|Aaron deserved far better than he got|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 21 July 2007 11:05|
There it sits, this memorial to No. 755, framed in oil spatters and the residue of old tailgates.
Hank Aaron deserves better.
Too bad it's taken Barry Bonds to make us realize it.
``This marks the landing location of the final home run of Hank Aaron's career, #755,'' the gold-colored marker says, ``hit at County Stadium on July 20, 1976.''
Below is Aaron's signature. Bold and strong, yet simple and understated.
Just like Aaron.
``I think it's poetic justice,'' said Julie Schultz, sitting in a canvas lawnchair a few feet from the plaque. ``It's subtle. It's about what Hank Aaron was all about. He's a class act.''
Shrines, tributes and monuments aren't for the people they honor. They know what they've accomplished. The heart and sweat and pain it took to make them great are forever imprinted on their souls.
Memorials are for us, so we can remember and appreciate how an ordinary person is transformed into something so extraordinary.
And few are more worthy of our admiration than Aaron. That he never got that due is our failing, not his.
``I'm just so happy I was able to hit it here in Milwaukee,'' Aaron said last month when that 755 memorial was unveiled. ``Because I don't think, had it been hit on the road, there'd be a plaque somewhere.''
How sad is that?
Sure he's in the Hall of Fame, and Atlanta and Milwaukee have retired his number. There's a bronze statue of him outside Miller Park, right next to one of Robin Yount. There's also a small shrine in Atlanta that marks his 715th home run, the one that topped Babe Ruth.
But this is a man who hit 755 home runs, a mark most were sure would never be broken, and did it under the most difficult of circumstances. That calls for more than a 2-foot by 3-foot plaque that most people don't even notice.
``Really?'' Tony Moraska said, after being told he and buddy Rob Chevrette were playing catch near the memorial. ``That's interesting.''
Don and Marge Stoffield only discovered the memorial because they parked behind it. They noticed people snapping pictures of something and went to investigate.
``It was a real surprise,'' Don said as the couple relaxed before the game. ``I think it's nice. But maybe it should be a little fancier than that.''
At least fence it off. Better yet, name the parking lot after him and put up an exhibit of his career. Something that will let Aaron and everybody else know how cherished he is. And not simply because he swung a bat better than anybody else.
Seven fifty-five is a testament not only to Aaron's considerable physical abilities, but his consistency and longevity as well. More than anything, it's a testament to his character.
Aaron had the misfortune of chasing Babe Ruth. And almost 60 years after his death, The Babe is still larger than life. But instead of appreciating Aaron's talent, too many deemed him unworthy of surpassing Ruth simply because of the color of his skin.
His pursuit of history wasn't celebrated - far from it. He was booed and criticized, harassed and ignored. Some even threatened his life. It's no wonder reliving those difficult months is something he'd rather not do.
Of course, now that Bonds is closing in, we want to give Aaron all the love he should have gotten 30-some years ago. Maybe it took all this time to fully understand what a feat it really was. Maybe it took Bonds and all his baggage to make us truly appreciate Aaron's quiet dignity and grace.
``Look, (Bonds) is closing in on the record and if he hits them here, he hits them here,'' said commissioner Bud Selig, a close friend of Aaron's. ``I know people think it's great historical irony and all that, and it is. No question about that.
``If you wrote a script like this, nobody would believe it.''
Harder to believe we don't have a better tribute to the man.
Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmourap.org