|Class of 1984: George |
No over-and-in for anyone in '21, however. Three controversial candidates--Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds--barely had the needle move from the previous year and will have their final BBWAA reckoning in '22. That permitted leaps for viable candidates such as Scott Rolen and Todd Helton, subtle-but-worthy candidates like Billy Wagner and Gary Sheffield (somehow not now as controversial as Manny Ramirez...), and cult phenomena such as Andruw Jones.
But with a finishing kick at a phase in his career (ages 36-39) that no one had ever approached to that point, Aaron pushed his way past age (and racial prejudice) to put himself in position to overtake the game's most storied slugger. He hit 159 HRs over those four years (1970-73)--16 more than Ruth, 43 more than Ted Williams, and 73 more than Willie Mays. (Barry Bonds now holds the record, with 209--though some consider that tainted.)
|#713, hit September 29, 1973, |
off Jerry Reuss
In a time before easy access to up-to-the-minute occurrences, Aaron's incredible run over the last three months of 1973 was beyond electrifying. Eddie Mathews, his manager and long-time teammate, was scrupulous about resting Aaron, who played in only 120 games en route to a 40-homer season at age 39; and as he moved ever closer to the Babe's mark, there were folks who were annoyed when he wasn't in the lineup during September--when he was less than ten homers back. During this stretch, however, he reminded us that he was a truly great hitter and not just a slugger. On the second-to-last day of the season, he hit #713 and the world hung on every pitch the next day, when Aaron faced off against Houston Astros lefty Dave Roberts (not the Dodgers' current manager).
Aaron went 3-for-4 and raised his season average to .301, but they were all singles and the world would have to (that's right) wait 'til next year for the stirring finish to a tale worthy of Homer (no pun intended). As Watergate simmered its way to a boil, Hank Aaron was the hottest hitter you've even seen--and if you were lucky enough to see it, you will never forget it. Thank you, Mister Aaron, and may infinite flights of angels sing you to a most well-deserved rest.