I read in the newspaper the other day that Henry Aaron was adamant in holding to his announced decision not to be in attendance when Barry Bonds sets the new all-time home run record. The stated reason is that after 23 years of traveling, he simply doesn’t want to go much of anywhere if he can help it.
I suspect that’s Henry being the diplomat, and it comes on the heels of comments attributed to Aaron suggesting that the steroid cloud that hovers over the whole enterprise probably played into the decision in some fashion.
I am fascinated with the prospect of the most important record in sport being broken amid so much ambivalence from virtually every corner: fans, media, MLB, and anyone else with a dog in this fight. Whoops, poor phrasing, especially in a article that somehow involves the city of Atlanta.
Anyway, given the way that hurlers pitch so carefully to Bonds, you never know how long it might take to get home run No. 756 once he’s tied the record. That’s reason enough to credit Aaron’s avowed reason for not budging from home. For the commissioner of baseball, it’s arguably a tougher spot to be in, because I think he’s got to at least take a shot at being on hand, though it’s hard to imagine him trudging after Bonds like a groupie, assuming that it took several games for the historic moment to come about.
And every time the topic comes up, it brings up memories for me from 1969 when I was in the Navy in the Philippines and bunking next to a guy named T.J. Craig, who had grown up in Mobile, Ala. Craig was the saltiest sailor I had ever seen, a tall, lanky, chain-smoking, unflapple black man who fit the definition of cool as completely as anyone I had ever known. About all we had in common was the stuff about tall, lanky and chainsmoking. He was in his 30’s and a Navy lifer; I was only 18 years old and a veteran of about six months in the service. He had a house in Olongapo City outside the naval base, and had, according to local legend, once fallen asleep while supposedly standing at attention at a captain’s mast (disciplinary hearing) where the principle charge was falling asleep while on duty. To an impressionable 18-year-old kid, that seemed like the essence of “cool.”
Though Aaron was about 200 homers shy of Ruth’s record at the time, Craig and I were convinced that the record was going to fall, and we would sit around the barracks and make plans to meet in Atlanta (we somehow assumed the record would fall at home) to be on hand for the moment that most sportswriters weren’t even conceding was going to happen.
I didn’t make it to Atlanta in April of 1974; I was in college and working full time at a swanky restaurant in Upstate New York. I have no clue whether Craig ever made it to that historic ballgame, but I certainly thought of him as I watched it on television.
At least we had good intentions.
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A reader e-mailed me the other day about Dale Murphy and his HOF chances (bleak), and somehow or other it triggered the same question about Don Mattingly. I know that playing the numbers game with Hall-of-Fame voting is hardly a foolproof exercise, but it’s hard not to undertake it when the comparisons are so vivid.
So I ask the question: What’s the difference between Kirby Puckett and Don Mattingly?
I don’t have any problem with Puckett’s election in 2001, but I am more than a little dismayed that Mattingly can be so completely shunned despite having numbers that are essentially indistinguishable from Kirby’s.
As I noted, there are potential problems with this kind of comparison, but they don’t figure prominently with these two. Same number of games, 11 points in batting average (Puckett .318, Mattingly .307), Donnie Baseball has more doubles, home runs, RBIs and walks, along with striking out about half as often as Puckett.
That, my friend, is a wash statistically. Much as it did for Murphy, a career that tailed off at the end probably hurts Mattingly, but even that hardly explains that Puckett could have been a first-ballot HOF’er and Mattingly had a high of 29 percent that year (of the needed 75 percent) and has tailed off virtually every year since, down to less than 10 percent this year.
It certainly is tough to understand, and I’d welcome the readers’ input on why the gap between the two is so dramatic. For a guy who was once considered the biggest star in the game, playing in the Big Apple and enjoying gaudy numbers, etc., it’s almost incomprehensible that his HOF chances could be so slim.
Whatever happened to that East Coast and New York bias that was always supposed to accrue to former Yankees when the HOF votes were counted?