Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Trouble With Hank

Hank Aaron is finally getting his due from the media. He made the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated, and was the subject of a fawning profile written by that magazine's best writer. Part of me is very happy for Aaron, who has always struck me as a gracious and classy man and a worthy holder of one of the greatest records in sports. But I've also got a problem with Hank, and it has to do with the Cleveland Browns.

As most Cleveland fans know, Hank Aaron was a long-time Browns fan who would even turn up incognito in the Dawg Pound at Municipal Stadium on occasion. Aaron's support of the Browns was a source of great pride to all of us, and his name would invariably come up in conversations about the Browns' large national fan base.

Some Cleveland fans may vaguely recall a little bit of unpleasantness 12 years ago involving the Browns, the City of Baltimore, a handful of moving vans, Al Lerner, Art Modell and a boy named "Honey." After that experience, I think every Browns fan could agree on one thing -- it would be a cold day in Hell before any of us would ever become a fan of the Baltimore Ravens.

Unfortunately, it appears that Hank Aaron didn't get that part of being a Browns fan. Aaron became pals with Art Modell, and when the Browns skipped town, he skipped with them. He wasn't quiet about it, either. For example, Hammerin' Hank not only showed up at the Ravens practice during Super Bowl week back in 2001, but also was instrumental in helping Ray Lewis lawyer up after the post-game festivities.

Hank, all I can say is "how could you?"

I have heard that Hank's become a fan of the new Browns, but as you can tell, I'm still bitter about this, and I don't think I'm the only Cleveland fan who feels this way. Hank Aaron was too great a ballplayer and is too great a man to ever really dislike, and God knows I'm not looking forward to Barry Bonds passing him. Nevertheless, Hank's transfer of his allegiance to the Ravens left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and it's definitely influenced my perception of him.

Maybe that's why when I read things that are intended to demonstrate Aaron's integrity, they seem more like examples of his sanctimony. For example, Tom Verducci's SI article notes that Aaron was and is a staunch advocate of playing the game by the rules. For that reason, Aaron supposedly wasn't crazy about the induction of spit-baller Gaylord Perry, who coincidentally was the Tribe's last 20 game winner, into the Hall of Fame.

I don't know about you guys, but as far as playing by the rules goes, I'll take getting thrown a spit ball by a MLB pitcher over having an NFL owner spit in my face any day of the week. But I guess Hank Aaron doesn't see things that way, and from my perspective, that's the trouble with Hank.

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