Hank Aaron in . . . The Nagging Question

June 30, 2007

“Barry Bonds said everyone could start the countdown to Henry Aaron when he hit his 750th home run. Ladies and gentleman, start your counting.” – Henry Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle, 6.30.07

I’m off to the land of honkbal later today, so I won’t be posting for a while, but I wanted to say one last thing before I go:

Thank you, Hank Aaron. By the time I get back to the daily boxscores you may no longer hold the record for most career home runs, but to me you always were and always will be the Home Run King. I bought my first baseball cards in 1974, when I was six and you were on the brink of breaking a record that was thought unbreakable. For whatever reason, I seemed to need gods, and I found them in cardboard rectangles, and the cardboard rectangles that held your image always shined the brightest. My family was in a new house that year, in a new town, a new state. My father had not come along. We house-sat for a year, then moved into another house bought for cheap in a foreclosure auction. The room I would share with my brother had been damaged by the evicted former owners, as had all the rooms in the house, the walls riddled with beebee holes and obscene graffiti. I have written about that house a lot, often focusing on the early days, on the feeling that something in the universe was telling me I wasn’t welcome. After those early days I went where I was welcome, into the cardboard rectangles, into the baseball encyclopedia, into library books about baseball, into the game itself, playing for my little league team whenever the long Vermont winter finally relented, playing with my brother whenever he’d agree to, playing by myself with a glove and a tennis ball and the various jagged angles of the exterior of our house. And everywhere I went into that welcoming world, you were there, Hank Aaron, shining down from the pinnacle, majestic and benevolent, the King of the Cardboard Gods.

Two days ago my brother’s wife gave birth to their second child, Theo. Nobody could ever love a kid more than my brother loves his daughter, but Ian admits to being excited about the gender of the newest arrival.

“It’s not about, ‘Oh, now I can teach him sports . . .’,” he said, his tired voice trailing off.

“No, I get it. You were a boy.”


When my brother was a boy he idolized Hank Aaron even more than I did. On the wall above his bed, a wall that had in our rawest days in the house served as a canvass for a beebee riddled invitation to lewd sex acts, he had a large poster of the moment Hank Aaron became the all-time home run champion. It was a panoramic shot of the moment, showing Al Downing on the mound and Hank Aaron still in the batter’s box, his classic, compact swing in its follow-through, his head craned up to follow the flight of the ball, which was high above the outfield, a tiny white blur haloed by the makers of the poster for emphasis. When my brother was a boy he was not always happy, but he dreamed every night below this holy tableau.

Anyway, that’s my answer to today’s Nagging Question. So let me throw it to you:

If given the chance, what would you say to Henry Louis Aaron?


  1. 1.  Not sure if Hank can help with this, but …

    “Can I please have another one of those cool baseball cards I got when I was a kid? The one that shows you as the Home Run King and shows you hitting #755? My brother tricked me into trading it to him when I was a kid, and I’ve regretted it ever since. I was so disappointed I later gave away all the rest of my cards when I thought I had outgrown them, to a boy who had just started collecting. Even my complete 1981 Dodgers team. It would mean a lot to me if I could have that card back again.”

  2. 2.  “You have travelled the country playing professional baseball for over 25 years. I believe this experience has given you wisdom that I hope you will share with me.

    What was the best meal you’ve ever had, is the place still open, and if it is still open, can you help me get a reservation?”

  3. 3.  “How should I address you: Henry, Hank, or Mr. Aaron?”

  4. 4.  “Remember the time I met you at Disneyland… or was it Magic Mountain? It was about thirty years ago and we shook hands…”

    Now, what I would really say: Not withstanding that there were those whose talents were greater, there is no one I would rather have on my team than #44.

  5. 5.  1 Five things about that card of which you speak. 1) I remember that card. 2) I remember owning that card. 3) I remember loving that card. 4) I no longer own that card. 5) I don’t know what happened to that card, but Suspect Number One is a certain former owner of the above-described Hank Aaron poster.

    3 I guess if I was actually face to face with Hank Aaron I wouldn’t be able to say much, probably not even managing Bob’s respectful address. It’s sort of an unapproachable Nagging Question, in a way, and I probably should have phrased it differently. Maybe “What would say about Hank Aaron?” or “What would you write to Hank Aaron if you were imagining signing your name to a gigantic thank you card?” Whatever, take it however you want. I leave the keys to the Cardboard Store in your hands, friends, to do with it what you will. As for me, it’s finally time to head off to the airport!

  6. 6.  Have a good trip, Josh. I know I will miss reading your latest stories when you are gone.

  7. 7.  “If given the chance, what would you say to Henry Louis Aaron?”

    … I wish you played for the Dodgers.

  8. 8.  7 What he said.
    And, ‘Would you sign this ball for my Dad?’

  9. 9.  I recall Aaron tried out for the Dodgers as a teenager, before he played for Mobile, but history went another way. Sigh.

    Thanks, Hank, for doing it right. Safe trip, Josh.

  10. 10.  I have no clue what I’d say to Aaron, but this piece reminded me:

    I started following baseball in ’75. Aaron’s always been the career leader in home runs as far as I’m concerned. I think that he was the oldest player that I remember as an active player (Orlando Pena didn’t face the Red Sox that year). Now, as I slouch towards forty, another part of my childhood will be gone.

  11. 11.  Hank Aaron will remain the HR King in the minds of most baseball fans. What a class act he was in every way. Everything a ballplayer should be. Now, just imagine this…..Bobby Bonds was talented, and he had a son that took excessive roids….now what if Hank had a son, and he took roids, Jesus, the kid would have over 1,000 dingers by now. But, Hank was too classy to permit such a thing.

    I would ask Hank, “Hammer, what are your true feelings and thoughts about Barry Bonds, his accomplishments, and the meaning this era will have on the history of baseball? Is baseball history now tarnished? If so, How badly?”

  12. 12.  Josh, have a safe trip! Jot down all your writing ideas. I just got back from a trip and came back with fresh writing ideas. My daily routine will be darker without your great posts…..hurry back!

  13. 13.  Wow. “Hank Aaron Specials” were the most coveted cards that year. I think I only ever got one of them, which had his most “recent” card appearances. I do have the one announcing he was the all-time HR leader, with the crown on it. How awesome is that patch on the ’57 uni?

    If I met Hank Aaron I’d act like a complete dork and wouldn’t say a thing, probably. But I’d mean to say, “Thanks for being someone I will always admire.”

  14. 14.  I remember my father taking my brother and I to a Mets-Braves game at Shea (I think it was 1973). My father and brother went to the concession stand at one point and missed Aaron hitting one into the bullpen off Gary Gentry. I can at least say that I saw Hank Aaron hit a HR in person.

  15. 15.  “Is there anything I can do for you?”

  16. 16.  “Why did you pose for your 1957 baseball card batting left-handed?” (Really, 15 is it.)

    I remember watching the game when Aaron hit his 715th home run off “Gentleman” Al Downing. The controversies then revolved around 162 vs. 154 games season and Ruth hitting his homers in less plate appearances. (The disturbing, mostly racist, hate mail Aaron received was generally kept out of public knowledge.) If only the current home run chase had such mundane issues to debate. If only there were still ballplayers nicknamed “Gentleman”. If only our stars carried themselves as well as Henry Aaron.

  17. 17.  The only Hank Aaron card I have is one cut out from a Hostess box. I didn’t really start collecting until 1978(the 1977 season cards) and this Hostess card was one of the very few my older brothers just sort of had that I claimed since they weren’t collecting.

    I can’t really think of a question that I would like to ask him. I think I would rather just let him know in my mind his place in baseball history goes far beyond being on top of the alltime home run list. Just as Babe Ruth’s accomplishments didn’t fade from memory after Hank passed him, Hank’s accomplishments will not fade after Barry moves to the top of the list.

  18. 18.  16 For a moment, I thought that it might be a negative switch (printed backwards), but I’m finding no evidence of that, yet.

    En route, I noticed that the great online exhibit, “Dressed to the Nines”, is no longer up on the Hall of Fame website. Not sure if that’s a temporary thing or not.

  19. 19.  I guess I might ask him what he’d say to Al Downing. I don’t know, what do you say to Hank Aaron?

    I’ll tell you this, my track record on meeting heroes is not good. I met Ron Cey, and blubbered to him like a 10 year old about a home run I saw him hit. I met Tommy Lasorda twice, and lets just say that Tommy is not thinking back about that suave, erudite, engaging young fella he met.

  20. 20.  I feel you, Jacob L.

    I met Tommy Lasorda on my 15th birthday. I asked (voice crackling), “Mr. Lasorda, would you sign my hat?”

    He suggested I say “please.” I still feel small when I think back on that moment.

    I have never considered what I would say to Hank Aaron. I’d probably just be glad to shake his hand. I might “guffaw.”

  21. 21.  Well, this topic is pretty much played out. Let’s move on to Tommie Aaron, next in line from an alphabetical standpoint. As a kid, I used to get him confused with Tommy Aaron the golfer. This was in the days before ESPN so I had no idea what alot of athletes looked like unless they had a wirephoto in the local fishrap.

    If it’s a while before Josh comes back, I’ll start talking about Don Aase. Did you know that he was born the same day that SEATO was established? More interestingly, he debuted the same day as Jack Morris and Jim Clancy.

  22. 22.  I always remember that poor Tommie Aaron only hit 13 homers. He and Hank both homered in the same inning of a game in 1962.

    What would you say to Josh Wilker if he were here? Dear Josh, I never had a Don Aase card. I hope you got one. How did that guy make the 1986 all-star team?

  23. 23.  At one time my brother worked for the Braves in the IT dept and had an office right down the hall from Mr. Aaron’s. The offices were in left field overlooking the field where you could watch the game from a large window.

    It was good to find out that Hank Aaron while a little standoffish was a nice man as opposed to the GM who thought quite a bit of himself and was a bit of a jerk.

  24. 24.  peoples aka j. drimmer of vaughn’s bar and grill here…that’s a hard question, isn’t it? I don’t think I’d have the nerve to just ask hank, “what do you think of barry bonds?” although that to me is the truly nagging question, but that’s what I’d like to ask.

    out of respect for the man, I’m sure if I had the actual chance I’d become a stuttering mess and ask something like, “how did you get so awesome?”

  25. 25.  Aase was a top pitching prospect at one point, but injuries curtailed his effectiveness.

  26. 26.  20 (In case anyone’s still reading here . . .)

    If I’m not mistaken, Lasorda tells a story about a player that stiffed him for an autograph when he was a kid. He later pitched to said player in the minors when he (Tommy) was working his way up and the other guy was working his way down. Drilled him in the back.

  27. 27.  Today’s Nagging Question:

    When the chrikey is the Josh Man returning? My daily reading now, consisting of the all-star game and Bonds told by cookie-cutting scribes that over use puns, and are nothing more than yes-men stroking the establishment, is making my eyes bleed and my brain burn.

  28. 28.  From an alphabetical standpoint, Jo Abbey and Jim Zyntell are the Alpha and Omega of the NFL. For the NBA, it is the duo of Alaa Abdelnaby and Matt Zunic. Baseball had the better deal with Hammerin’ Hank and Dutch Zwilling.

  29. 29.  So, did Josh run into Win Remmerswall over there?

  30. 30.  Thanks for all the great comments on this one, everybody. It made for some good post-vacation reading.

    18: I think it IS a reversed image. Doesn’t the figure under his lead arm look like a reversed 4?

    29: Alas, I was unable to find a Win, as usual.

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