As Barry Bonds was playing the Yankees this weekend, I was watching the game in between commercials during the Mets game on SNY. I am a Mets fan, but since Bonds was conveniently playing the other team in town, I took the opportunity to flip channels and get a glimpse of him. This is when I started grumbling (to myself since no one else was in the room) that he was bound to break the home run record set by the legendary Hank Aaron this year. I usually like to see records broken, but this thing called “steroids” sort of ruins it all for me.
I recalled the time Hank Aaron hit number 715 as if it were yesterday. Since I was not around for Babe Ruth's dingers, I felt privileged to have witnessed Hank’s home run and remember the frenzy of talking about it the next day with my friends at school. We felt like we were all part of history, and since we were Mets fans, the idea that he broke a record held by a Yankee didn’t bother us at all.
Still, there was a good deal going on back in those days that we kids didn’t know about. We didn’t know how difficult it had been earlier in Hank’s career, when he suffered indignities coming into baseball less than a decade after Jackie Robinson paved the way for black ballplayers. We didn’t know about the death threats he had received as he inched closer to the Babe’s home run mark. There must have been a good deal going on inside Number 44’s head as he stepped to the plate and hit the record-breaking homer off another guy wearing the same number on his uniform, but we didn’t know about any of this other stuff.
No, all we knew about was the glorious swing and the great strides taken by Hammerin' Hank as he rounded the base paths. We saw the stupid fans running after him, forever immortalizing their bravado and foolishness on video. Hank had broken the record and that was fine, but the record almost didn’t matter as much as the idea that we got to see a moment of baseball purity. Ball thrown cleanly; bat against ball; ball soaring over the left field fence into baseball history. It seemed all about the moment: surreal and eternal and it makes me shiver still just thinking about it.