A member of baseball royalty stood on the red carpet inside the Marriott Marquis Wednesday night. Hank Aaron doesn’t travel much these days because of a bad leg, but the No. 2 home-run hitter in MLB history was in Manhattan to present Bud Selig with a lifetime achievement award.
The 81-year-old former commissioner had invited the 82-year-old Hall of Famer to these SportsBusiness Daily/Global/Journal 2016 Sports Business Awards. Aaron said it was “a pleasure” to be able to give it to his friend of 50-plus years. What brings Aaron displeasure now is the lack of African-Americans playing baseball. It has been 69 years since Jackie Robinson crossed the color barrier, and just eight percent of the players in the majors this year.
“I think from the commissioner’s office to every major-league team in baseball should look at it because it is an American sport,” Aaron said. “Jackie Robinson held his head up high, Willie Mays, myself and Frank Robinson, all of us. And now it’s a dying sport as far as African-Americans. It’s got to be turned around.”
Barry Bonds passed Aaron for the top spot on the homer list, finishing at 762 to Aaron’s 755. But Bonds, like Alex Rodriguez who’s fourth at 692, has a PED cloud. Aaron said that “it really doesn’t make a difference” if A-Rod ultimately catches him.
And for anyone who says Aaron still is the real home-run king for doing it without PEDs, he says, “I don’t pay that too much attention. I played the game for 23 years and if I smoked a cigarette, my mother would knock it down my throat.”
Selig said the award “meant a great deal.” He stepped down in January of last year in favor of Rob Manfred after becoming acting commissioner in 1992 and then permanent commissioner six years later. Selig looks at the game now and is especially pleased with a concept from his watch that he didn’t immediately embrace — replay.
“I came along slowly,” Selig said. “I think it’s great. Look, they finally convinced me. The objective is to get it right. We’re getting it right. I know sometimes it takes a little longer. But I was witness for all those years to watching Billy Martin kick dirt for 10 minutes or Earl Weaver or my man Sparky Anderson. The debates sometimes took forever.
“So if these are taking two or three minutes, that would’ve been short for Billy, Sparky, Earl and a lot of other people.”
There has been labor peace in the game dating to 1995, and Selig is hoping that will continue despite the fact the CBA is due to expire Dec. 1.
“I’m a worrier to begin with, but I have enormous faith in Rob, who, after all, handled it for me, and [chief legal officer] Dan Halem, who I think is just outstanding,” Selig said. “So I’m confident. The sport is in great shape in every way. And they’re real pros. I’m satisfied things are on the right track. But labor peace has been very important to us.”