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Hank Aaron praises Barry Bonds for home run record
Workers World commentary
Published Aug 15, 2007 11:24 PM
On Aug. 7, Barry Bonds broke the greatest record in sports in the United
States. Bonds hit his 756th career home run at his home ballpark in San
Francisco, breaking the record previously held by Henry “Hank”
Aaron. Aaron had broken Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs in 1974.
The Aug. 7 game was halted temporarily for ceremonies honoring Bonds. To the
surprise of most in the crowd, a video message, played on the huge video screen
behind centerfield, showed Aaron warmly congratulating Barry Bonds on his
Why was Aaron’s message a surprise to so many? It was a surprise due to
the big business media sports talk shows repeatedly trying to play Aaron off
against Bonds in order to sully the new record and the new record holder.
During the months long lead-up to the breaking of the record, instead of
repeating Aaron’s comments praising Bonds, the media focused on
Aaron’s statements that he would not be present when Bonds broke the
record. They never quoted the second half of Aaron’s statement saying
that he felt that the historic event was Bond’s to savor and if he were
present, it would shift attention away from Bonds. This is something he
didn’t want to happen.
In Major League Baseball, records are more important than in any other sport.
The game is so statistically oriented that many children memorize batting
averages. Every batter who comes to the plate has his batting average, home
runs, RBIs, etc., scrutinized by the radio and television announcers virtually
Numbers, whether they are understood or misunderstood, are at the very heart of
the game and the biggest single number is the home run individual season and
career totals. As such, every time that a new “Home Run King”
appears, a big controversy almost immediately takes place as the hearts are
broken of the fans whose “sports hero” is pushed aside in the
record books. The big business media invariably fan the flames of this
controversy so as to sell their newspapers or gain TV and radio ratings. The
big business media love controversy, and if a little racism can be added to the
controversy so as to make it an even bigger “story,” so be it,
regardless of the truth of the matter!
When George Herman “Babe” Ruth came on the scene he smacked homer
after homer for the New York Yankees. The big business media claimed that it
was all the result of the introduction of the “lively ball.” The
so-called “dead-ball era” vs. the “lively-ball era” is
mostly myth as a result.
What occurred was a change in hitting style, introduced into baseball by
“The Babe,” combined with the introduction of the new, more
homer-friendly stadiums. In 1961, when another New York Yankee outfielder,
Roger Maris, threatened to break “Babe Ruth’s hallowed
record” of sixty home runs in a single season—a record set by Ruth
in 1927—Maris was attacked unmercifully in the media and by the New York
Yankee fans who resented any attempt to break the record of Ruth, also known as
“The Great Bambino.”
During that 1961 season the pressure on Maris was so great that all his hair
fell out! After he broke the record, the media demanded that the baseball
commissioner place an asterisk next to Maris’ record because he played in
more games than “The Babe.” The baseball commissioner willingly
complied and Maris’ record sat there with the asterisk attached as if to
say, “The real record still belongs to ‘The
Breaking down racist barriers
Even though Roger Maris was white, and there was absolutely no racism directed
at him, there was still a small tinge of racism involved. How so? Weren’t
the Yankees still an almost completely lily-white organization as well as one
of the last holdouts against baseball integration? It would have been
inconceivable, at that time, to even imagine Roger Maris and any of the other
white Yankee players speaking out against racism. Yes, that is so, but nothing
happens in isolation.
This was the beginning of the 1960s. Almost all of professional sports were
integrating and there was an almost desperate attitude by reactionary whites at
that time always yearning for the “Great White Hope.” Boxing was
becoming dominated by people of color. Basketball and football were integrating
with the greatest stars, like Bill Russell and Jim Brown, coming to the fore.
It was a period of transition and many racist whites viewed Babe Ruth’s
records as the last bastion of white supremacy in sports.
Roger Maris was playing at a time when Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto
Clemente were already established baseball stars. It was only three years later
during the historic 1964 World Series, when the Yankees were dominated by a
great Black pitcher, Bob Gibson, from the St. Louis Cardinals.
That World Series defeat forced the New York Yankees to integrate, in order to
be able to compete under the new conditions. Roger Maris, in my opinion, became
in a small way an unwitting victim of the pervasive white reactionary fear of
the new social conditions created by the civil rights movement.
As a youth, I hated the Yankees, but I really sympathized with Roger Maris as
he endured the endless attacks. It was a shameful moment in sports history and
the asterisk placed by the baseball commissioner was just the final shameful
act of a shameful year in baseball history.
When Henry Aaron was approaching Babe Ruth’s career record of 714 home
runs, he did so as a member of the Atlanta Braves baseball team. It was only a
few years earlier that professional sports teams had first come to the
apartheid South. The symbolism of a proud Black man breaking Babe Ruth’s
record in the uniform of a team based in Atlanta was inescapable. Henry Aaron
had to endure repeated death threats aimed at him and his family, as a result.
Aaron’s accomplishment became another defeat for racism both in sports
and in the apartheid South.
As for Barry Bonds’ great accomplishment, unfortunately, once again, the
baseball commissioner has played a negative role. Instead of cheering on Barry
Bonds, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had to be prompted to even attend the
game where Bonds tied Aaron’s record. When the home run actually
occurred, Selig had to be prompted to even stand up. He stood there with a
bemused look on his face and his hands stuffed in his pockets! Shame on
Hooray for Barry Bonds! You have stood up to the pressure as they tried to
bring you down, and yet you persevered. Isn’t that what a real hero is
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