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Milwaukee embraces Aaron a few decades too late

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story on Sunday quoting Henry Aaron as saying, “I still consider myself the home run king.” The occasion was a commencement exercise at Concordia University in Mequon, Wis., where Aaron had lived when he was a member of the Braves in the 1950s and 1960s before the team’s furtive scamper off to Atlanta after the 1965 season.

Aaron stand-up.jpg

Ever gracious, Henry was quoted saying all the obligatory nice things about the beleaguered Barry Bonds, and he was just as diplomatic in commenting on the $45 million the Brewers just doled out to Ryan Braun, calling the youngster “a tremendous ballplayer” while cheerfully noting that his first salary in the big leagues had been $5,000 a year.

It’s heartwarming that Aaron seems to get the royal treatment these days, but it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t always so. Going back to his time in Milwaukee, Aaron seemed underappreciated by both National League fans in general and even to a lesser extent Wisconsin fans in particular. It was pretty common in the early 1960s to see magazine and newspaper articles noting that Milwaukee seemed a bit more enchanted with Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn than they were with Aaron, a puzzling circumstance that could be attributed to explanations ranging from the benign to the more ominous.

As a teenager back then, I took the precipitous decline in attendance at Milwaukee County Stadium as a personal affront to Aaron. Obviously, the passing of 40-plus years has helped me understand the drop-off was a wee bit more complicated than that, but the result was the same: the Braves scurried off to Atlanta and I was left to sort out the thorny question of team allegiance.

The Journal Sentinel columnist, Michael Hunt, pointed out that Aaron could remember giving only one other commencement address, but that was apparently a good one: Harvard University. And he apparently has only one other honorary doctorate, from Emory in Atlanta. Once again, I was way behind the curve. I would have thought there had been dozens of addresses and a similar number of the ersatz diplomas.

And I think I know where much of that came from, too. After he retired in 1976, Henry had a tolerable deal with Magnavox and not too much else as the all-time home run king. Though he largely steered clear of controversy both on and off the field for much of his career, by the time he hung up his spikes he was regarded as an outspoken critic on a number of topics involving the treatment of black ballplayers, and I am convinced that he paid the price in terms of post-career opportunities.

I’m thinking President Obama will take care of all that early next year. How about Secretary of Defense? Aaron was a Gold Glover, after all.

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Jeff Fritsch sent me three baseball cards the other day, one of which is illustrated here. The cards were created recently as a tribute to his famous dad, Larry Fritsch, who died last December.
I have been buying cards from Larry Fritsch Cards for nearly 40 years, with orders going back to the 1960s, so it was a treat to see how Jeff had come upon such a perfect vehicle to honor his father. The three “In Memoriam” cards can be had by sending a SASE to Larry Fritsch Cards, 735 Old Wausau Rd., P.O. Box 863, Stevens Point, WI 54481, with donations accepted for the American Cancer Society or the Stevens Point Youth Baseball Association.


If anybody ever deserved his own baseball card(s), it was Larry Fritsch. Nuff said.

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