by Kevin Burton
To me, Hank Aaron has been the Major League Baseball homerun king since 1974. He is still the man.
I have never acknowledged steroid cheat Barry Bonds as anything but an all-around jerk with baseball skills.
Did you know Aaron played one season in the Negro Leagues? Major League baseball announced in December it would include Negro League statistics as official major league stats.
I’ve mostly heard positive things about this. I’m not sure how much good this does years after the fact. Most of the men who starred in the separate and unequal leagues are long since dead and can not enjoy their belated recognition.
The stats being included by MLB are from 1920 to 1948. The stats I am most interested in including are from 1952. That year, Aaron played shortstop for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns at age 18, hitting 22 home runs.
Adding those 22 home runs to the all-time totals would lift Aaron from 755 to 777 or 15 more than the surly cheater Bonds.
Part of me wants to make this into a big crusade, but I’ve stopped putting credence into MLB states long ago. The steroid era did that for me.
Steroids are still in play by the way, just not to the extent they were after the 1994 strike.
But one way or another, Aaron is the man, whether you count those 22 Indianapolis home runs or not.
I remember being in fifth grade and my teacher letting us put the Braves-Reds opening day game on the radio. That was because Aaron was one short of tying Babe Ruth’s record of 714 dingers.
But we tuned in too late. Aaron had already tied the Babe with a three-run homer off Jack Billingham.
A few nights later The Braves hosted Los Angeles and our house parent at the school for the blind let us hear that game on radio. We got to listen as Aaron connected off Dodger left hander Al Downing for 715.
The blind school had segregated all three of us black kids into one room at the cottage. My classmate Tom Lee and I exploded in celebration when we heard Aaron hit that home run.
Our house parent said, “all right, if you can’t settle down we’ll just turn the ball game off…”
We said nothing then, but found each other the next morning and said to each other, well yeah you can turn it off now!
This was an all-time record, but once Aaron touched home plate, it turned back into Braves-Dodgers April baseball. It was the kind of game where Larvell Blanks might play. Who needed to hear that?
Aaron is set to turn 87 on Feb 5.
Among the Negro League stats that will be included by MLB are those for Clarence Charles “Pint” Isreal, or as we called him Uncle Pint. He was my uncle by marriage.
Wikipedia has his name spelled correctly as “Isreal.” The Negro League encyclopedia that I have spells it wrong as “Israel,” like the country. Perhaps subsequent editions made the correction.
Uncle Pint played for the Newark Eagles and Homestead Grays between 1940 and 1947. He was far from a star, a right-handed batter, an infielder with speed but no power. He was a good fielder but a mediocre hitter.
His biggest moment was getting a pinch-hit single for the Eagles off Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs to help win the 1946 Negro League World Series.
I always liked Uncle Pint but nobody told me he was a ballplayer until after he died in 1987. I’m sorry I never got the chance to ask him questions about “the show,” but he was quiet, not inclined to brag a lot.
I have an autographed picture of him I found online. His right arm blocks the team name on the front of his jersey so I’m not sure if he was with the Eagles or the Grays then.
He travelled the country playing the game he loved just as I did in beep baseball. I’d like to think he’d be with me in honoring Hank Aaron as the homerun king.