Wednesday, August 1, 2007

On the Edge of History

Tonight I'm sitting here watching the Dodgers and Giants on ESPN, as Barry Bonds is looking for home run #755, which is the major league record set by Hank Aaron. I'm a bit divided on the inevitability of Bonds breaking the record. On the one hand, records are made to be broken. However, I'm not all that anxious to see Barry become the new Home Run King, and not simply because of the steroid allegations.

My reticence to cheer Barry stems from the fact that I remember when Aaron hit 715. I didn't see it, mostly because we were lucky to have a color TV back in those days. I do remember reading it the next day in the paper, and even though I was 7 and just barely getting into baseball, Hank Aaron immediately became my favorite player. The fact that he was playing for the Atlanta Braves, my de facto hometown team, only made it that much sweeter for me.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I fully understood the full implications of Hank Aaron's achievement. The color line, the hate mail he got for an entire winter before breaking Babe Ruth's long-standing record - even the fact that he broke it in Atlanta, a city in the heart of a former Confederacy only beginning to rise above the sludge of racism; it all made the story so much more incredible. It made Aaron's record that much more precious.

That's what makes Bonds' chase so painful to me. Not so much the question of banned substances; it's the potential loss of one of the great stories in sports history. The story of Hank Aaron's mom running out to home plate and embracing him to shield him from potential snipers will be replaced by a sullen Barry Bonds sitting at his locker, stonewalling reporters who ask him pointed questions about androstenone. Sure, there'll still be old and aging farts like me who'll remember the story and try to pass it on to our sons; I just hope they'll listen.

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