At the same time, I also feel bad for him. His generation has seen the once proud role of "power hitter" turn into something to be chemically brewed and ultimately distrusted. For my son, the Major League Home Run Kings are mutated narcissistic brutes named Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. I feel sorry for them because these kids never had the pleasure of witnessing Hank Aaron honorably climb to the top of 'round-trip' mountain. They never had the humble example of Hank Aaron confidently and quietly carrying the crown as 'King of the Game'.
I had the good fortune of being an 8 year old baseball nut when Hank passed Babe Ruth on April 8th, 1974. I had the advantage of growing up in an era where power-hitters were heroes that could be trusted and liked.
In 2007, as Bonds approached Hank's mark of 755, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci eloquently wrote:
They called him Hammerin' Hank, an encomium to his bluntly effective hitting but one that works just as well as a tribute to his overall ethos. Hammering is the life's work of commoners, not kings. It is generally not a pursuit to which heroic movies, elegiac poems or, apparently, magazine covers are dedicated. (Aaron appeared on three Sports Illustrated covers in his 23-year career.) In hammering as in Aaron, however, there is an understated nobility that only the passage of time adequately reveals.God Bless Hank Aaron. Still the Home Run King.
For instance, not one of Aaron's single-season home run totals is among the 68 highest of all time, yet he pounded more in his career than any other player in history--and without suspicion of chemical enhancement. None of his single-season RBI totals rank among the top 100 of all time, but he's the career leader in that category as well. His best season for extra-base hits cannot be found in the top 40 alltime, but he leads that career list too. What he did was build the Egyptian pyramids of a baseball career, the finished product a monument as much to man's persistence as to his reach.
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. He won three Gold Gloves, received MVP votes for 19 straight years and stole bases at a 76% success rate. He did as much for the racial integration of the sport as any man who followed Jackie Robinson. Yet Aaron, in the pantheon of baseball gods and in the fabric of American culture, is an underrated and underappreciated presence. It must have been the monotony of all that hammering.