Welcome Back: Aaron Returns To Milwaukee For Reunion

By Chris Jenkins
Updated: September 1, 2007

MILWAUKEE — In Milwaukee, at least, Hank Aaron remains baseball’s home run king. Aaron received that esteemed – if now outdated – introduction as he and several other members of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves came to Miller Park on Thursday for a 50-year reunion of their World Series victory.

While Aaron wasn’t willing to hit the road to follow Barry Bonds’ pursuit of his career home run record earlier this month, he was thrilled to travel back to Milwaukee to reunite with his former teammates.

“I am very much enjoying this,” Aaron said. “As I mentioned before, some of these guys I haven’t seen for a long time and I wanted to see them.”

Aaron originally said his reluctance to go see Bonds break his record in person was because he was getting older — he’s 73 — and simply didn’t like to travel.

But this past Thursday, Aaron said that by not following Bonds around the country, he also could avoid answering questions about whether he suspected that Bonds’ achievements came with the help of performance-enhancing drugs — and whether that would taint the record.

“I guess I kind of stayed out of that, really,” Aaron said. “Because I didn’t want to get involved. For seven or eight years, I went through a thing where people were talking about all of the other things.

“If I had decided that I was going to go and follow Barry, or do anything like that, then people were going to start talking about steroids, and I didn’t want to get into that. I didn’t want to, didn’t have to, so I kind of avoided it.”

Feeling he needed to do something to acknowledge Bonds breaking the record, Aaron recorded a short video tribute that was played on the scoreboard after Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run Aug. 7 — a solution that, at least in Aaron’s mind, was the best way to bring closure to the situation.

“I thought it was,” Aaron said. “I certainly wasn’t going to fly to San Francisco or fly to Chicago or anywhere else to be with anybody. I didn’t think I had to. Because I wasn’t prepared to answer all these questions that people were going to have.”

Aaron said that no matter how he reacted publicly to Bonds breaking the record, he was “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

But above all, he didn’t want people to think he was resentful.

“That’s not true,” Aaron said. “I’ve said many times, records are made to be broken. I congratulated Barry, and that’s enough.”

And with that, Aaron left to join his former teammates for a photo opportunity at a small Braves monument by the youth baseball field adjacent to Miller Park.

The ’57 Braves beat the New York Yankees in seven games in the World Series, and the city of Milwaukee hasn’t seen much baseball success since.

The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966. The Brewers have made one trip to the World Series, in 1982.

With the current Brewers team struggling to stay in contention in the NL Central race, the consensus among Aaron and the Braves’ other stars seemed to be that the young Brewers are still a year away.

“I’ve been watching this club,” Aaron said. “It’s just a young club. I think it’s going to take another year before they really get to where they’re probably going to be sure of themselves, and I think they’re going to be all right.”

Del Crandall, a catcher for the Braves and former manager of the Brewers, said he couldn’t offer much in the way of advice.

“You have a very young ballclub here, and you’ve had problems with your pitching,” Crandall said. “And I don’t think anything is going to do them any good except experience, and they will probably all be much, much better (next year). Everybody would like to win. We couldn’t win in 1956. We weren’t ready to win.”

After a strong start early in the season, the Brewers have hit an extended slump and went into Saturday night’s play two games behind the first-place Cubs.

“Now, can they handle defeat after winning? Can they recover fast enough to make the next run, is going to be the question,” former Braves outfielder Wes Covington said.

Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst said a pennant race can be tough, especially on a young team.

“They’ll have a good ballclub next year,” Schoendienst said. “September is the hardest time to play the game because there’s a lot of pressure, trying to win. You don’t feel good, you’re hurting. No matter how young or old you are, September’s tough.”

But Schoendienst, a special assistant to the general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Brewers coming back to win the division.

“I’m kind of worried about them,” Schoendienst said. “We’ve got to play ’em a few times, you know, and we might be right up there.”