Aaron will always be No. 1

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Hank Aaron has been in the No. 2 spot for nine days.

Has anyone forgotten the former career home run leader?

Likely not. Nor should they.

Our memories of No. 44, Hammerin' Hank, or Bad Henry, are the same today as they were in 1969, 1961, 1958 or 1957.

We remember being in the seats at Jarry Park when he homered to left off Montreal Expos reliever Elroy Face in May 1969, his first homer in Canada.

Later that same season, as a green reporter, we asked him the first of many of our dumb questions in a major-league clubhouse. "So, how do you think you'll do against the Mets in the post-season?"

Aaron: "Well, we've played them 12 times and they beat us eight times ... so."

We learned you should know that kind of thing before asking. Aaron was right. The Miracle Mets swept the Braves in the best-of-five National League championship series.

He carried himself with class and dignity. He did not have the flair of Willie Mays. Nor did he have the exposure of Mickey Mantle or Carl Yastrzemski. Back then, it seemed as if the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox outfielders took turns on TV each Saturday.

In 1961, a million miles and light years from a major-league game -- before the Expos or the Blue Jays were born -- we listened to Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean on game of the week telecasts.

Afterward, we would head to leafy Victoria Park in Kingston, Canada's first capital, to try batting stances of players we had seen. We were 11-year-olds in a make-believe world.

Players like Detroit Tigers shortstop Dick McAuliffe, hands held amazingly high, and Cleveland Indians first baseman Vic Power, moving the bat one hand slowly to and fro, awaiting a pitch were easy.

We decided Aaron was the best because of his consistency. We would watch him kneel in the on-deck circle, as he leaned on his bat, helmet held in one huge paw.

AARON WAS THE BEST

One day someone showed up with a plastic Braves helmet, probably bought for $1.99. We added that to the routine, for this piece of plastic was like Aaron's, without ear flaps .

We would mimic Aaron's slow, knock-kneed walk from the first-base dugout, respectfully passing behind our imaginary blind umpire, helmet held in the left hand and the lumber in the right, dragging along the ground.

Settling into the batter's box, he would rest the bat against his crotch and use both hands to nestle the helmet snugly on top of his Braves cap.

Jays hitting coach, Gary Matthews, a few seasons back, told us about growing up in Los Angeles.

"All my friends thought that the Dodgers were boring," Matthews said. "They had pitching and defence, and couldn't hit. They would win 3-1 or 2-0. We went to games when the Braves came in with Rico Carty, Eddie Mathews and Hank.

"Hank would be my No. 1 all-time guy, ahead of Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Hank's name doesn't come up as often in commercials. When I hear Mr. Coffee, I don't think of coffee, I think of DiMaggio."

Aaron hit three homers in the 1958 World Series as the Braves beat the Yanks. They won 5-0 in Game 7. Aaron had two hits and knocked in a run, his seventh RBI of the Series.

There was a time I had 8-by-11 pictures of the 1959 Braves on my bedroom walls. On one wall starters Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Bob Buhl, Joey Jay and Carlton Willey plus closer Don McMahon were lined up to throw to catchers Del Crandall and Del Rice.

Taped to mother's newly painted blue walls were first baseman Joe Adcock, second baseman Felix Mantilla, third baseman Eddie Mathews and shortstop Johnny Logan.

And on the wall that we looked at as we went to sleep every night, were pictures of Billy Bruton, Wes Covington and Aaron.

Aaron always has stood a little higher than the others.

And it's still that way today.


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