It’s been more than a quarter of a century now since he surpassed baseball’s most hallowed record, but Hank Aaron still carries a big stick when it comes to his thoughts on the future of the game.
Aaron, who despite retiring in 1976, still holds the major league career home run record with 755, is in Tokyo this week to attend the festivities surrounding the inaugural Major League Baseball Opening Games in Japan.
For years the topic of a “real” World Series between the major league champions and the Japanese champions has been bandied about with no progress being made on the issue. Aaron believes that the time is right for such a matchup or a baseball World Cup comprising several countries to take place.
“I think eventually you will see a real World Series. You will see teams from Japan, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican and all over. That would really be a World Series as opposed to what we have now.
“I think it will have to be thought out and looked at, but I certainly think it will be done. It might now be done in the next few years, but I believe it will happen.”
Unfortunately, Aaron won’t have the chance to see his good friend and fellow legendary slugger Sadaharu Oh, holder of the all-time home run record with 868, on this trip. The former Yomiuri Giants superstar is in Kyushu preparing his Fukuoka Daiei Hawks for defense of the Japan Series title they won last season. Aaron and Oh have worked together in the past to promote baseball globally for the World Children’s Baseball Foundation, which has brought kids together to learn the game through several days of instruction from former pros at clinics in Japan and the United States over the last 10 years.
Loyal fans of Oh and Japanese baseball remember well Aaron’s visit here following the 1974 season after he had broken Babe Ruth’s career home run record of 714. Aaron came to Japan at the same time the New York Mets were on a postseason tour of the country and participated in a home run hitting contest with Oh at Korakuen Stadium.
Though the locals remember that Aaron narrowly won the made-for-TV event — beating Oh 10-9 — the Hammer himself has only the slightest recollection of the contest.
“I vaguely remember it. Just a little bit. I was talking to (Cubs broadcaster and former third baseman) Ron Santo about it earlier. I recall Tom Seaver and the Mets being here too at that time,” Aaron said on the field at Tokyo Dome on Monday, prior to the exhibition game between the Chicago Cubs and Yomiuri Giants. “I don’t remember too much of it. I do remember I won.”
The competition between Aaron and Oh was a big deal back then, but when asked if such a promotion would be a hit in the year 2000, the Hall of Famer wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know whether a home run hitting contest would go over again like that, but I do know that baseball is becoming a universal game. You have Japanese players in the major leagues, players from the Dominican, Puerto Rico and all over the world. I think it is nice that major league clubs would come over here and give the people an opportunity to see Major League Baseball.
“I know it’s a long way to come and it probably doesn’t mean as much to them (the players) now as it will in 20 or 30 years when they look back and say, ‘We were the first clubs to play over there and we gave the people and opportunity to see us.’
“They will appreciate it a lot more later in life and I think baseball will be loved more because they came. I believe it is the right thing to do.”