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MONDAY, MAY 28, 2007
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Hank hammered through rough times
As Bonds nears home run mark, Selig recalls how Aaron endured

By Tracy Ringolsby
Scripps Howard News Service

As Barry Bonds closes in on Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, commissioner Bud Selig has flashbacks to the nightmarish trail Aaron followed to becoming the record-holder in 1974.

It helps Selig put the controversy surrounding Bonds, which involves possible steroid use, into perspective because Selig lived through Aaron’s angst that was racially rooted.

Selig knew Aaron well from when Aaron played for the Braves in Milwaukee and Selig was an active fan of the franchise. Their relationship grew over the years to the point that after Selig purchased the Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers, he arranged a trade for Aaron that allowed him to finish his career in Milwaukee.

And Selig was painfully aware of what Aaron endured in 1974 when he hit home runs No. 714 and 715, tying, then breaking, the record Babe Ruth had held for the previous 53 years.

“I saw much of the mail that Hank got,” Selig said. “It was the most horrendous I have seen in my life. The intensity of the hatred was unbelievable. Through all of that, though, Hank was graceful and heroic, dealing with a very difficult time.”

Bonds has created his own controversy because of an abrasive personality that dates to his youth, and it has been compounded by the questions surrounding his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. Now some are trying to create the argument Bonds is the victim of racism.

Aaron was the victim of racism.

Having begun his career in the Negro Leagues, Aaron played at a time when Americans wanted to believe they had overcome ugly racism. But in reality, the racism was uglier than ever because it was so readily ignored by a public that denied its existence.

For Aaron, there was no denial of the racism. It came in the form of angry letters and death threats. Aaron’s inner strength, however, allowed him to cope with the challenges and to excel. It would seem that it did impact him, however, and would explain why Aaron has remained such a private person who, even in his role as minor league director of the Atlanta Braves, wasn’t comfortable visiting the farm teams because of the public exposure.

“To be honest,” Selig said, “Hank is the same guy I have known for 50 years. He always has been quiet, thoughtful. He was a great person to become the person to break Babe Ruth’s record. But then, I admit I’m partial.”

Overheard

  • If Texas doesn’t become a factor in the American League West, first baseman Mark Teixeira, a potential free agent after the 2008 season, is expected to be shopped.

  • Second basemen Jose Castillo of Pittsburgh and Ronnie Belliard of Washington are available, but no teams seem interested.

  • Oakland is considering bringing Rickey Henderson back when rosters expand in September so Henderson can officially retire in an Athletics uniform. Oakland was his original organization.

  • Tampa Bay is focusing on three players for the top pick in the June 7 draft — left-handed pitcher David Price of Vanderbilt, third baseman Josh Vitters of Cypress (Calif.) High School and catcher Matt Wieters of Georgia Tech.

    Two cents’ worth

    The Blue Jays have benefited from the weakening of the American dollar against the Canadian dollar. Team president Paul Godfrey said every time the Canadian dollar rises one cent, the Blue Jays save $600,000 on player payroll. The Blue Jays have a payroll of about $90 million in American funds.

    On Wednesday, the Canadian dollar was up 0.33 of a cent to 92.41 cents American, the highest since October 1977.

    While Toronto’s payroll, travel expenses, minor league system and player development are in American dollars, the franchise’s revenue is roughly 50-50 Canadian and American dollars.

    Halladay healing

    And there’s more good news for the Jays as ace Roy Halladay, who underwent an appendectomy May 11, is on track to return to the rotation next week. The veteran right-hander has begun bullpen sessions and is showing no ill effects.

    “He is defying the odds, as usual,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “He’ll probably pitch a simulated game in Minnesota (this weekend) and could make a start (Thursday) against the White Sox.”

    Jennings close

    Former Rockies standout right-hander Jason Jennings, struggled with his control in his second start in his rehabilitation from a right elbow injury but has rejoined Houston and is expected to be activated this weekend.

    He worked five shutout innings, allowing three hits and one walk, for Class AA Corpus Christi (Texas) in his first minor league start. But with AAA Round Rock (Texas) on Tuesday, he gave up four runs, three hits and five walks in 3 1/3 innings. Most important, manager Phil Garner said, is “his elbow was fine.”

    Around the NL

  • Arizona released pitcher Russ Ortiz last season, in the second year of his four-year, $33 million contract, which means the Diamondbacks are picking up $7.12 million of Ortiz’s $7.5 million this year while he is with San Francisco. The Diamondbacks also are on the hook for $8.5 million next year. Arizona also is paying $5.8 million of outfielder Shawn Green’s $9.5 million salary with the Mets.

  • Atlanta is receiving $3 million from Boston to offset the $8 million salary of shortstop Edgar Renteria. The Braves agreed to cover up to $11 million of $29 million that Renteria was guaranteed for 2006-08, including a $3 million buyout on an option for 2009.

  • Chicago owes released left-hander Glendon Rusch $3.25 million.

  • Cincinnati picked up $2.95 million of catcher Jason LaRue’s $5.2 million contract.

  • Colorado traded left-hander Mike Hampton to Florida after the 2002 season, and Florida in turn dealt Hampton immediately to Atlanta. While Atlanta is paying Hampton’s full salary of $14.5 million this year and $15 million next year, the Rockies are paying Florida $2 million this year and $2.5 million next year to compensate the Marlins for the $23.5 million of Hampton’s contract that Florida earlier paid Atlanta. The Rockies also owe Hampton a $6 million buyout that will be paid out over four years from 2009 through 2012. The Rockies are receiving money to offset a salary swap of pitchers Jorge Julio (from Florida) for Byung-Hyun Kim.

  • Florida is paying $823,000 of Jorge Julio’s salary to Colorado, which acquired him last week, but the Marlins are getting $1 million from Arizona to help pay Julio. The Marlins are picking up $2.3 million of first baseman Carlos Delgado’s salary with the Mets. The Marlins are paying $1 million to Al Leiter in the finalization of what he was owed when he was traded to the Yankees nearly two years ago.

  • Houston is not paying anybody not on its roster.

  • Los Angeles is picking up $7.5 million of pitcher Odalis Perez’s $7.75 million salary with Kansas City this year as part of the deal that sent Perez to the Royals for right-hander Elmer Dessens last year. The two teams also agreed to split the $1.5 million on Perez’s buyout for a 2008 option. The Dodgers also are paying Bill Mueller $4.5 million in his retirement, but they are receiving $1.7 million from the Royals to cover the salary of Dessens and $2.1 million from Milwaukee for the salary of outfielder Brady Clark.

  • Milwaukee picked up $2.1 million of outfielder Brady Clark’s salary when it sent him to the Dodgers for pitcher Elmer Dessens, whose salary is being paid by Kansas City as part of the deal that sent pitcher Odalis Perez and cash to the Royals for Dessens.

  • New York is receiving $5.8 million from Arizona of the $9.5 million it is paying outfielder Shawn Green and $2.3 million of first baseman Carlos Delgado’s salary from Florida.

  • Philadelphia is paying $7 million of first baseman Jim Thome’s $14 million salary with the White Sox, a part of the $22 million the Phillies agreed to pay out of the $56.5 million that Thome was guaranteed over the final four years of his contract when he was dealt to Chicago.

  • Pittsburgh agreed to pick up $5.5 million of catcher Jason Kendall’s $13 million salary this season when the A’s took Kendall before last year. The Pirates also are paying $141,670 to outfielder Jody Gerut, who was released.

  • St. Louis is obligated for $1.45 million after releasing reliever Ricardo Rincon.

  • San Diego isn’t paying anybody to play anywhere else but did have to eat $971,311 for second baseman Todd Walker and $135,000 for right-hander Scott Strickland, both of whom were released.

  • San Francisco is paying reliever Tim Worrell $2 million in retirement.

  • Washington picked up $1.5 million of second baseman Jose Vidro’s $6 million salary this year and will pay $2.5 million of his $7.5 million salary next year when he was dealt to Seattle.

    Around the AL

  • Baltimore received $4 million from the Yankees to offset the $7 million salary of right-hander Jaret Wright, and even that isn’t enough in light of Wright’s continual arm problems that apparently will lead to his retirement.

  • Boston agreed to pay $11 million of the $29 million remaining on shortstop Edgar Renteria’s contract when he was dealt to Atlanta before 2006, including $3 million of his $8 million salary this year. Renteria has a guarantee in 2008 with a buyout for 2009.

  • Chicago is getting $9.5 million in payroll help. Philadelphia is picking up $7 million of first baseman Jim Thome’s salary, and the Yankees are picking up $2.5 million for right-hander Javier Vazquez as part of the deal a year ago that sent Vazquez from New York to Arizona.

  • Cleveland is not obligated for players with other teams.

  • Detroit is not obligated for players with other teams.

  • Kansas City is paying $1.7 million of pitcher Elmer Dessens’ contract in Milwaukee as part of the deal that sent Dessens to the Dodgers last year for pitcher Odalis Perez, which resulted in the Royals being given $7.75 million of Perez’s salary. They also received $2.95 million to offset the addition of catcher Jason LaRue.

  • Minnesota is not obligated for players with other teams.

  • New York is paying $9 million to pitchers not pitching for them — $4 million to Baltimore for Jaret Wright, $3 million to Arizona for Javier Vazquez (now with the White Sox) and $2 million to Arizona for lefty Randy Johnson. They also receive $44 million from 2007-10 to defray the $108 million that third baseman Alex Rodriguez was guaranteed by Texas.

  • Oakland is receiving $5.5 million from Pittsburgh to offset catcher Jason Kendall’s $13 million salary in the final year of his contract.

  • Seattle received $1.5 million this year and $2.5 million next year from Washington for taking on the $13.5 million still guaranteed second baseman Jose Vidro.

  • Tampa Bay is paying $850,000 for the release of reliever Dan Miceli.

  • Texas is picking up $7,101,500 this year for Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees. The Rangers are obligated for $44 million of the $108 million he is guaranteed over the remaining four years of his contract.

  • Toronto is shelling out $6,562,500 for third basemen on other teams $3.75 to Milwaukee for Corey Koskie and $2,812,500 to Boston for Eric Hinske.

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