Aaron: 'I have no interest in that'
ATLANTA -- If and when Barry Bonds breaks the all-time home run record, Hank Aaron doesn't plan to be there.
It has nothing to do with his feelings about losing the record, or any ill will toward Bonds. For Aaron, it's simply a matter of convenience.
"If he's in San Francisco, I'm going to wake up at six o'clock in the morning and go fly to San Francisco? No, I will not do that," Aaron said Thursday, the 30th anniversary of his 715th home run, the one that surpassed Babe Ruth. "I'm not interested in flying six hours and watching a baseball game or watch him break the record. I wish him all the luck in the world but I have no interest in that."
The Atlanta Braves held a ceremony honoring Aaron before Thursday night's game against the New York Mets, and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue proclaimed it "Hank Aaron Appreciation Day" throughout the state.
Several of Aaron's former teammates attended, and his wife, Billye, sang the national anthem.
Even Al Downing came. He was the pitcher from the Los Angeles Dodgers who threw the ball Aaron hit over the wall in left field for the record-breaking homer.
"It's entirely appropriate for the Braves on this day to recognize Hank and his achievement," said Bill Bartholomay, chairman emeritus of the Braves. "He's Mr. Brave in every respect, and, in my opinion, the greatest player in the history of the game."
Bonds had 659 homers heading into the Giants' game Thursday night against San Diego, one behind his godfather, Willie Mays, for third place on the career list.
Once he passes Mays -- a mere formality, at this point -- Bonds will have only the Babe between himself and Aaron.
"I just believe that if Barry Bonds stays on the same course, he probably will break the record," said Aaron, who holds a mostly ceremonial position as senior vice president and assistant to the president with the Braves.
He completed his 24-year career with 755 homers, including 733 with the Braves, and joined the team's front office when he retired.
At first, Aaron was director of player development, a position he chose for himself in discussions with then-owner Ted Turner. He thoroughly enjoyed spending time helping several players make their way to the big leagues.
"Ted came to me and said, 'What would you like to do?' I said I'd like to work with young people in the organization," Aaron said. "Most of the kids we had come up through the minor league system, those same kids brought championships to this city."
"I got everything I wanted out of it," Aaron said of his time spent in that role.
That wasn't the case for his chase of Ruth's record. The turmoil he faced during that time has been well documented -- hateful letters and death threats from people who didn't want to see a black man surpass a towering figure such as Ruth.
For about 18 months, Aaron wasn't allowed to open his own mail. The FBI and his personal secretary took care of that.
"I guess I feel some resentment," Aaron said. "I thought it should have been probably the greatest time of my life, especially in baseball. But yet it was a time I couldn't wait for it to be over."
The weather on the night he hit No. 715 was a bit chilly. With the Braves trailing 3-1 in the fourth inning, he hit a 1-0 fastball from Downing to left, and he worried that he didn't get enough of it.
But the ball cleared the wall -- just barely -- and landed in the waiting glove of Atlanta reliever Tom House.
"I know that was the highlight of my baseball career," House said earlier this week from Japan, where he was working as a pitching consultant. "I know that's a bad statement for a pitcher to make. But I got to play a very small part in a very historic moment."
House quickly left the bullpen and raced toward home plate, nearly beating Aaron there. As teammates and family members mobbed Aaron, House arrived with the ball.
"The thing that sticks out in my mind, even to this day, is when I got to home plate to give him the ball, Henry was hugging his mother and there was a tear on his cheek," House said. "I had never seen any emotion from him like that. It showed me that he was just like all of us.
"He loved the game, he loved his family. It all came together that night."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press