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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Aaron's 755 speaks for itself

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

For somebody who hasn't wielded a Louisville Slugger since the birth of ESPN and whose baseball-playing career ended 30 years ago this season, Hank Aaron is looking all the more remarkable these days.

Major League Baseball's career home run champion was always an amazing athlete and solid figure but his stature and reputation soar by the day now, even at age 72.

The funny thing is, Hammerin' Hank doesn't have to so much as sign an autograph or haul out a yellowed clipping for this appreciation to rise.

He has Barry Bonds to do all the heavy lifting for him.

And this might only be the beginning of the burnishing. We're told that Bonds, the now plodding pretender to Aaron's 755-home run mark, could be indicted by a federal grand jury today on anything from tax evasion and money laundering to perjury.

None of which, if it happens, should surprise anybody who has followed the whole steroid soap opera or read the damning excerpts from the book "Game of Shadows."

Any charge, especially one that leads back to steroids, on top of the already existing mountain of allegations is an additional reminder of just how solid a figure Aaron has been and how much his brilliance was either taken for granted or dismissed on racist grounds.

Bonds isn't alone in the swirling steroid allegations. He is, by virtue of his 720 home runs, merely the most visible. He is, through his pursuit and passage of Ruth, the man in the spotlight.

But we know enough about Aaron to understand you wouldn't have found him in some of the straits occupied by home run crown wannabes. You wouldn't have seen him taking the fifth before Congress. It would be hard to imagine a former mistress singing to the feds, the Internal Revenue Service on his trail or an ex-trainer in the slammer for refusing to answer questions in court.

Of course, Bonds probably made more off autograph and collectible sales in a single year than Aaron did for playing baseball even under his best contract ($250,000). And Aaron was so thin that when he was given uniform No. 44, the joke was that he was too skinny to be in double digits.

Indeed the only charge ever leveled against Aaron in a 22-year big league career was that he wasn't Babe Ruth. Not exactly a jailable offense when no mortal was or could have been at that point in history. This while being Hammerin' Hank was already being plenty.

Maybe, in a curious way, it is finally coming full circle for Aaron. After living in the iconic shadow of Ruth, where the depth of his talent and historic accomplishments were never given their full appreciation, now comes Bonds to underline the complete champion baseball has had in Aaron.

The sad thing is it never should have had to be this way.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.