Despite the fact that another name tops the list of career major league home runs, Hank Aaron remains to many baseball's all-time home run king.
Long-time Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren acknowledged as much Tuesday night as master of ceremonies for the 40th anniversary of Aaron's 715th home run.
"He's still recognized as baseball's TRUE home run king," Van Wieren said, a sentiment approved by the thunderous applause of the packed house at Turner Field. You will get no argument from me.
Perhaps someone down the road will hit more than 755 home runs without the aid of human growth hormones, steroids or whatever other performance enhancing substance might be available at the time. Chances are it won't be anybody currently playing, unless Albert Pujols discovers the fountain of youth -- that is, one not on the black market or recommended to him by Alex Rodriguez.
Pujols better get busy. With 492 home runs, he's still 264 away from passing Aaron. He could average 40 dingers for the next six years and still be 24 short of Aaron.
On that historic night 40 years ago Tuesday, Furman Bisher, the great Atlanta Journal columnist, wrote that "nobody can appreciate the history of it all," and I'd say we still can't. Only when the eighth of April rolls around on some round-number anniversary does baseball seem to grasp the greatness of Aaron.
"Greatest ever" ought to stand on its own merit, yet we still fall short of appreciating 755 home runs.
Think about it. The man just behind Ruth on the all-time list is Willie Mays, Aaron's contemporary for nearly 20 years. Mays sits 95 home runs behind Aaron. Frank Robinson is ninth all time with 586 homers -- 169 behind Aaron. That's worth noting because Aaron, Mays and Robinson played in the same era and faced essentially the same competition.
That was a golden era for pitching, a time that produced the likes of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Juan Marachal, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry and Tom Seaver. And that was just in the National League.
Four hundred home runs is considered almost a lock to earn induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Alfonso Soriano and Al Kaline are tied for 50th all-time with 407. That's just a little better than half way to 755. If you took away all of Aaron's home runs, he'd still have 3,016 hits, which would be good for 18th all-time, just behind Tony Gwynn and ahead of Dave Winfield.
He hit 755 home runs despite never hitting more than 47, which he did in 1971.
Yet, seemingly every roundtable discussion among baseball historians regarding the greatest hitters ever involves the names DiMaggio, Williams, Mantle and Mays. Almost without fail, Aaron's name comes up almost as an afterthought.
Maybe it's because Aaron's style was always understated. If he were a football player, he would have been the kind to score a touchdown, flip the ball to the ref, and trot off the field to rest for the next series. It didn't help that Aaron played, if not in obscurity, then at least far removed from baseball's epicenter by spending his career in Milwaukee and Atlanta. The Braves finished first or second six of Aaron's first seven seasons in the big leagues, but once more the rest of his career, when they won the NL West in 1969.
His dignity and class off the field, especially in retirement, has been exemplary. We were reminded of this Tuesday night when he gingerly eased his way to the podium to accept his rightful honor. He thanked so many people for making the night special, from commissioner Bud Selig to his teammates to Van Wieren.
Well, no sir, Mr. Aaron.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.