ATLANTA - The record books say that baseball's all-time home run king is Barry Bonds. But those books haven't made it to Atlanta. Perhaps they never will.
Around here, Hank Aaron stands alone.
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His reign began exactly 40 years ago Tuesday night, when he bashed career home run No. 715 off Dodgers lefty Al Downing. With that swing, Aaron completed his ascent to the throne, passing the immortal Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list.
That's how it has remained here ever since -- even though the official record book shows that Bonds finished with 762 career home runs and Aaron hit 755.
"Things can change," said Curtis Granderson, who noted that Bonds hasn't been stripped of any records. "But until they do, you've got to acknowledge what's out there."
What's out there is the steroid suspicion that surrounds Bonds and his record, which was apparent again during Tuesday night's ceremony to honor Aaron and his historic homer on April 8, 1974.
As a near capacity crowd stuffed into Turner Field, the biggest cheer of the tribute came when longtime Braves play-by-play man Pete Van Wieren referred to Aaron as "baseball's true home run king."
The commemorative posters given to the first 45,000 fans featured the tagline "celebrating the 40th anniversary of baseball's true home run king." Earlier in the day, Braves great and Mets killer Chipper Jones tweeted "Happy home opener to all u Braves fans out there today and a big tip of my cap to the real Home Run King, Hammerin Hank! Take a bow, sir!"
When asked if he considers Aaron baseball's true home run champion, commissioner Bud Selig sounded no different from many in the crowd.
"I'm always in a sensitive spot there," Selig said. "But I've said that myself. I'll leave it at that."
The tribute to Aaron included a video montage of the historic home run. Afterward, 715 Braves fans flooded the outfield holding signs that marked the date of each of Aaron's homers leading up to his historic night. Downing appeared, as well, to throw the ceremonial first pitch, and the Braves wore replicas of their uniforms from the 1974 season.
"He is what you hope an icon would be, but often isn't," said Selig, who also hailed Aaron as "the living embodiment of the American spirit."
During brief remarks of his own, the 80-year-old Aaron thanked fans "for being in my corner for all these many years."
The Mets stood at attention on the top step of their dugout, as the ceremony unfolded. "Certainly, we're all honored to be here, to be a part of this special night," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who was a Dodgers farmhand watching on television the night Aaron hit No. 715.
Collins even recalled wondering whether Ruth's record was untouchable. "Certainly, nobody thought it would ever be broken, I can assure you of that," Collins said. "If anybody could do it, certainly Hank Aaron was the right guy in the right place."