The Once... and Future... Home Run Champ?


In one week, the Atlanta Braves are set to honor Hank Aaron on the 40th anniversary of his milestone 715th home run… the one that made him the all-time Home Run King.

But what if… he were still the Home Run King?

Here’s something in which we have to give Bud Selig a ton of credit: if he’s been passionate about anything as commissioner, it’s been his desire to increase diversity in the game – making baseball into a world-wide sport.  But this extends to the problem we have here in the US:  the declining role of African-American players in the sport.  Under the covers, Selig has been working on this.

In 2000, Major League Baseball provided a grant to the Baseball Hall of Fame to establish a commission to research Negro League Statistics throughout its history (which extends from roughly the years 1903 to 1951).  These stats – including the players themselves – have been notoriously difficult to track down.  The initial work of this commission was completed in 2005, but not published in full.  Noted former ESPN stat-guru and still writer Rob Neyer has been a constant advocate of this work, and had complained about the secrecy of this effort.

We may be about to find out why.

On April 8th, in ceremonies at Turner Field, it appears that Bug Selig will be announcing that Negro League records from the period 1945 through 1951 will be recognized as major league baseball records, and folded into the career records of all players who appeared in both leagues.  The reason for the secrecy through these years seems to be that while this was a priority for Selig throughout his tenure as commissioner, he also wanted to insure that the data was as correct as it could be.  The surprise is that researchers – led by a senior analyst at MLB curiously named Olaf Pirlo – have determined that the quality of baseball played in this 1945-51 time frame appears to be at least equivalent to that of the majors, and thus Selig has pushed through this plan.

Neyer himself is doing linguistic handsprings over this news, and put out his own quotes about it:

“A public reading in logic follows – only on looking at this data in full context can we see just what all of these players have accomplished.  We’re liable to see new Hall of Famers now:  players who were Negro League legends that the public should embrace as stars.”

Indeed, Selig’s push to get this done is a testament to his intention to improve diversity by increasing minority participation in baseball – and a Negro League recognition would definitely do that by creating new baseball heroes for youngsters to aspire to.


The Players

Willie MaysOf the players spanning these leagues, there are two that stand outWillie Mays and Hank Aaron, as they were the most noteworthy ‘crossover’ players.  Interestingly, as both players were being recruited by major league baseball teams, the (then) Boston Braves nearly had both of them.  If the owner of the Birmingham Barons had been a little less possessive of Mays, the Braves might very well have had both of these Hall of Famers roaming the outfield for 20 seasons.  On the other hand, if the Giants had offered Aaron another $50, then the Giants would have had them both!


Oh yeah, the Home Run King Thing

Mays played for the Barons starting in 1947 at age 16.  At this time, published records are still sketchy, but show him with no homers in 1948.  The records released to this point do not show anything for him in 1949, though that could change soon.  In 1950 he played for a Class B affiliate of the Giants, hitting .353.  He then hit .477 for AAA Minneapolis and was called up to the Giants.  Even if Mays hit a couple dozen home runs, though, he’d still be fourth all-time:  Babe Ruth had a lead of 54 on him before this revelation.

Aaron, however…

Hank Aaron was a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952, hitting 5 homers and batting .366 during that season, plus he added four more dingers during the playoffs alone, which were won by Indianapolis.  Nine homers that year. Immediately thereafter, he was recruited by the Braves and Giants.

It’s stats like these – coupled with the torrid paces that Mays and Aaron both kept up in their brief minor league stints – that have convinced Selig that their days in the Negro Leagues should count as Major League service time.

As a result:  Hank Aaron now has 764 career home runs… beating Barry Bonds by 2.  

Bonds, uncharacteristically enough, cannot be reached for comment.


What Does This Mean?

1.  No asterisk required! Barry Bonds’ reduction to #2 in the record books means that no one has to worry about a ‘tainted’ record any longer.

2.  The Braves… do have a problem.  All of this news explains some activity that was taking place at the stadium last week.  Seems that crews are hastily preparing to rename the ‘755 Club’ as the ‘764 Club’.  Additionally, there was a report that a bunch of team stationary had been thrown out.  Speculation was that it was simply being replaced with new versions that had new artwork, but now it makes sense:  they have to change the address!

I know a guy in their ticket office.  He asked me to keep his name out of it, but there’s a fight going on with the local Atlanta post office right now because odd-numbered addresses are supposed to be on the south side of the streets, while even numbered ones go on the north side.  He says the Braves are trying to resolve the dispute by planting a mailbox next to one of the utility buildings on the north side of Hank Aaron Drive and having that designated as the official Turner Field address:  at 764 Hank Aaron Drive.


I suppose we’ll find out how all of this washes out next week at the ceremony, but until then, just know you heard it first here on… on April 1st.  Happy April Fool’s Day!

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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