Baseball: Behind Aaron's Nod to Bonds

Hank Aaron's video tribute to Barry Bonds was the final act in an elaborately choreographed production by the San Francisco Giants. And it was a tribute to the adage "It never hurts to ask."

"I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball's career home-run leader," Aaron said in a surprise taped message played on the big video scoreboard at AT&T Park seconds after Bonds hit No. 756. Aaron, whose record of surpassing Babe Ruth stood for 33 years, offered his "best wishes to Barry and his family," and then rather cryptically added, "My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams." The last comment, of course, could be read as Aaron's hope that some other ballplayer will one day pass Bonds, whose home-run chase has been tarnished by questions about performance-enhancing substances. Aaron has hardly embraced Bonds as worthy of baseball immortality.

But earlier this summer, the Giants approached Aaron in Manhattan after a regular meeting of officials from all 30 clubs. (Aaron is an executive for the Atlanta Braves.) "We thought this might be Hank's opportunity" to explain his position, says Larry Baer, the Giants' chief operating officer, who had the talk with Aaron. "I didn't think he'd do it."

To Baer's surprise, Aaron replied, "That's something I think I can do." (Through his lawyer, Aaron declined to comment.) Commissioner Bud Selig, a close friend of Aaron's, offered his blessings, and in early July, Aaron's carefully written and vetted statement was taped in his offices in Atlanta. A single copy was sent to Baer, who then kept it with him as he attended games around the country as Bonds approached No. 756. Only a few Giants officials knew of the tape, as did the commissioner's office—and scoreboard keepers at ballparks where Bonds was playing. They had to be briefed ahead of time to be sure the tape was compatible with the local video and audio systems. "I've been carrying around this tape for weeks," says Baer. "Next to the formula for Coca-Cola, it was the most secretive piece of information out of Atlanta."