Friday, May 8, 2009


And Hammerin’ Hank just did it on grind!
by Charlie Leck

The Great Bambino was known to send a hotdog order up from the dugout to the grandstands. Hot dogs were not a banned substance. Neither were beer nor whiskey banned. Mix in some women and Babe Ruth indulged in them all.

And remember this: The balls they used back then did not have the liveliness they have now.

Nevertheless, Babe Ruth smacked balls out of the park at a greater rate of frequency in relation to the number of times he came to bat than anyone is the history of the game (not, of course, including Mark McGwire or Ryan Howard). It is why he will always be regarded as the home run king of baseball.

Hammerin’ Hank Aaron played in my time – while I was a great fan of the game. He cracked Babe’s record for life-time homeruns. It had often been thought that no one would surpass the Babe. Put Aaron right up there on a pedestal next to the Ruth. They stand alone as the greatest home run hitters in the history of the game.

Way back in ’04, Jeff Kent, an undistinguished player for the Houston Astros, wondered aloud if maybe the great Babe didn’t use steroids. He actually got a few lines in a few papers for that kind of drivel.

If steak, beer, whiskey and women were steroids, you bet he did. The Bambino pounded those things down on a regular – perhaps constant – basis. And, he kept pounding baseballs over the outfield fences.

So, for heaven’s sake, why am I on this subject today?
I’ve been one of the great baseball fans of the ages! I’m not kidding! The best entertainment in the world for me is a sunny afternoon in a beautiful baseball park watching a zero-zero pitchers’ duel with twenty or thirty thousand other fans. I love to hear the vendors hawking their goods and I love the smacking sound of a fast ball landing in the catcher’s glove.

As far as I’m concerned, Take Me Out to the Ball Game is one of the greatest songs ever written. It’s right up there with Beethoven’s work.

Next spring the Minnesota Twins move into an outdoor ball park in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. I’ve taken little drives into town on more than an occasional basis to watch it rise up out of the ground. Each time, with its progress so clearly evident, my heart beats a little quicker as I examine the work.

I’m moving close to the 70 mark in age; yet, I get as excited as a little kid when I think of watching Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Francisco Liriano play outdoors in the sunshine on a Sunday afternoon.

Last night I watched on TV as Mauer smacked a single up the middle in the 7th inning to tie the Twins up with Baltimore. The flat-screened high definition marvel in front of me was in danger when the Twins bullpen failed to hold another game. I went sorrowfully to bed.

I love the game so that I’m tormented when I think of the damage that’s been done to baseball by a significant handful of players who cheated.

Barry Bonds (1991 on the left and in 2004 ) did not build his body the natural way.

They enhanced their bodies and strength in ways that were both dangerous and against the rules! These jerks, who smashed the Babe’s records, deserve no positive mention in the Hall of Fame. The same is true for rule breakers in any sport, but I happen to hold baseball and golf up to higher standards than any of the rest. If you cheat, you go on a Wall of Shame list and that’s as far as you go.

Among others, that’s where Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and Manny Ramirez go. All of them were very fine baseball players, but I’ll tell you this: They would not have had the success they did have without cheating. No way!

So, to a sport that is so driven by past history, past performances, statistics and the great, great records of former players, so much incredible damage has been done and can’t be undone.

In baseball, a player in 2009 isn’t just playing against the other team and its players; he’s also playing against history and the incredible players who crossed the white lines to perform in years gone by. It might sound squirrely, but that is what has driven baseball to such heights of popularity. Illegal users have severely damaged all of that.

Henry Aaron and George Herman Ruth were the best ever at what they did; that is, at hitting home runs. Don’t you ever forget it.

The Hall of Fame belongs to the really great players of the game. My own personal list of heroes sticks both in my memory and my heart as if I was a little kid – Mays, Robinson, Musial, Mantle, Slaughter, Berra, Reese, Kiner, DiMaggio, Aaron, Killebrew, Olivia, Puckett and Carew. Man, my heart starts thumping harder when I bring clear visuals to mind of them playing the game. I saw all of them play in person – real, live-time, on the field – and I don’t mind bragging about it. And, all of them, except Tony Oliva, is in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. Oliva, injured seriously too early in his career, has been deprived of this honor that he deserves.

When you put that list up against the list of losers that I mentioned five paragraphs above, you begin to understand how we have all been cheated during the last dozen years.

Yesterday, Manny Ramirez was banned from baseball for 50 games. What a marvelous player he would have been au natural. He may have even ranked up there with my heroes of the game, but we’ll never know.

You want incredible in baseball? I give you the one and only Babe Ruth! Here’s a paragraph from a great story about him by Kenneth Shouler in Cigar Aficionado. [read the entire story].

“Babe Ruth is unquantifiable. In mathematical terms, Ruth's exploits are beyond measure, since no one has even approached them. When starting out, Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly said, "I thought that Babe Ruth was a cartoon character." And why not? His life seems too large to be real. But Ruth defies the common wisdom that scrutiny exposes the failings of even the greatest legends. The details of Ruth's life--his kindness to children and good cheer, his excesses with cigars and food and drink, his uncanny athletic gifts and olympian power--make him even larger. And if he didn't carry a cigar to the plate, a good smoke was an ever present talisman on his infamous rounds of the bars and restaurants of every major-league town he visited.”
Oh how I wish I had seen him play. What a legend. And tonight it’s the Twins and the Mariners. Play ball!

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