Hank tribute falls as flat as Braves bats

Remember the 20th anniversary of the ’91 season? Probably not, because the Braves barely made mention of it. Tonight’s ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of Number 715 was equally lacking.

Of course it was great to hear from Bad Henry, but it would’ve been cool if teammates like Dusty Baker and Ralph Garr had been invited to speak. Instead we got prepared blandishments from Terry McGuirk and the Used Car Salesman.

That was the extent of the ceremony, for those who missed it. No highlights of No. 44′s career in between innings — wouldn’t want to cut into Mark Owens’ time, or the 7th inning hoedown. There wasn’t even a video presentation accompanying the pre-game tribute. If you weren’t in your seats before it began you missed the only, fleeting replay of the biggest home run in baseball history.

But you did see a tool race, and a trivia challenge in which participants were quizzed on their knowledge of U.S. airports. Seriously.

Henry Louis Aaron deserved better. So do Braves fans who actually appreciate the team and its history. The team’s marketing/promotions/bullshit departments obviously doesn’t.

Hank Aaron Hugging His Mother

Night of the Hammer

Tonight’s all about Bad Henry. Not much left to say, but here are some essential facts about Number 44, excerpted from a terrific 2007 SI profile by Tom Verducci.

While he was born in a section of town referred to as “Down the Bay,” he spent most of his youth in Toulminville. Aaron grew up poor and his family couldn’t afford baseball equipment so he had to hit bottle caps with sticks.

Hank made do.

In 1953, at age 19, only one year removed from hitting cross-handed for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro leagues, he was one of five players thrust into the integration of the Class A South Atlantic League, in the heart of Dixie. Aaron could not eat in the same restaurants, sleep in the same hotels or drink from the same fountains as his white teammates. Fans heaped racially charged insults at the teenager. A white teammate, Joe Andrews, bat in hand, would escort him out of the ballpark after games. And lo, Aaron hit .362 and was named the league’s MVP.

Those kind of seasons would become routine.

Aaron was such a masterly hitter that he would have passed 3,000 hits even if he had never hit a home run. Pick any star who ever played the game and give him 180 additional homers, and Aaron still would have more total bases

So get there early tonight and show the great man the respect he deserves.

hank-aaron

Just a reminder that the greatest living ballplayer resides in Atlanta

I try to remember to repost this every year because it’s pretty much the coolest stat line in baseball history.

Hank Aaron would have passed 3,000 hits even if he had never hit a home run. Pick any star who ever played the game and give him 180 additional homers and Aaron still would have more total bases.

 

The Aarons and the Uptons

Last night marked the first time in 51 years a player hit a walk-off homer in the same game that his brother homered.

On July 12, 1962, the Braves entered the 9th inning trailing the Cards 6-3. With one out, Tommie Aaron, pinch-hitting for Claude Raymond, went deep to close the gap to 2 runs. The Braves proceeded to load the bases for Bad Henry, who won the game with a homer to left.

Siblings have homered in the same inning six times, but before Saturday no pair of brothers had ever homered to tie and then win a game.

Thanks to Pepefreeus for bringing the knowledge.

 

Hank on Prado

(via DOB)

“You hate to lose Prado. He was one of my (favorites). I mean, to me, I think you’ve got to go a long ways in order to beat him, to find somebody who can play all the positions as well as he plays them. To bring what he brings to the clubhouse, and the way he plays the game. To us, we needed a ballplayer and we went out and got one, and it cost us dearly. Because this kid can truly play ball. And he’s a good kid in the clubhouse. He’s going to be missed and I wish him the best of luck. I hope he goes there and hits .400.”

Amen.

I plan on attending one of the games June 28-30 when the D’backs come to town to show Martin how much this Braves fan appreciated him. Hopefully he gets the standing O he deserves.

Speed is to steroids as pot is to heroin

Ken Davidoff of the New York Post is an idiot, as evidenced in this exchange with John Schuerholz.

KD : I have one question, one challenging question for you. You know how much I respect you, but one thing I’ve read that irks me a little. I think you’ve had some ceremonies where the team introduces Hank Aaron as “The real home run king” or “The true home run king.” Am I right on that?

JS : Yeah.

KD : Are you OK with that? Is that your domain?

JS : Listen. If you were in Atlanta and you worked for our organization, you would feel the same way. He’s without dispute, people in baseball would look at him as the guy they say is the quote-unquote real home run champion. There’s no questions about how he hit his home runs.

KD : But he admitted to using amphetamines . He used illegal PEDs, just like Bonds did.

JS : I’m not going to make a big deal out of this. He is for us the real home run champion. It’s our view. He’s our home run king. It’s our opinion. And we honor him for that. And I’m not going to stop saying it about him.

Good for JS, though I wish he had said, “Listen, moron. No one ever hit the ball further by taking greenies. Hank didn’t have the best seasons of his career after his 35th birthday, when Bonds, who hit a HR every 16.1 AB’s, began hitting them every 8.5 AB’s (from ’99-’04). Nor did he undergo an unprecedented growth spurt more than 20 years after puberty.

From “Game of Shadows”:

For his part, [equipment manager Mike] Murphy could document Bonds’ physical changes via the changes in his uniform size. Since joining the Giants, Bonds had gone from a size 42 to a size 52 jersey; from size 10 ½ to size 13 cleats; and from a size 7 1/8 to size 7 ¼ cap, even though he had taken to shaving his head. The changes in his foot and head size were of special interest: medical experts said overuse of Human Growth Hormone could cause an adult’s extremities to begin growing.

Regrettably, such false equivalences are repeated as gospel by many in the sabermetrics crowd, baseball’s version of the tea party.

Witness these insipid comments on Hardball Talk, which addressed the Davidoff Q&A:

Holy smokes, [JS} completely handwaves away the fact that Aaron did essentially what Bonds did. That’s some amazing cognitive dissonance. He’d make a great politician.

Why is Greg Maddux a first ballot hall of famer? Is he 100% clean? Really? How do you know that? If Maddux gets in, then Clemens and Bonds have to get in since they failed the same # of drug tests as Maddux…zero.

I demand scientific proof from you that steroids makes you hit a ball farther. That is my challenge to you. Do you accept? Yes or No.

It’s difficult arguing facts with people who chose to ignore them.

Now, as for the effects of speed, have you ever seen a big meth addict? Speed, or greenies, don’t build body mass. Those making the comparison frame the argument as one of morality, or legality. That’s irrelevant. I’m opposed to Bonds’ induction into the Hall because he used artificial means to create an unfair advantage, not because he broke the rules.

Conflating greenies with steroids is willful ignorance, and to what end? To ensure the enshrinement of known cheaters?

The Hammer never missed a nail

There was never a more consistent performer than Henry Aaron. He was the Bizarro Uggla.

Hank hit .306 vs. left-handed starters, .305 vs right-handed starters, .303 at home and .306 on the road — with slugging percentages above .500 in each situation.

For his career he never hit lower than .297 in a month. His first half OPS was .932, .007 better than his post-All-Star Break OPS.

His numbers fluctuated only slightly in clutch moments — for the better. Aaron hit .304, with a .968 OPS, with 2 outs and RISP. His OPS was .982 in “late and close” situations.

The Hammer dominated, no matter how you parse the stats. Hard throwers fared as badly as finesse pitchers. First inning, ninth inning, no matter.

Here’s my favorite stat: Aaron hit 38 or more homers 11 times but didn’t strike out 100 times once.

All this is old news, but it’s good to remind yourself that the best player in the modern era wore a Braves uniform.

PhilNiekro_finished

Bravos at 40

Happy birthday to Chipper, one of the few players to reach his 40th while playing for the Braves.

We’ll be happy if he matches the Hammer’s output at 40: .268-20-69 in 112 games, with a .341 OBP and .491 slugging percentage. The year before Aaron homered 40 times with a 1.045 OPS.

Julio Franco was 42 when signed out of the Mexican League in 2001. He surprised everyone hitting .300 with a .376 OBP in 101 AB’s. He spent 6 years with the Bravos and nearly matched his career BA and OBP.

In 1969, Braves GM Paul Richards traded 20-year-old Mickey Rivers (who hit .295 and stole 267 bases in 15 big league seasons) for 46-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm, who helped the Braves win their first division title in Atlanta but arrived too late to be eligible for the postseason roster. They could’ve used him — in Game 1 against the Mets the Bravos led 5-4 going into the 8th but Luman Harris, with few options in the ‘pen, kept Phil Niekro in for one inning too many and New York would go on to sweep the series.

Speaking of Knucksie, no Brave handled 40 more smoothly. He won 21, a heckuva feat on that team, and completed 23 games in 342 innings, nearly twice as many as Eddie (call me Buddy Jay) Solomon, second on the Braves in IP.

There’s not much to say about Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles, who celebrated their 42nd birthday as Braves, except I’d pay big for a “Bomb Squad” poster.

Did I forget anyone?

(Yes I did — a 40-year-old John Smoltz struck out 197 in 205 IP in ’07, winning 14 with a WHIP below 1.2.)

We’re waiting, Bud

Two years ago Bud told USA Today he was considering reinstating Hank as baseball’s home run king in the record book.

Do it, Bud, and I’ll never call you the Used Car Salesman again.

Speaking of Bad Henry, he had a .362 BA in 17 postseason games, with 6 homers, 16 RBI and a 1.116 OPS. Just another reminder that he is the game’s Greatest Living Hitter.

Courting Hank

Great piece by Howard Bryant on the role of professional sports in a changing Atlanta:

When the Braves began preparations to move south, cultivating Henry Aaron was a key. C. Miles Smith, president of the local NAACP, met with Henry, asking him to soften his rhetoric about not wanting to return to the South. Whitney Young, president of the National Urban League, wrote personal letters to Henry, asking him to give the South a second chance and saying that his endorsement of Atlanta would help change attitudes.

Then Aaron met King, who told him success in Atlanta would be as important as any protest.

“Martin was a big baseball fan. We would have our meetings, dealing with strategies for the movement, and during our breaks we would all go out and play. We played softball. Martin used to play second or third base, and he loved to hit,” Young recalled.

In one of their earliest meetings, Aaron told King that he was embarrassed that he wasn’t more publicly visible in the front lines of the movement, Young said. “We told him not to worry. When you talked to Henry Aaron, you knew how he felt about civil rights. We told him just to keep hitting that ball. That was his job.”

Hank: The Early Years

Anticipation of Henry‘s arrival in the spring of 1954 was heightened by the fact that no one, apart from the Milwaukee scouts, minor-league personnel, and occasionally the owner, Lou Perini, or the general manager, John Quinn, had actually ever seen him play. He was famous, mostly, in the Braves anticipation of him, but his fame stemmed from the exotic, sumptuous ingredients that were critical to the baseball publicity machine: dewdrop reports from the bird-dog scouts, who, in turn, whetted the appetite of fans and management alike. “Any amount you ask for that kid Henry Aaron in right field wouldn’t be too much,” exuded Red Sox scout Ted McGrew. Word of mouth traveling from exuberant minor-league coaches and managers (HANK AARON IS FABULOUS FELLOW, SAYS FORMER PILOT BEN GERAGHTY read a March 1954 Milwaukee Journal headline) and sports writers (“If Aaron is 75 percent as good as the glowing reports about him, he will be worth keeping around for pinch hitting, if nothing else,” R. G. Lynch wrote in the Journal a full month before spring camp opened) only increased the anticipation. But so much of it was more talk about the latest next big thing, just word of mouth, just so many words on paper.

Live from The Ted

Pearl will be there in spirit

I just got back from Turner Field, interviewing early arrivals for the local organ.

One piece of advice: wear shorts. It feels like mid-June out there. And don’t worry about missing the National Anthem unless you’re a Travis Tritt fan.

Finally, it’s your duty as Braves fans to drown out Cubs fans whenever they start cheering for their pathetic little bears. Let’s show some pride, Atlanta.

The Hammer tossing out first pitch

Greatest Brave of Them All will be with us today

Good news: according to the local organ’s man, Henry Louis Aaron will throw the ceremonial first pitch today.

So kudos to the Bravos brass for that. That nugget was part of one of the beat scribe’s better efforts, an ode to the grand old game.

Predictions for today: of course, the home team wins, 6-4. J-Hey singles and walks in five plate appearances. Yesco homers. Lowe goes six, allows 3 runs. Wagner saves it.

Hank gets tough (and what about that Maddux retirement ceremony)

“You put these guys in, put an asterisk beside their names,” Aaron told a handful of baseball writers as Hall of Famers gathered for Sunday’s induction. “To be safe, that’s the only way I see you can do it. I played the game long enough to know it is impossible for players, I don’t care who it is, to hit 70-plus home runs. It just does not happen.”

I doubt asterisk inductions will ever happen, but it’s good to hear the Hammer finally speak out on the issue.

Speaking of the all-time home run leader, did anyone else find it strange that he appeared at the unveiling of the new Coke bottle but not at Mad Dog’s number retirement ceremony one night later?

There’s something unseemly about Hank showing up to hawk a product but not to salute a fellow Braves legend.

I’m not suggesting any kind of beef with Maddux, and I’m sure a scheduling conflict was at play. Still, I was disappointed.

–CB