when we are willing to judge people by their abilities on the field and in life, and not on preconceived ideas based upon where they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship. The wonderful thing about being an American is there is no mold to follow. Only a select few of us, when you trace your family back, are from here. Instead of telling our teammates and fellow Americans to conform, why not listen to them and learn from them to make yourself better, and by extension our team and country better.
Happy Independence Day!
As we approach the end of May it’s the perfect time to canonize the one of the rarest feats in baseball — the pitcher bat flip. Even with the increase in bat flips around the game, pitchers rarely flip even refusing to make the most of the few times they do get a hit, let alone a home run.
To encourage more of this glorious celebration of triumph, below is a definitive ranking of all pitcher bat flips found during an exhausting 40 minutes of googling. Each bat flip is ranked on a Joey Bats Scale, with a maximum of 19 points overall and 3.8 points in each category:
Tom Lawless Meter – Game situations matter
Bill Butler F@ck You Meter –
The lead up to the bat flip
The bat flip
James Shields – Spring training Bat Flip
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Full Dinger (3.8)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Flamboyant (3)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: KBO-esque (2.8)
Tom Lawless Meter: Spring training (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Angry at the ball (.5)
Joey Bats Score: Disqualified
In the highlight of their season, then Padres pitcher James Shields uncorked an impressive bat flip, but it’s immediately disqualified for coming in spring training batting practice. Kudos for being the only highlight real I’ve seen from the 2016 Padres.
Matt Harvey Game 1 2015 NLCS
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Sac bunt (0)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: None (0)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Bat fling (.25)
Tom Lawless Meter: During the NLCS but a sac bunt in the NL (.2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Extremely boring play(0)
Joey Bats Score: .45 or 0 Batmans
During a standard NL small ball play, Matt Harvey pulled out a bat flip halfway up the first base line. Given he is a worse base runner than Bartolo Colon (confirmed by in-person scouting), it’s possible that he forgot the bat was in his hand and was desperately flinging it away. His Dark Knight moniker should have been revoked after this flip.
Zack Greinke – 2015 versus Brewers
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Frozen Rope-esque Double (1)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Robotic (1)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Solid bat flip (2)
Tom Lawless Meter: Midseason against Da Brew Crew (.2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Sighing on 2nd base (0)
Joey Bats Score: 3
A bat flip is acceptable on any decent hit by a pitcher, but the low-stakes combined with the lack of intensity from Greinke and the crowd makes this unmemorable to anyone but the MLB intern who posted it on YouTube. Loses additional points for not having Vin Scully call the play.
Zack Greinke – Dodgers vs Reds, 2015
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Dinger (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Peyton Manning-esque (.75)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Less Solid bat flip (1.70)
Tom Lawless Meter: Reds won at most 2 games that year (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: No sigh! (.5)
Joey Bats Score: 5.55
Greinke here looks like a Peyton Manning robot doing his best imitation of Puig. Despite hitting a home run, even the MLB intern passed over this one. It also came during in an August game against the Reds, who, I am sure, were awful outside of Votto in 2015 (I refuse to look this up).
Jeff Samardzija – 2017
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Solid Double (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Alright, Alright, Alright (1.7)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Nut seeking (2)
Tom Lawless Meter: 2017 Giants (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: The facial always says f’ you (1)
Joey Bats Score: 6.7
I am amazed he didn’t hit himself in the nuts with this bat flip. That’s some impressive spin, but next time he may want to flip it a little further out to avoid any issues on the bounce back. Pretty impressive, with the ‘70s creeper vibe adding to the cockiness of bat flipping on a double.
Hyun-jin Ryu – 2014 Bat Flip
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Double (1.8)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Standard (1.2)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Great rotation (2.9)
Tom Lawless Meter: Summer game against the Rockies (1)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Low-pressure (1)
Joey Bats Score: 7.9
I am now thinking that the Dodgers (and Puig) must encourage their pitchers to flip bats. Still only the 2nd best bat flip by a Dodger pitcher, though.
Hung-Chih Kuo – 2007
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: First Home Run in MLB Dinger! (3.1)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Vin Scully Admired the Flip (3.7)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Great range, great rotation (3)
Tom Lawless Meter: 3rd of 3 dingers (2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: That flip screamed hell yeah! (2)
Joey Bats Score: 13.8
Easily, the best bat flip by a Dodger pitcher, even got Vin Scully to admire it.
Some Kid – 2016
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Dinger (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Puig and then some (3.8)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Sharp shooting, full KBO (3.7)
Tom Lawless Meter: 5-year old playing wiffle ball? Full Lawless in his mind (3)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Surprised he didn’t flip the bird (3.8)
Joey Bats Score: 17.3
This is a bat flip. I have no idea if he is a pitcher or not, I am assuming yes, but MLB pitchers could learn from this kid. Hope to see him in the show in 17 years.
The bat flip that will never be
The best pitcher bat flip is the one we can only dream of, the one that broke our hearts when its chance at life was squashed this offseason. The one from the sexist pitcher playing today – the Big Sexy bat flip.
The man who gave us one of the most improbable home runs, followed by what has to be the longest home run trot done in earnest, and the only reason for watching the Mets from 2014-2016 selfishly signed with an AL team this offseason. At 45, it’s likely he will never bat again, but we can dream.
Just picture this man, who once carried his bat to 1st base after nearly losing his helmet and the most memorable home run by a Met ever flipping a bat. Watch those video again, there is no doubt in my mind that this would be the bat flip we need. The sheer sexiness of it would result in Colon having at least 3 more families to feed.
We’ll update as the rankings as more pitchers flip more bats in 2018.
I miss Vin Scully.
I am not a die hard Dodger fan. I have only been to Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium once. I was attending my now wife’s cousin’s wedding in Oxnard and as part of the trip we went to Dodger Stadium for a game. Even then I went to the game more to see the stadium than the team. The Dodgers pummeled the Phillies and we got to experience the most annoying Phillies fan on the West Coast.
The most annoying Phillies fan on the West Coast. Philadelphia was losing 6-0 in the 2nd inning at this point. (The Winning Run/ KCL)
My primary love for the Dodgers is Vin Scully. In recent years, I always enjoyed listening to the broadcast when Los Angeles were at home so that I could listen to the voice of baseball. It never mattered what the score was, I just wanted to listen to the stories. The history of the foul pole, the rise in popularity of beards on ball players, or anecdotes about some player who has not played a game in decades. Yes, please, and thank you. There was no need for a partner, Vin Scully could do it all. He could call the game, debate controversial calls, supply the history of almost anything going on, and provide endless entertainment and information.
I have tried to watch a few Dodger games this season, but Charlie Steiner, Rick Monday, Joe Davies, Nomar Garciaparra, and Orel Hershiser just are not Vin Scully. It is unfair to compare these broadcasters to the greatest of all time. Steiner and Davies are professional, they earned the opportunity to call games in the Majors. Monday, Garciaparra, and Hershiser bring their playing experience and expertise to the booth. In some ways it may be better with this new group of Dodger broadcasters, but the retirement of Vin Scully leaves something missing from every Dodger home game.
I have never met Vin Scully, doubt I ever will. The closest I will probably ever get was sitting in the outfield bleachers that day, straining my eyes to see if I could see the voice of baseball in his broadcast booth calling the game. Watching a master ply their craft allows you a look inside a world where greatness is the norm. I wanted to watch.
The score never mattered, it was about spending time with my buddy, Mr. Scully. (Jean Fruth/ National Baseball Hall of Fame)
My now sister-in-law went to the game with us and asked me why I kept straining to see the press boxes. My now wife told her it was because I was trying to see my buddy, Vince Gulley. I should explain. When I started dating my wife five years ago she knew the bare minimum about baseball. She has learned more than she ever wanted to, mostly through exhaustion and/or osmosis. Even now she can only name a handful of announcers. Marty Brennaman, mostly because she is from and we live in Cincinnati. Harry Caray, Skip Caray, and Chip Caray because my love for the Atlanta Braves, and thus the connection of the Caray family. She knows Joe Buck, but she has a physical reaction at the mere mention of his name, that turns even more sour if he is “announcing” a baseball or football game. It took some time but she now knows Vin Scully. For several years she did not understand how to pronounce his name and thought I was saying Vince Gulley. The many late nights I have stayed up late just watching a Dodgers game after a long day of work she began calling him my buddy.
Vin Scully as my buddy is an easy visualization. Listening to him call a game was like watching a game with a friend and just talking about what was happening and anything else that came up along the way. Maybe it was about the game on the field, or maybe it was just something that came to mind. It did not matter what it was, listening to Vin Scully was always a pleasure. The game on the field was central, but not necessarily required for the time spent between Vin Scully and his friends to be quality time. He knew when to talk and when to just let the sounds of the game flow over you and transport you to Dodger Stadium.
I miss Vin Scully. I am glad I was able to spend so many late nights and sunny Sunday afternoons with him. I am also glad he was able to leave the game at a time and in a fashion that suited him. There is a certain justice in seeing the greatest of all time walk away at a time and place of their own choosing, not when age, injury, or declining ability force them out. During his farewell address to Congress, General Douglas MacArthur said, “old generals don’t die, they just fade away.” Vin Scully was never a general, but his retirement has allowed him to fade away, just the like sun on a baseball diamond where for so many decades he called the game.
Note-taking is a tough task. It requires you to have an organized mental system to judge what is important and what isn’t necessary to recount for general understanding. Looking at box scores can give you a general understanding of what went on in a baseball game. Then there’s the scorecard. It’s a triumph of shorthand. This simple system, through development over decades, has a broad language and style that is the textbook definition of a picture saying a thousand words.
Deciding I wanted to learn how to fill out a scorecard came about for several reasons. Mostly that I wanted to learn more about the game. One of my favorite comedians talks about her love for sports and mentions that she enjoys filling out scorecards when she watches games live.
I also thought it might help me get a better idea of the flow of a game. I can still look at the box score and team stats of a football game then piece together a good idea of how the game went. I can’t say I can do that with a baseball box score. What I realized is that it’s because there are so many more details that matter to me when trying to interpret how things went, such as what part of the line up scored, what sort of pitch counts were occurring, etc.
On the other hand, I know baseball fans who bring books to the game because they enjoy being at the ballpark and listening to game being played. In the same way, I’ve often been playing Dodgers home games on my computer and just listening to Vin Scully call the game while I putz around on the internet.
All of this introduction to basically say that I was having a bad day and decided to drive a few hours away to catch a Double A game between the Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Erie Seawolves where I decided I would also learn to fill out a scorecard on the fly.
I decided in the morning that I would head down for the game. So I started looking online for instructions on how to fill out a scorecard. I was shocked at how many different methods people have posted. Here are a few that I found by typing in “how to fill out a baseball scorecard” via Google.
I was planning on getting a program for the game and thought there was a pretty good chance there would be a scorecard in it. If there wasn’t, I’m sure I would have been able to get one from somewhere in the stadium. If not, I was already bringing a notebook to take down my thoughts about the game, so I would use that if I had to.
I got the stadium about 90 minutes before the game started. I had already missed out on the free t-shirt giveaway and the courtyard area was packed with Girl Scouts who were getting to have a sleepover at the park after the game. Sadly, they weren’t selling cookies.
But I got 32 oz beer and some food – a pound of curly fries, a burger, and some chicken tenders then found my seat. If you’re reading this then it’s not likely that you need to be reminded that minor league baseball is quite awesome. However, it can always be restated because the beer, food, hat, and ticket cost me less Tubmans than I’ve got fingers on one hand.
I mean got this great hat.
Richmond Flying Squirrels (The Winning Run/ BL)
And this was my viewpoint for the game (one of the opening pitches).
First pitch from Richmond (The Winning Run/ BL)
There was a scorecard in the game program but the gloss on the paper made it nearly impossible to write on it with the pen I brought. So by the 2nd inning, I was madly scribbling together a scorecard in my notebook. I had missed the announcement of the lineups so I spent part of my time trying to cobble together everyone’s position. I didn’t mark basepath travel or pitch counts. It’s pretty sparse but if you gave me some time, I could give you a decent account of the game that would go beyond the box score.
My first attempt to score a game. (The Winning Run/ BL)
I know I missed a lot. But I was engaged the whole time into the game. It also went by rather quickly. When you’re keeping track of the action, you’ll see that there’s a lot more going on in baseball than you think.
Derek offered to help me learn how to score a game. The beauty of the internet is that we cued up a game from earlier that day and watched it together while chatting online. I had run out of printer ink though so I sketched out another scorecard, using the following as a template.
And here is what I got.
A little practice can go a long way. (The Winning Run/ BL)
I think I did a much better job this time around.
As I looked over the various instructions and thought back to some of the methods people have discussed with me in the past week, I’m amazed at the richness of baseball vocabulary. Even as I was learning from Derek, I think we disagreed on which K was a strikeout looking and a strikeout swinging. If the shortstop fields the ball, tags a force-out at 2B and then makes the throw to 1B for the double play, how do you score it? My first thought was to put down 6-3 DP but I got another suggestion of 6-6-3 because the first number is the person who fields it and then subsequent numbers are for each player that is involved with an out. But what about a cutoff man? 8-6-2 play to catch someone at home plate?
The language of the baseball scorecard is something amazing to converse over. If you look carefully you see what’s important to the scorer when they follow the game. One of the above linked examples includes writing a line to illustrate the direction of a ball put into play. Some scorecards include balls and strikes as that can tell you how a pitcher and line up are squaring off against each other. Other people instead look to the bottom of the card to see the inning totals and innings pitched to get a similar idea.
As I am finding my baseball storytelling voice, the scorecard is a fun way to define that voice and get snapshots of its development. I haven’t looked it up so I’m speculating that Vin Scully probably keeps a scorecard of the games among what must be a serious list of concise notes as he calls and comments on games all by himself.
We keep track of the things that are important to us. Our notes take on a language that allows us to share stories and relate our interpretations of events. So how we track things becomes an integral part of that retention.
The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond by Jeff Silverman is a collection of excellent baseball stories. Some recount real events on the diamond, whereas some leap from the imagination of their authors. The book includes the classic comedy of Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s On First”, which I always find hilarious. Al Stump brings Ty Cobb back to life and shows a side of the Georgia Peach which many fans never saw. The immortal Red Barber discusses Jackie Robinson and the lead up to the permanent breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Gary Smith follows the home run chase of 1998. It was more than just Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Vin Scully calls the final inning of Sandy Koufax throwing a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. The missed greatness of Pete Reiser is told by W. C. Heinz.
The stories Jeff Silverman chooses to include in this book are great for the novice fan and for the baseball fanatic. The art of the short story is on full display. The writers do not have the chapters to develop characters and story lines. Rather they must develop the entirety of the story through careful selection of every word. This to me makes these stories come to life, as the reader does not get lost in the descriptive language. Letting the reader visualize the story for themselves, with the author as the guide is what makes great story telling.
Baseball books typically dive deep into the sport and focus on specific themes, people, or events. The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told deviates from this and to great success. Silverman provides a brief introduction to each piece to get the reader the proper context before they embark on the story. This is a great read, especially for those of us who take public transportation in our daily lives. Silverman does not require long stretches of time for the book to be read and enjoyed. His change of pace with this book is just what baseball fans need for filling those minutes during their commute, at lunch, or before bed.
40 years ago today, April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king with his 715th career home run. The most revered record in Major League Baseball, perhaps in sports, passed from arguably the greatest player ever to a man who faced increasing racism with every home run he hit as he approached Ruth. The grace which Aaron displayed in the face of the ever increasing threats and media pressure showed the true character of the man. He was, and remains, a well-spoken and confident man, but you would never confuse his confidence for arrogance, he let his greatness speak for itself. Hank Aaron remains one of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball.
Aaron’s 715th home run is one of the most memorable moments in baseball history. The packed house at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves playing the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers before a crowd of 53,775. Al Downing pitching for the Dodgers. The high kick and Downing delivered to Hank Aaron. The ball flying over the ball over the left-centerfield fence with the quick and easy swing. Announcer Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully each giving their own infamous call of the home run. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker pointing towards the fence as he rose from a knee on the on-deck circle. Dodger leftfielder Bill Buckner climbing the wall trying to make a play. Braves relief pitcher Tom House catching the ball, and eventually returning it to Aaron. Davey Lopes, the Dodgers second baseman, and Bill Russell, the Dodgers shortstop, congratulating him as he rounded second base. The two fans running onto the field and running along with Aaron as he headed for third. The mob of people who greeted Aaron at home plate, the bear hug his mother gave him. The short, yet eloquent speech,
~“Thank God it’s over.”
While I was not even born yet when this happened, I have seen and heard about Aaron’s 715th home run enough to feel like I was there. Just watching a video of it gives me a bit of butterflies in my stomach. It is a truly magical moment in baseball history.
The man who broke Aaron’s record had a very different experience as he marched towards the record. The closer Barry Bonds came to hitting 756, the louder the noise become regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs. More and more debate about whether he should even be, playing or if he should be suspended for his transgressions, or if his accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them. Yes Aaron faced an onslaught of racism, and no doubt Bonds did too from similarly ignorant people, although it seems less so which showed the progress of American society during the in the 33 years which Aaron held the record. However, I believe much of the ridicule and animosity against Bonds was due to his own actions. Aaron is by no means a perfect person, but Bonds epitomizes the steroid era and its assault on the record books. This for many baseball fans was, and is, unforgiveable.
Bonds is the all-time home run record holder, I do not dispute this. I was alive when it happened, so you would think I would remember more of the details of his breaking Hank Aaron’s record. It happened less than seven years ago, so it has not been that long ago. However, if I were to be put on the spot all I could tell you is the game was played in San Francisco in 2007. Not much else.
The story of Bonds’ historic night is much less romantic. On August 7, 2007 Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record during the Giants game against the Washington Nationals. He hit the home run off of Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, before a crowd of 43,154. Bengie Molina was on deck. It was not nearly the same celebration of the game and its records which Aaron passing Ruth elicited. Bonds passing Aaron should be a moment that is played over and over again by Major League Baseball, but it is not. Putting it mildly, Bonds is a polarizing figure in baseball, ask Jeff Kent. His mere presence at Giants Spring Training this year set off a media frenzy about whether he should be there. He was also asked again about his performance-enhancing drug use, which he still tap dances around. Bonds will never be the beloved figure that Aaron is; it is just not in his personality.
Where does this leave us? In my opinion the Home Run King remains Hank Aaron, even though Barry Bonds has hit more home runs. The performance-enhancing drug cloud which surrounded Bonds’ career, especially after he became a San Francisco Giant, has led to cries for him to be stripped of his records. I am strongly against the use of PEDs, and believe those who are found guilty of using them should be punished, as I have previously stated here. Throwing someone out of baseball is not the same as removing their records and statistics from the game. Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball, but his records remain. Pose like Bonds is an integral part of baseball history which should not be forgotten, good or bad. Bonds, judging by the 36.2% and 34.7% of votes he received in his first two years of eligibility for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, will never receive the ultimate honor of being enshrined with the immortals of baseball. This will have to suffice as his punishment.
Like Pete Rose, Bonds will be remembered but never honored in Cooperstown for his accomplishments. The argument against removing Bonds from the record book is simple, if you start with him, where do you stop? Do you remove Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, what about Leo Durocher for his relationship with known gamblers, or Ty Cobb for his pronounced racism, and the list goes on and on. If baseball does decide to throw all these players, coaches, and other associates of baseball out, who plays the judge and jury? This is an entire other debate. You can ban someone from baseball, but you cannot change what they did. It would alter the outcomes of games, and there would be no end to revising the history of the game. Revising history makes the record book a mockery and without any value to be reverenced. Bonds and the steroid era are a part of the history of baseball, not necessarily a good part, but nonetheless it is a part that should be remembered.
Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds are two very different people. Aaron goes about his business with a quiet confidence and people truly listen when he speaks, as they have respect for his insights and opinions. Bonds has always had more flair and more of a demonstrative personality, which has rubbed many people the wrong way, just ask Bonds’ Pirates Manager Jim Leyland. People tend to only listen when Bonds speaks because they are waiting for a confession, not because they respect him. Neither Aaron’s or Bonds’ approach are completely right or wrong, they are just different. Both players were among the elite when they played. Both were clearly Hall of Fame caliber players, however Bonds chose to hang on to his youthful strength a little longer than father time would naturally allow. While Major League Baseball and the Players Union have in recent years become serious about weeding out the cheaters in the game, Bonds was like many players before him and after him seeking an advantage. Some players use a corked bat, like Sammy Sosa, or a foreign substance on the baseball, like Gaylord Perry, Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. While I wish all sports could rid themselves of these drugs, the past is the past. It happened. Baseball, and sports in general, has two choices. They can remember the past, both good and bad, and learn from it. The other option is to revise or erase the past and over time repeat the same mistakes. There are two options, but only one should ever be taken. It is best to remember the past and its blemishes and to work to never repeat those mistakes.
40 years ago, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’ record for most career home runs in Major League Baseball. While Aaron no longer holds the record he is still the Home Run King. Simply having the most of something does not make you the king of something in sports; rather you are the record holder. Cy Young holds the record for most career wins, but he is not the King of Pitching. Arguments can be made for Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, and a few others. The title of King is reserved for those who are among the elites, yet also receive the reverence of the fans. Aaron had the record and lost it. However, Bonds has not been enthroned as the Home Run King because he lacks the admiration from the fans, and I doubt he ever will, and he has only himself to blame.