The Meaning Of Substance

Hank Aaron's Greatness, by the Numbers - The Ringer

From the first time I cradled a Louisville Slugger, I was hooked. There was something immensely captivating about gripping the barrel of that perfectly crafted stick. It was a portal whose ability to transform a gangly eleven year old into one of his heroes was the reason I fell in love with the national pastime across one baseball summer.

Batting stances, they were my thing. I loved collecting them, like so many trading cards. There were scores of funky batting stances going on in the MLB, and each one facilitated a wholly different experience when you tried it on for size . From Doug DeCinces’ back to the pitcher pose to Brian Downing doing just the opposite. There was Don Baylor’s “Royal Guard” and Mickey Rivers hunched over pose which was always followed with a baton flip of his bat on a swing and miss. And of course, there was the imitable Rod Carew. The legendary batsman didn’t swing a bat so much as wave a magic wand when he stepped into the box. His was the maestro serve to the pitcher’s volley and his talent for readjusting the spin of a pitcher’s meanest choice was nothing short of mystical.

Hank Aaron had retired by the time I started following the game in the spring of 1978. All I had to go on when referencing his mighty swing were black and white photos of his time with the Milwaukee Braves and of course, his record breaking smack against Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers; the night when Vin Scully tucked the great man’s opus into the record books for posterity. The night when Babe Ruth doffed his cap and ceded his crown to a black man from the deep south.

Of course, it was never that easy for Aaron. I didn’t know of the struggles he endured as he made his way through the Negro Leagues and into the minor league system of professional baseball. I had no idea as to the scathing hatred he faced on a daily basis, both in the stands and in his own dugout. And I hadn’t yet learned about the nightmarish proposition he faced in the time before and after breaking the all time MLB home-run record: The letters threatening his life and the lives of his family if he dared break Ruth’s record.

All I knew was that Hank Aaron’s swing was a forever kind of deal, with the way he turned a baseball bat into a hammer sent down from the baseball Gods. His swing was crisp and lean, no fat. It was workmanlike in nature until the barrel hit the gas pedal and formed a chemical compound with that fiery pill, blasting it into the deep blue sky. It could be said that Hank Aaron recruited more astronauts than NASA, because every single fan who watched his orbit was transported to the stars.

Hank Aaron and that mighty swing passed in to the ether last week. It was a swing borne of a great American dream, hard earned and complicated. A swing whose brilliance served as a master’s course for baseball fans everywhere. And it was the swing that produced 755 career home runs, which was the MLB record when he retired from the game.

In my eyes, it still is.

 

66 thoughts on “The Meaning Of Substance

  1. He was my hero. I saw him in the Cooperstown parade the year Vladimir Guerrero (my favourite) was inducted. When he passed by, the crowd set up a cheer the likes of which I’ve not heard since. It was unreal. The respect for him and his accomplishments – and his humanity – was incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trent,

      Apologies as this comment was in my spam folder.

      That must have been so cool to be there. Never been to Cooperstown. And Vlad the Impaler had a swing that meant business, tell you what.

      As for Aaron, I am always going to consider him the true HR king. He did it in an age where pitching mostly dominated the game. The mound wasn’t lowered until the late ’60s, and between that and the dimensions of some of those old yards, it’s remarkable what he was able to achieve. Not to mention, he was a great hitter too and his consistency, unreal.

      Thank you for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. B,

    What a beautiful write and ode to Hank Aaron. Your love of baseball shines through with each perfectly placed word.

    To be so loathed and reviled for being so good and for having the nerve to beat Babe Ruth’s record… and holding that record for 33 years… Amazing. How he Hank managed to keep on keeping on, doing his job with grace and dignity.

    Brilliantly done,

    Q

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My favorite stance was Rickey Henderson’s. My least favorite was Aaron Rowand (played with the Phillies and was on the Giants during the first WS run in 2010). Rowand did this thing while walking from the on deck circle to the plate where it looked like he was trying to squeeze sawdust out of the bat handle. And then he stood at the plate bent backwards at the waist and doing something else with the bat that just seemed so awkward and weird. I just couldn’t stand watching him hit.

    As for Aaron … you know what I think. One of baseball’s last gentlemen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rickey had a great stance. And for a time there, he was one of the most dangerous hitters going. For me it was Roy Smalley of the Twins. When he was signed by the Yankees . . . let’s just say I was not happy about it. Dude was a pro, but that stance. No.

      He was.

      Liked by 1 person

          • Don’t knock Gorman. For a few years in the 1970s, Sacramento had the Brewers AAA team – the Sacramento Solons. They played at Hughes Stadium, the track and field/football field at a local community college. Now, think about what a track and field stadium might look like and you’ll identify the problem. The left field fence was only 233 feet away. So they strung up a big net to make HRs harder. But still. For players like Gorman Thomas, hitting HRs there was something he could have done with one hand while hopping on one foot.

            Side note — in looking into the dimensions at Hughes, I looked to compare it to Fenway, left field is approximately 305-310 feet from home plate. Well, guess what the distance down the right field line is where the Giants play and Bonds hit all of those HRs? 309 feet and there ain’t no green monster there.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t know, maybe it’s PTSD from all those shellackings his club would give the Yankees from the late ’70s through the early ’80s. Outside of Dave LaRoche striking him out with an eephus pitch, there were precious few bright spots. Okay, they also beat Milwaukee in a bastardized best of three series in the strike season but I don’t count that.

            Ha! Imagine that.

            Liked by 1 person

          • In 1974, Thomas played 138 games for the Solons and hit 51 HRs.

            Love this little trip down memory lane. I have vague memories of going to a few Solons games. Probably with my dad and my brother. Sitting on the old wooden benches and watching HR after HR go over that net.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, I remember that. It was unheard of in that era. And what I mostly remember about that is that Foster came up with the Giants and he was one of many players they traded away in the 70s and 80s who achieved great things once they left San Francisco.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Foster’s death knell was signing with the Mets as a FA. That was a big deal signing for the Mets at the time, because they were a mess. I think it was four or five million for the entire contract. How quaint.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Did you ever see Bobby Tolan play? He would stand there with his hands help up as high as they could go and then have the bat pointing straight to the heavens. As though he was trying to be the lightning rod that would take the lightning bolt and save the rest.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. the ella song for so well with the baseball
    swing!
    and man – listening to
    her song reminded me
    of raw talent –
    today we have studios and filters and helpers – but that was some raw talent 🎶🎵🎶🎶

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This was such a beautiful and poetic tribute for such an amazingly talented player and strong human being. To face such hate and still find the strength to carry on without acting on that hate back showed tremendous character and courage. Unbreakable is what Biden called him, and I thought … yes. Still standing. That song you chose … dude. That’s a good one. I hadn’t watched him play either but mannnn I bet it was sweeeeet. Swinging to the skies. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Cali,

      The self-control these guys had. Aaron and Paige, Robinson, Mays, Doby, Banks and Irvin. All these guys and all of those men who didn’t just have the challenge of making it to the majors. They were challenged every single day simply because of the color of their skin.

      Aaron came to work every day and did his job, like few others in the game could. And he became the HR king. In my book THE home run king still.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Henry Louis Aaron was the ‘hammering homerun’ king equivalent of Jackie Robinson. I suspect few of us white folk playing baseball/softball had any idea of what he endured as he broke the Babe’s record for which I am ashamed.

    As a long time co-ed softball player my best stance imitated Andrés Galarraga (the “Cat”). It confused the hell outa opposing teams (girls don’t stand that way!) and when that sweet sound of contact was made, I was internally doing the happy dance especially when they gave me respect and moved the outfield back on my next time up to bat. Ahh, those were the days. Great tribute to the legendary man of substance. Kudos, Marc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is shameful alright. The idea that this man had to endure that kind of treatment when he should have been celebrated by the country shows us why we can’t just assume our country was always great. It was far from it.

      The Cat! I remember that stance, it was great. I remember when he played for the Expos. His nickname was perfect.

      Thank you Monika.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A wonderful salute to a giant of a man by one who enjoys the game. Since his death, here are some of the adjectives people used to describe Hank Aaron: Grace, dignity, integrity, kind, humble, epitome of class, humanitarian, philanthropist, character, strength, and humility …. all wrapped into one man who happened to be a great baseball player.

    Liked by 1 person

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