gracefully endured the pressure of the chase, and then stopped it with one lash
of his bat.
Illustrated, April 15, 1974
later the significant difference of Barry Bonds's 715th home run will not be
lost on anyone at Sports Illustrated, especially Ron Fimrite, now an SI special
contributor, who wrote the Henry Aaron story on deadline. " Aaron was
challenging an almost mythological figure in Babe Ruth and had the additional
problem of being black and playing in a Southern city," says Fimrite, who
lives in San Francisco. "We didn't realize at the time what he had gone
through in terms of hate mail and death threats. Barry's problems have been
Fimrite had 40
minutes to file his piece but captured the historic evening with nuance and
detail: "It rained in Atlanta during the day, violently on occasion, but it
was warm and cloudy by game time. It began raining again just before Aaron's
first inconsequential time at bat, as if Ruth's phantom were up there
puncturing the drifting clouds. Brightly colored umbrellas sprouted throughout
the ballpark, a brilliant display that seemed to be merely part of the show.
The rain had subsided by Aaron's next time up, the air filled now only with
tension. Henry wasted little time relieving that tension. It is his
The following week
SI ran a 12-page story by George Plimpton, who had trailed Aaron since homer
number 710 in September 1973. "It was a simple act by an unassuming man
which touched an enormous circle of people, indeed an entire country,"
Plimpton's piece began. "It provided an instant that people would remember
for decades--exactly what they were doing at the time of the home run that beat
Babe Ruth's great record."
That was then. It
is impossible to ignore what Bonds has accomplished, but even in San Francisco
you hear people complain about him as a cheater.
Over the past two
years SI has covered Bonds with 11 stories, three of them covers. They were
tough stories, most of them, reporting Bonds's alleged use of steroids and
questioning the validity of his records--and almost all of them by SI senior
writer Tom Verducci. As a 13-year-old in Glen Ridge, N.J., in April 1974,
Verducci enjoyed Aaron's pursuit of Ruth's home run record on a couple of
levels. "It was a historic assault on a record that felt as if it had stood
since the beginning of time," says Verducci. "And it also meant that I
could stay up late to watch baseball."
tonight everything feels different. Staying up late to watch a game suggests an
innocence that has been leaking from baseball since the so-called Steroid Era
began in the mid-1990s. Bonds's march to pass Ruth's 714 (Leading Off, page 6)
was marked by bad feeling and a general joylessness that fly against the spirit
of the very words home run. The A's fan who caught the tying ball in Oakland
was widely quoted as saying he hated Bonds.
Baseball threw a
party that night 32 years ago in Atlanta, when Aaron hit 715. Fimrite wrote,
" Sammy Davis Jr. was there, and Pearl Bailey, singing the national anthem
in Broadway soul." This time Major League Baseball, led by commissioner Bud
Selig, is officially taking a pass. The fans will party with determination in
San Francisco, but it won't be the same. "Outside the Bay Area, 715 will be
dull and flat," says Verducci, who has covered baseball for 25 years, the
last 14 for SI. "There will be much more to question than to
celebrate--nothing like one of those signature moments in baseball history when
you remember where you were."
That's where we