Wednesday, August 08, 2007


It seems odd to me. Lots of articles on Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home run record mention his possible steroid use. That's fine and it's legitimate to debate whether or not it's an issue. However, there's one thing that the article's don't generally mention and it's the reason that Aaron's legend will never dull in the wake of Bonds: the era in which Aaron did it.

In 1974, Aaron was still among the few black players playing baseball. While the league had been integrated for a long time and many had come before him, it was dominated by white players. Also, in 1974 we were in the middle of a black cultural rise. Sure, there were plenty of black artists, intellectuals, and sports heroes before the civil rights movement of the 60s, but after the laws were passed and law enforcement went into action, after the death of King, Jr., after the rise of the Black Panthers, after Jimi Hendryx, Marvyn Gaye, Bill Cosby, Aretha Franklin, and many more too numerous to name, black culture was not only being promoted, but celebrated.

I remember watching live as Hank Aaron hit his home run that broke Babe Ruth's record. Ruth's legend stood, as it should, but here was a black man in an America that had just come through a decade of pushing for civil rights for black folks and people were cheering him. Aaron not only represented himself, his team, and baseball, but also how many in this nation felt about moving on and having a future together. Aaron's record felt like a small part of us had healed. At least, that's the way it felt to me when I was 10 years old. Of course, it was a very small part and there would be much to test that feeling in years to come.

Bonds, whose achievement is great, is not Aaron and will never have that moment. For one thing, Bonds isn't as approachable as Aaron. He's not as friendly and likable. But also, the times have changed. That's not to say that the healing is over or that there aren't more challenges ahead. But we have come a long way. While Aaron's feat felt like a major cultural moment, Bonds feat felt like just another sports record broken. The asterisk should be focused on the possible steroids use. Rather, the asterisk should be focused on the cultural impact in an era. That great impact belongs to Aaron and no one - not Bonds, nor A-Rod - can take that away.

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