Hank Aaron sees Giants-Red Sox Series
During a telephone interview with The Associated Press, the Hall of Fame slugger said he thinks the upcoming trials of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens won't overshadow the season. Hammerin' Hank also predicts his Atlanta Braves will have a successful first season under new manager Fredi Gonzalez.
While much of the early spring training buzz has been about the Philadelphia Phillies -- who added Cliff Lee to a rotation that already has Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels -- Aaron said Philadelphia shouldn't count on winning the pennant.
"I know Philadelphia got Cliff Lee and all those other top pitchers over there," he said Tuesday from Atlanta. "But hey, those kids did a heck of a job last year for San Francisco. I think they're going to have a good account of themselves."
"They're going to score a lot of runs. I know that. And if their pitching comes around, they're going to be awful tough to beat," he said.
The 77-year-old Aaron was speaking this week to promote a new initiative by Topps, which for its 60th -- diamond -- anniversary is launching a "Diamond Dig" promotion. One of every six packs of this year's Topps Series 1 have special code cards, and the buyer can enter the code online and receive a vintage Topps card and the chance to take part in the "dig." Among the prizes are diamond-embedded cards as well as the chance to receive a diamond engagement ring and a Topps diamond commemorative ring.
"We look at our digital card business as our way to support our physical card business," said Mark Sapir, the company's vice president of sports. "We see the trend of kids spending more and more time online. And in some ways we're competing with that, with our physical product, but in other ways we recognize we need to embrace it."
Aaron, the Braves' senior vice president, said the major leagues have become harder to predict.
"At the beginning of the season last year, if anybody had told you that San Francisco would be in the World Series, you would say they were crazy," he said.
Still, he doesn't buy into all the hype over the Phillies.
"Everybody seems to think that they're going to walk away with the championship, but I don't think that's going to happen," he said.
Aaron, second on the career home run list with 755, does think offense will rebound this season. Last year's average of 1.90 homers per game was the lowest since 1993's 1.78. Runs, hits, batting average and ERA dropped to their lowest levels since 1992.
"Baseball has a way of evening out," he said. "Last year it was a pitcher's year. I think this year it's going to be a hitter's year -- at least I hope so."
And he thinks Gonzalez, acquired by Boston from the San Diego Padres, will be among the top hitters.
"I really just believe that he is the type of ballplayer that can have a great year," he said. "He swings the bat, and I think playing in Fenway Park is certainly going to help him."
Bonds, who topped Aaron with 762 homers, is scheduled for a March 21 trial on charges he lied to and obstructed a federal grand jury when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens is slated for a July 6 trial on charges he lied to and obstructed Congress when he testified he hadn't used performance-enhancing drugs.
Aaron believes the steroids furor in baseball has passed.
"I think people have completely forgotten about it, really, to be honest with you," he said. "I think that if you talk to most young kids or players today, especially young kids that are playing for the first time or second-year players, they don't even think about it, they just think about what the future holds for them."
Aaron retired as a player in 1976. He sees most Braves games, though he tends to watch more on television than at the ballpark because fans want to talk with him when he's in the stands.
He'll head to Florida for spring training in about two weeks, the Braves' first since Bobby Cox retired after two decades and was replaced by Gonzalez.
"You're looking forward to having him be as successful as Bobby was," Aaron said. "To be very truthful with you, things are going to be a little different, but then you have to realize Gonzalez is going to bring his own things to the ballclub."
A friend of Bud Selig's, Aaron is in favor of the commissioner's push to expand the playoffs from eight teams to 10 in 2012 by adding one more wild card from each league.
"I think there's room for that," he said. "I guess the only thing that bothers me about so many games being played that late in the season is the weather. Other than that, I think if it wasn't for the weather, I think people would come out and see baseball even in December."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press