|Billingham has no problem being linked to Aaron's 714th|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 23 July 2007 12:23|
He surrendered Aaron's 714th home run that tied the Hammer with Babe Ruth back on opening day 1974 while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds at now-demolished Riverfront Stadium.
``A lot of people tease me, 'You gave up 714,''' said Billingham, now 64, retired and living in New Smyrna Beach in his native Florida. ``I tell them, 'I was there. I had a better seat than everybody in the ballpark but Johnny Bench.'''
Billingham can offer some advice to the pitcher who gives up Barry Bonds' milestone homers of 755 and 756 that will tie and break Aaron's record.
To this day, Billingham remembers every detail of that history-making matchup with Aaron.
First inning on opening day. Bench behind the plate. Two runners on. One out and a 3-1 count. Then, an impressive shot over the wall in left-center field.
Billingham said he and other pitchers were hesitant to throw inside against Aaron because they were ``afraid of hitting him or something, hurting him and getting bad publicity.''
``First game, first swing. I was behind in the count 3-1 to him and had to throw him a strike because there was a man on first and second,'' Billingham recalled. ``He knew me. He knew I was sinkerball pitcher. I tried to throw the ball low and away. It was a mistake and it was out of the ballpark. ...
``He's a great hitter. One little mistake and boom. My hat's off to him. No shame in failing as long as you try your best.''
Billingham was done after five innings - six runs, five hits, four walks, three strikeouts and one milestone homer to his line - but his Reds went on to beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 in 11 innings.
Leading up to the opener, Billingham repeatedly was asked whether he would consider grooving a pitch to Aaron.
``I don't think of anybody wanting to groove a pitch,'' Billingham said. ``If you do that, you're not a competitor. People asked, 'Would you like to give up 714, 715? You'll be in the record books.' I didn't try to give up 714. He did it.''
Bonds was set to resume his quest Monday night, when the San Francisco opened a seven-game homestand with the first game of a four-game series against the Braves. Pitchers don't want to join Billingham on the list of those who allowed milestone home runs.
``Obviously, it's history, but I don't want to see any of it,'' Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson said during the Giants' trip to St. Louis earlier this month. ``I don't want it to happen to any of my buddies.''
Many pitchers are realistic, too.
``You don't want to be the one in the highlight reels forever, but he's at 750-something home runs,'' said Brewers starter Dave Bush, who avoided allowing Bonds' 754th homer Saturday in Milwaukee. ``Whoever gives one up now, it's not going to be the first time. There's no shame in giving up a home run to the man who's soon going to be the best of all time.''
That's pretty much how Billingham thinks of it. He hasn't yet warmed to the idea of Bonds becoming the No. 1 home run hitter.
``I'm not quite as excited for him as I wish I was with all the controversy. You wish the controversy wasn't there,'' Billingham said. ``The guy's a great hitter, a great athlete. I can't say if he's guilty or not guilty.''
Sometimes, Billingham finds himself thinking more deeply about the game, about hitters and how difficult it is to hit home runs in the major leagues.
``Where else in the world can you be successful three out of 10 times and be a multimillionaire?'' Billingham said. ``That's the perspective.''